The Birth Center at North Valley Hospital wants to ensure the babies and families in its care have the support they need to be healthy throughout life.
After five years and countless hours of work by staff, the Birth Center recently received the designation as a Baby Friendly Facility. North Valley is just one of 11 Baby Friendly hospitals in the state as determined by Baby Friendly USA, the accrediting body and national authority for the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative in the United States.
Birth Center Director Cindy Walp said the designation is a major achievement for not only the hospital, but for the patients who seek the family-focused atmosphere that the Birth Center provides.
“This is about using evidence-based practices to provide the gold standard of care,” she said. “It’s about promoting maternal and child, and family health.”
The Birth Center sees about 550 to 600 births every year.
North Valley Hospital previously supported programs such as rooming in, when newborns stay in-room with their parents; breastfeeding first, to encourage all women who are able to breastfeed if possible; and skin-to-skin contact, allowing mothers to hold their newborn babies immediately after birth. However, as the Birth Center led the way on working toward the designation as a Baby Friendly hospital it was prompted it evaluate in greater detail and revise, as necessary, every aspect of care related to infants.
Registered nurse Sandra Beale was part of the team that led work to earn the certification. She describes the Baby Friendly designation as a path for providing optimal maternal and infant health.
“This allows us to provide the latest education in evidence-based practices that help families make informed decisions,” she said. “It begins with prenatal following through to postpartum, along with partnering with organizations to help families access support groups and other resources.”
The Baby Friendly designation began in 1991 when the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund launched the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a global program to encourage the broad-scale implementation of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
The steps include a number of practices designed to increase and encourage breastfeeding. In addition, one of the tenets of the Baby Friendly initiative is that marketing of breast-milk substitutes discourages mothers from breastfeeding and thereby says that hospitals aren’t allowed to provide free samples of infant formula and must prevent marketing of such products in the hospital.
Beale notes that Baby Friendly practices are designed to lead to better health beyond the hospital walls. The Birth Center educates patients about the benefits of breastfeeding, skin to skin contact, and family togetherness during the prenatal and postnatal periods.
She said keeping a baby with his or her mother in the same hospital room rather than a nursery, helps ease the transition better when heading home. Also mothers are more likely to make the health and nutrition decisions for families, she adds, so by providing early education in these areas it sets up families for better health for life.
“It’s about making sure they get the education and empowerment to make educated decisions,” Beale said. “Then when they make those decisions we all feel good about supporting those.”
The Birth Center has two lactation specialists — Beale and registered nurse Debbi Foss — and every nurse in the Birth Center has received required additional education in infant feeding, along with formula preparation for mothers that choose formula for feeding. Lactation support groups are also offered.
Walp said while the Baby Friendly Ten Steps are designed to encourage breastfeeding, if a mother chooses formula or to bottle feed that is still supported. Much of the practices involved are about providing the best care for the patients, she adds.
“It goes beyond breastfeeding,” she said. “It’s about following these evidence-based practices that moms and babies get healthier quicker together. So all of our polices and procedures have been structured to that so we can promote their optimal well-being.”
While many of the Baby Friendly practices are centered at the Birth Center, they also extend to other departments in the hospital and North Valley’s affiliated clinics. There was 100 percent buy-in from the hospital community to seek the designation, Walp said.
“It’s the entire organization — we educated the entire hospital,” she said. “We looked at how they treat pediatric patients when they’re in the emergency room or in the lab for imaging. That’s the really great part, this is an organizational and community effort to provide the best care for our patients.”
Walp says if a mother and baby comes into the emergency room or for surgery then the providers in other departments can use the Birth Center as a resource. She says, for example, if a mother needs to take medication the lactation specialists from the Birth Center can speak with the family to assist in answering questions about whether the mother needs to stop breastfeeding.
In 2015 the Birth Center completed an expansion to provide more beds and spacious rooms for patients. Those changes were also part of the goal of becoming designated Baby Friendly.
North Valley Hospital follows the Planetree model of health care that focuses on providing patient-centered care and offers a healing environment.
“Baby Friendly is really just about making sure that families are at the center of their own care,” Walp said. “Baby Friendly goes right along with the Planetree model — this just made it even better.”
North Valley Hospital is now part 528 designated Baby Friendly hospitals nationwide. The Birth Center at North Valley Hospital is the only Baby Friendly facility in the Kalispell Regional Healthcare system.
For more information, visit https://www.krh.org/nvh/services/the-birth-center.