After much labor, University Hospital has been named Baby-Friendly. 

Officials announced Friday that Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, the global program that encourages breastfeeding and early mother-baby bonding, awarded University Hospital its Baby-Friendly USA designation following more than four years of policy and practice changes in its care of newborns. 

University Health is now one of only two San Antonio hospitals with the designation. In 2018, Children’s Hospital of San Antonio became the first in the city to be named Baby-Friendly.

“It makes me proud to walk around the unit and see change in practice,” said Kate McLachlan, certified lactation consultant and Baby-Friendly lead at University Health. 

With the new practices in place, babies born at the hospital spend more time at their mother’s bedside where moms can witness important newborn checks and special milestones, such as baby’s first bath. 

An average of 3,200 babies are born every year at University Hospital.

“This makes the first few hours and days of the infant’s life less stressful all around because mom is within reach when newborn care is being provided,” McLachlan said. 

After Cheyanne Davis gave birth to her daughter Paisley on Dec. 13, the newborn stayed in her mother’s room at University Hospital for most of the two days they were recovering.

“I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I wanted her in there with me,” Davis said. But because Paisley, born 5 pounds, 15 ounces, had trouble latching on to breastfeed, the lactation specialist had to come up with a solution that helped. 

“That’s part of the reason why now I’m able to breastfeed,” she said. “So I don’t think that would have happened if they just let me … give up.”

As a result of new policies and practices, the hospital’s breastfeeding initiation rate increased from 89% in 2019 to 92% this year, which means more moms fed their baby breastmilk at least one time during the hospital stay.

Founded in 1991 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative encourages hospitals to implement the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Some of the principles in the code include no advertising of breast milk substitutes and no free samples or supplies in the health care system.

The organization assists hospitals in giving mothers of newborns information, and the confidence and skills needed for breastfeeding. 

Nurses who specialize in lactation educate new moms about proper feeding techniques, such as feeding cues and the best position of the infant, McLachlan said.

These practices are helpful even when a mother chooses not to breastfeed.

“We support the mother’s choice, and share techniques and resources to help both mother and baby thrive,” said Cynthia Ledesma, executive director of patient care services in University Health Obstetrics.

In the case of a patient not able or wanting to breastfeed, the hospital provides information on the safe preparation and feeding of formula.  

“It’s not all about the milk,” McLachlan said. “It is about that incredibly close connection that mothers have with their babies.”

Baby-Friendly practices continue even after the mother and baby leave the hospital as families are connected with outpatient care services in the University Health System. For Davis, the hospital booked all of her post-natal and pediatrician appointments. 

The designation marks the hospital’s efforts at improving care for newborns, mothers and their families in Bexar County.

In 2019, University Health broke ground on a 12-story, 300-bed Women’s and Children’s Hospital that is expected to be complete in 2023.

Shari Biediger

Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.