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Via Christi Hospital St. Joseph achieves 'Baby-Friendly' designation

Toni Howard RN and baby

Ascension Via Christi St. Joseph has long been a leader in family care. Now, after nearly three years of implementing, tracking and documenting that the criteria was being met, St. Joseph has received designation as a Baby-Friendly birth facility – signifying that it offers an optimal level of care for breastfeeding mothers and their babies.

“Our NewLife Center staff has always been strongly committed to supporting mothers’ success with breastfeeding,” says Julianna Rieschick, St. Joseph’s chief nursing officer. “We are thankful for their contributions as well as for the tremendous hospital-wide and community support we received along the way in achieving this designation. It truly was a team effort.”

Based on the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, the international Baby-Friendly award recognizes birth facilities that offer breastfeeding mothers the information, confidence and skills needed to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies.

“Becoming Baby-Friendly formalizes our long-standing commitment to breastfeeding as the best choice for moms and babies,” says Ruth Hommertzheim, APRN, who has helped lead the initiative to ensure that much of what already was in practice was put into policy, communicated hospital-wide and then validated by data collection. “We have had great internal as well as external support in reaching this milestone.”

Scientific studies have shown that breastfed children have far fewer and less serious illnesses than those who never receive breast milk, including a reduced risk of SIDS, childhood cancers, and diabetes and that women who breastfeed enjoy decreased risks of breast and ovarian cancer, anemia and osteoporosis. 

"Achieving Baby-Friendly designation speaks to our ongoing commitment to best practices for quality outcomes," says Laurie Labarca, St. Joseph hospital president.

Ascension Via Christi Philanthropy submitted grant proposals to the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund in Hutchinson and to the Centers for Disease Control through the EMPower Breastfeeding Initiative and were awarded both. Additional funding for education and collateral materials was provided by Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at Ascension Via Christi.

“In addition to the $20,000 grant we received from UMHMF, our participation in their High 5 for Mom and Baby program helped us prepare for the highly successful on-site review that took place earlier this summer,” says Michelle Armbrister, RN, director of Women and Infant Services for St. Joseph’s NewLife Center.

Childbirth educator Toni Howard, RN, and Kim Harter, RN, also played key roles in patient and staff education and preparation, as did lactation specialist Deb Swift, who leads Via Christi’s breastfeeding support group.

There are more than 20,000 designated Baby-Friendly hospitals and birth centers worldwide. Currently there are 528 active Baby-Friendly hospitals and birth centers in the United States. The “Baby-Friendly" designation is awarded only after a rigorous on-site survey is completed. The award is maintained by continuing to practice the Ten Steps as demonstrated by quality processes.

For more information about the U.S. Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, go to

Photo: Toni Howard, RN, holds 2-week-old Abby, whose mother, Ashley Mast, was one of the several dozen mothers who attended the 10th anniversary celebration of Via Christi’s Breastfeeding Clinic.

About Roz Hutchinson

Roz Hutchinson is a Wichita wife, mother and chief spoiler of six grandkids and three Chihuahuas, a die-hard women's basketball fan, and director of Communications and Public Relations for Ascension Via Christi.