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Top Reasons “We Can’t Go Baby-Friendly” Part 1: How to Overcome “Be” Obstacles

Tree in the road symbolizing an obstacle of why a hospital "can't go Baby-Friendly."

People often say, “We can’t go Baby-Friendly at our hospital.”

They ask “Why can’t I get my hospital to change its practices?” What they mean is, Why can’t I get the people in the hospital to change?” (Sometimes, it does seem that it would almost be easier to get the brick-and-mortar hospital itself to change than to change the behavior of the people who work in it!)

Change comes slowly. Lots of barriers. Believe me, I know! Those barriers fall loosely into three themes: Be, Do, Have. Today, I’ll address the “be” barriers.

Parents want to do both”

Undeniably, this is true. Many parents want to “do both” — breastfeed and formula-feed — because it’s what they’ve seen friends and family members do. They think it’s normal. Although we can try to change their perception of it, we can’t erase what they’ve seen.

That doesn’t mean we can’t go baby-friendly.

But re-framing what’s “normal” for infant feeding is why there’s a Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative! As more and more mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies, the cultural norm will shift.

“We don’t have clarity about the details”

Having served as a president and as an assessor for Baby-Friendly USA, I feel strong ties to the Initiative and to the organization. The most recent Guidelines and Evaluation Criteria can be a source of clarity for hospital personnel.

If additional information is needed, hospital staff should ask for more transparent information, whether from Baby-Friendly USA or a knowledgeable and experienced consultant. Certainly, Baby-Friendly USA is committed to supporting hospitals in making this change, and others have been through the process before. (Including me.) There’s no reason to feel unclear.

“We’ll never be able to …”

This is a big one, and it includes any number of things: “We can’t get rid of pacifiers.” Or “We’ll never be able to tell parents they have to bring their own formula for the baby.” And the great grand-mommy of them all: “We’ll never be able to make our [fill in the blank] mothers breastfeed.”

Most — if not all — of the “We’ll never be able to …” objections stem from misconceptions about the Baby-Friendly program. For example, it doesn’t require the complete elimination of pacifiers. Nor does it say that parents must bring their own formula. (It does say that the hospital cannot accept free formula, but that’s different!)

I do agree that no one can “make” mothers do anything — but that’s not required, either!

Change to Baby-Friendly practices may be slow for many reasons, but what people think the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative requires—rather than what it actually requires — doesn’t need to be among them.

The “be” objections are almost always rooted in belief

Perception, not reality. These are just thoughts, and thoughts can be changed by one’s self, or by others. (And at some point, you want some practical tips to overcome the “do” obstacles).

Check out my Do and Have posts on Baby-Friendly obstacles. Meanwhile, what “be” obstacles have you noted in your hospital? What could help overcome them? Tell me in the comments below!

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