“Baby-Friendly” Hospitals Aren’t “Friendly” to Women

By Michelle Noehren, Age 33

There’s a movement in Connecticut, and beyond, that’s pushing for hospitals to seek a “baby-friendly” designation from an organization called Baby-Friendly USA. What this really means is that this national organization wants hospitals to agree to certain guidelines that they feel will increase breastfeeding rates among new moms.

That sounds all nice and dandy until you investigate further. In order for a hospital to get, and keep, this designation they have to agree to things like pushing 24/7 rooming in and getting rid of well-baby nurseries. The thought behind forced rooming in is that it would encourage a stronger breastfeeding relationship between mom and baby. 

The guidelines even specifically state that if a new mom asks to use a nursery, she is to be informed of the benefits of rooming in. If she is persistent enough to ask again after being told that it’s better for her baby to keep him/her in the room, and if the hospital still has a well-baby nursery (many are dropping these nurseries completely), the nurse is required to document this choice on the mother’s chart. So new moms that feel they need a break because their body (and mind) just went through a taxing experience (giving birth) are either not given the option to use a nursery or are shamed if they do use it.

This is all in the name of breastfeeding. Because breast is best, didn’t you know?

A big part of being an activist in support of women’s rights and reproductive justice is challenging norms. Why do we even say breast is best? To me, if feels like there is something inherent in those words that shames moms that either can’t or choose not to breastfeed. And when you really think about it, that phrase is telling women what to do with our bodies.

A core component of reproductive justice is ownership and autonomy of our bodies. Just as many of us support a woman’s ability to choose if she wants to continue a pregnancy, we should also support a mother’s ability to be in control of her body after her baby arrives. If she doesn’t want to breastfeed, guess what? Those are HER breasts and that is HER body.

Pro-choice folks would never tell a pregnant woman that the best thing for her baby is to not have an abortion because we believe in our core that women deserve the right to control what happens with their bodies. So why are we so quick to buy into and tell women that breast is best? Isn’t doing so the exact opposite of being pro-choice?

And why aren’t we challenging things like “baby-friendly” hospitals that take the breastfeeding push to the extreme by taking away new moms choices, like using a nursery? To me, working against this initiative is working for reproductive justice. Women should have control over what we do with our bodies and we should not be shamed or made to feel like less of a mother if we don’t breastfeed, for whatever reason.

These are MY breasts, not yours, and I’ll do with them as I please.

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For more information about the movement against the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, see these blog posts:

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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