Brooklyn Birthing Center, the only accredited freestanding birthing center in the New York City metro area, is now Brooklyn’s very first Baby-Friendly designated facility. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is a global project sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The project aims to increase the rates of breastfeeding initiation, exclusivity, and duration worldwide.

In order to achieve Baby-Friendly designation, hospitals and birthing centers must provide extensive breastfeeding education and support, encourage skin-to-skin care and rooming-in while limiting the separation of mothers and newborns, and avoid promoting products that interfere with breastfeeding (such as infant formulas, bottles, and pacifiers). There are more than 20,000 designated Baby-Friendly hospitals and birthing centers across the globe, but less than 18% of US births occur in Baby-Friendly facilities. Brooklyn Birthing Center is one of just five Baby-Friendly designated birthing centers in the United States, and one of just two independent (as opposed to hospital-owned) Baby-Friendly birthing centers in the nation.

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Amber Star of Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast and Borough President Eric Adams at a Brooklyn Birthing Center event last October.

This prestigious designation marks the culmination of over three years of hard work by Brooklyn Birthing Center’s administration, midwives, nurses, and support staff. The birthing center applied to join the New York City Breastfeeding Hospital Collaborative in the spring of 2013, and spent 36 months developing an extensive lactation program with support from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Baby-Friendly USA staffers conducted a detailed site assessment in June of 2016, and confirmed that Brooklyn Birthing Center meets all criteria for Baby-Friendly designation in July.

Brooklyn Birthing Center has promoted breastfeeding since its inception in 1999; however, the birthing center dramatically expanded its lactation program in order to comply with the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative’s 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. New program components include a minimum of 25 hours of lactation education for all clinical staff members; a prenatal breastfeeding class for birthing center clients and for members of the general public; one-on-one consultations with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC); and increased breastfeeding support during the first hours postpartum. Brooklyn Birthing Center is also a donation depot for Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast, a non-profit that supplies donor milk to several local hospital NICUs.

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The Cabrera family, shortly after birthing their second child with Brooklyn Birthing Center midwives.

“Our clients are much better prepared to initiate breastfeeding as a result of these changes,” observed Linda Gaglioti, CNM, Brooklyn Birthing Center’s Director of Midwifery. “They ask about skin-to-skin care and point out early feeding cues in the delivery suites! We overhear them telling family members why they want to nurse according to their babies’ cues, rather than according to a schedule. The change is really remarkable.”

Jennifer Leopold, IBCLC, LMSW, Brooklyn Birthing Center’s Director of Lactation Services, commented, “I have been teaching breastfeeding to health care workers and pregnant women for many years. But since we began our Baby-Friendly journey, our clients have reported that they are much more confident in their ability to breastfeed.”

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Lillian, the 1,000th baby born at Brooklyn Birthing Center.

According to Rachel Anne Libon, Project Manager at Brooklyn Birthing Center, “Participating in the New York City Breastfeeding Hospital Collaborative was a wonderful experience. We received expert guidance from the Bureau of Maternal, Infant, and Reproductive Health, and we attended quarterly learning sessions with staff from other aspiring Baby-Friendly hospitals. It is encouraging to see more New York City hospitals adopting evidence-based practices to support breastfeeding families.”

At the time of this press release, New York City’s Baby-Friendly facilities include Harlem Hospital, NYU Langone Medical Center, Queens Hospital Center, Lincoln Medical & Mental Health Center, North Central Bronx Hospital, Richmond University Medical Center, Jacobi Medical Center, Bellevue Hospital Center, and Brooklyn Birthing Center. The last five facilities listed all earned their designation between April and July of 2016— a testament to the success of the City’s Breastfeeding Hospital Collaborative. Several other local hospitals are now participating in the Collaborative, indicating that Baby-Friendly practices are slowly becoming the standard of care in New York City. Brooklyn Birthing Center is the first facility in its borough to earn Baby-Friendly designation.