Laura Griffeth pats daughter Heidi's back to burp her after breast-feeding at a weekly meeting of new mothers last month at St. John's Children's Hospital in Springfield, the first hospital in the state to earn the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative designation. Heidi was born Dec. 10. (Lane Christiansen, For Chicago Tribune)

At St. John's Hospital in Springfield, the first hospital in Illinois to win the designation, in 1998, breast-feeding rates have risen from 42 percent in 1993, when the hospital started implementing the steps, to 80 percent last year.

Janet Tolley, the hospital's lactation and doula program facilitator, didn't have specific numbers but said formula costs went down when the initiative was implemented because more women started breast-feeding.

Although there was concern among staff about doing away with formula, the biggest push-back came from pharmaceutical companies that continued sending free supplies and gift bags even when the hospital told them to stop, Tolley said.

Eventually, St. John's started sending the items back and charged the companies for the shipping costs.

"It only took a couple of months of their shipments, and they finally figured it out," Tolley said.

The International Formula Council, which represents infant formula manufacturers and marketers, agrees that breast-feeding is best for infants but doesn't support all the steps in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

"Allowing mothers full access to all available information on infant feeding options and practices, as well as unrestricted access to infant formula and samples where and when the mother and/or the infant's health care provider find appropriate, is a right all mothers should have," Mardi Mountford, the council's executive vice president, said in a statement.

In Illinois, the exclusive breast-feeding rate is slowly growing but still slightly below the national average, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of mothers who continued to only nurse their infants at three months last year hit 35.7 percent, but the number dropped to 13.6 percent at six months, data from the CDC show.

Though the "baby-friendly" title has been around for more than 20 years, advocates say national attention on breast-feeding over the past few years may have pushed more hospitals to pursue the designation.

For example, in 2011, the surgeon general shone a light on nursing and first lady Michelle Obama urged hospitals to support breast-feeding in her "Let's Move" campaign.

The CDC is also funding wellness organizations to work with hospitals making the change, said Baby-Friendly USA's MacEnroe, who estimated it could be another year or so before the next hospital in Illinois obtains the designation.

At St. John's in Springfield, the hospital put the designation on its website and keeps posters around the facility advertising it. Staffers also bring it up with expectant mothers, Tolley said.

The second hospital in Illinois to earn the designation was Pekin Hospital, in 2004.

Knowing she wanted to breast-feed but unsure where to turn for help, Jillian Janusz, 29, researched hospitals before giving birth to her first child. She immediately liked Little Company of Mary in Evergreen Park, which received the designation last month.

Even today, Janusz calls the hospital's lactation nurses for advice and guidance when breast-feeding 3-month-old Sophia.

"Otherwise women Google stuff, and you never know what you're going to find," said Janusz, of Chicago's Morgan Park neighborhood. "It's nice and exciting to have that support."