10/02/2017 13:40 EDT | Updated 10/03/2017 11:39 EDT

Baby-Friendly Hospitals Are On The Rise In Canada, But What Are They?

Breastfeeding is their number one priority.

As more hospitals in Canada become "baby friendly," many are wondering what the label means.

Turns out, creating baby-friendly hospitals is an initiative that helps promote and support breastfeeding by providing designated spaces for nursing moms and education by maternity staff.

The initiative was introduced globally by the World Health Organization in 1991 and was brought to Canada by The Breastfeeding Committee for Canada, Global News reports.

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High River Hospital was the first to receive the "baby-friendly designation" in Alberta in March 2017. Anna Tumoth led the initiative at the hospital, which had been in the works for the past 10 years.

It's about being "inclusive of all mothers, no matter which way they choose to feed their babies."

"For us, getting this baby-friendly designation was about the family," she told Global News. "We wanted to really up our standards with having the family be a full part of the delivery experience."

Tumoth also told Okotoks Online in June that the push to become a baby-friendly hospital was really about being "inclusive of all mothers, no matter which way they choose to feed their babies."

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In addition to promoting breastfeeding, the baby-friendly initiative was created to "recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding." That means ensuring new moms and dads are able to have skin-to-skin contact with their babies soon after birth, regardless of whether the child was delivered vaginally or by caesarean section.

Skin-to-skin contact has a number of benefits. Not only does it create a lasting bond between parent and child, but it can help the baby sleep, boost the newborn's mental development, and help prevent postpartum depression.

Additionally, it can make breastfeeding easier by increasing the likelihood that the newborn will latch on without any assistance.

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To further promote the mother-baby bond, some hospitals also allow the parent and child to sleep in the same room together. B.C. Women's Hospital in Vancouver, which is the only baby-friendly hospital on the West Coast, is one such example.

The hospital recently became the first in North America to allow premature newborns to stay in the same room as their mothers, rather than a designated neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

"We do a lot of great things to promote attachment, but this is taking it to the next level," Julie de Salaberry, the hospital's director of neonatal programs, told The Globe and Mail.

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Global News reports that there are a number of baby-friendly hospitals throughout Ontario, but only two in Alberta and one each in B.C. and Manitoba. However, that's not to say hospitals without the designation aren't making moves to be more baby-friendly.

B.C.'s Victoria General Hospital, for instance, introduced a new baby-hugging program this year to provide physical contact, hugs, cuddles and attention to babies in the NICU and pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).

Having the volunteers able to come in, provide physical contact and love to babies makes everybody's job easier.

"Babies are often arriving from around the island with parents who are exhausted ... they need to look after themselves," Dr. Jeff Bishop told CTV News. "Having the volunteers able to come in, provide physical contact and love to babies makes everybody's job easier."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that there is only one baby-friendly hospital in Alberta. It has now been updated to state that there are two: Bonnyville Health Centre and The Grey Nuns Community Hospital.

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