DOI News

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.

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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.


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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.

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.