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Helping Native Youth get a Healthy Start on Life: the Launch of IHS Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative

Yesterday, one month after the official launch of Let’s Move! in Indian Country(LMIC), the Indian Health Service (IHS) visited the Northern Navajo Medical Center in Shiprock, NM to launch the IHS Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. Improving health in early childhood is a critical pillar of LMIC, and this initiative is designed to create a healthy start on life and help prevent childhood obesity. As a part of the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, LMIC brings together federal agencies, communities, nonprofits, corporate partners, and tribes with the goal of ending the epidemic of childhood obesity in Indian Country within a generation.

Miss Navajo Nation, Winifred Bessie Jumbo, speaking at the Launch of Let's Move in Indian Country's Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.

A baby-friendly hospital is one that supports mothers who choose to breastfeed by providing them with the informationand skills needed to start and continue breastfeeding their babies. Bysupporting mothers who choose to breastfeed, the IHS will reduce current and future medical problems and decrease health care costs. This initiative will use quality improvement processes to improve breastfeeding rates through new maternity care and infant feeding practices. Our goal for the IHS Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is to certify 14 federal IHS obstetric facilities as baby-friendly hospitals by 2012 and to encourage 12 Tribal obstetric facilities to adopt this initiative. Breastfeeding supports infant growth and development and it protects both the infant’s and mother’s health. Studies have found that the likelihood of obesity is 22% lower among children who were breastfed.The strongest effects were observed among adolescents, meaning that the obesity-reducing benefits of breastfeeding extend many years into a child’s life.

We chose Northern Navajo Medical Center as the site of our IHS launch of this initiative because the Center has been a leader in Indian Country, working closely with the Navajo Nation Breastfeeding Coalition to support this traditional practice. We were proud to meet with representatives from the Navajo Nation and its Breastfeeding Coalition, as well as local women and families who shared their personal stories about the importance and value of breastfeeding in their lives. 

Real stories from real people. Digital storytelling from breastfeeding families at Indian Health Service Launch in Shiprock, NM.

The IHS initiative is based on the Baby-Friendly® Hospital Initiative , which is a series of maternity care practices that were created in 1991 by the United Nations Children’s Fund and World Health Organization as the gold standard for significantly increasing breastfeeding initiation and duration rates. In the 20 years since the initiative started, more than 200,000 hospitals in 156 countries have joined the program. The program offers ten steps to successful breastfeeding that enable facilities and communities to support women who choose to breastfeed.

The IHS Baby-Friendly Initiative’s work to certify IHS obstetric facilities as baby-friendly and encourage Tribal obstetric facilities to adopt this initiative fulfils one of the important recommendations found in the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report. We will post more information about our new IHS Baby Friendly Hospital initiative on our website and my Director’s blog. For more information on Let’s Move Indian Country, please visit the LMIC webpage.