UAMS Designated Baby Friendly for Encouraging Breastfeeding

By Ben Boulden

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) launched the Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative in 1991 as a global program to assist hospitals in giving all mothers the information, confidence and skills necessary to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) delivers more than 3,000 babies a year. To achieve the baby-friendly designation, UAMS completed rigorous requirements in each of four phases and passed an on-site assessment.

Info and photos on wall

A baby-friendly display at UAMS.

The effort was initiated by Ginny Smith, R.N., M.S.N., women and infants nursing director, and neonatologist Misty Virmani, M.D., and led by Becky Sartini, D.N.P., assistant director of nursing for the neonatal intensive care unit.

“This shows that UAMS stands behind evidence-based efforts to promote breastfeeding,” said Sartini. “Breastfeeding is the foundation for a healthier life, not just for the baby but for the mother.”

Breastmilk contains antibodies that help babies fight off viruses and bacteria, reduces the risk of developing allergies and respiratory illnesses and lowers the risk of obesity. For the mother, breastfeeding lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.

UAMS Medical Center joins five other hospitals across the state in obtaining the baby friendly designation, awarded by Baby-Friendly USA Inc., the accrediting body for the hospital initiative.

The baby-friendly designation requires verification of policies, curriculum, action plans, quality improvement projects, staff training, competency verification, a readiness interview and an on-site survey.

“We had to train 350 physicians and nurses and had to build training modules going forward,” said Smith. “I am very proud because I know all the hard work people put into this.”

Breastfeeding is one of nine priority areas of Healthy Active Arkansas, a 10-year plan announced in 2015 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to provide community-based efforts to reduce obesity. UAMS co-chairs the plan’s breastfeeding committee with Baptist Health.

Hospitals provide a unique and critical link between the breastfeeding support provided before and after delivery. Mothers who give birth at baby-friendly hospitals and birthing centers are more likely to initiate exclusive breastfeeding and more likely to sustain breastfeeding at six months and one year of age.

The Baby-friendly Hospital Initiative encourages maternity facilities throughout the world to adhere to the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding:

  1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
  2. Train all health care staff in the skills necessary to implement this policy.
  3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
  4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
  5. Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
  6. Give infants no food or drink other than breast milk unless medically indicated.
  7. Practice rooming in – allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
  8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
  9. Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
  10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or birth center.

Adhering to the Ten Steps is associated with increased rates of breastfeeding around the world. Also, adhering to the Ten Steps decreases racial, ethnic and socio-cultural disparities in breastfeeding rates in U.S. hospitals.

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and eight institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and the Institute for Community Health Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.