Much has been written about the health benefits of breastfeeding to infants—and mothers—but there’s also a larger benefit to society. The Office of Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that if 90 percent of families breastfed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 deaths among infants could be prevented.

Further, the United States could save $13 billion per year since medical care costs are lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants because they typically need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations, according to the organization.

Many women know these facts and enter into motherhood with every intention to feed their newborn “naturally,” only to discover it takes time (and a lot of patience) to learn how to breastfeed. This situation can be further complicated and difficult if your newborn is premature or born with medical conditions.

While many healthcare organizations offer lactation services for new moms and infants, the role of built environment should not be overlooked, either. A supportive and comfortable chair can do wonders for a new mother learning the right hold or latching technique for her infant, but is the room where she’s sitting also warm and relaxing? Can she hear other newborns crying down the hallway? Does the room offer privacy as staff and family are coming and going? And did she get some sleep so that she’s well rested for all that she has to comprehend in those first days as a new mom?

When Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, converted to private-patient rooms in its NICU, it saw the number of breastfeeding moms increase. And while designers had made accommodations for a larger milk bank in its new facility, they’ve had to add two more freezers to accommodate increased production.

Real-world examples like these support the idea that design plays a part in this important health initiative. This topic will also get attention during the Healthcare Design Conference’s Patient Experience Simulation Lab and Workshop (Orland, November 16-19). Featuring both live and virtual models, the 2013 workshop focuses on NICU Design and features ideas inspired by the three winners of the 2013 Patient & Family Centered NICU Design Competition.

During small workshop sessions, attendees can sit in the mock-up room and take on the role of either the patient, or family member, while interacting with colleagues and other experts.

“We plan to underline the importance of family-centered care in the NICU environment, and to discuss design strategies for facilitation of a baby friendly environment,” says Tammy Thompson, founder of the Institute for Patient-Centered Design, which is developing the 2013 models in partnership with Lifespan Healthcare, LLC and WorldViz, LLC.

She also wants this year’s Simulation Lab to address the importance of breast milk for any infant, particularly those in critical condition. For more information, visit www.healthcaredesignmagazine.com/conference/simulation-lab.