According to the CDC, support for breastfeeding mothers in hospitals has gotten better, but there are still areas that need improvement.
The findings come from the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vital Signs report.
Aside from the fact that breastfeeding saves money - for both mother and hospital - there are many health benefits associated with it. Breastfed babies have lower risks for ear, respiratory, stomach and intestinal infections, and lower risks for asthma, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
During the first hour after birth, colostrum - the yellowish breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy - is the perfect food for the newborn, because it is full of antibodies and immunoglobulins that protect babies from bacteria and viruses.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding up to 6 months of age and continued breastfeeding alongside solid foods up to 2 years of age.
"Breastfeeding has immense health benefits for babies and their mothers," says CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. "More hospitals are better supporting new moms to breastfeed - every newborn should have the best possible start in life."
'Improvements are promising'
According to the latest CDC report, the percentage of hospitals in the US that use the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding - a standard for hospitals to support breastfeeding - increased from 29% in 2007 to 54% in 2013.
Fast facts about breastfeeding in the US
- Though 80% of babies start out breastfeeding at birth, only 29% receive breastmilk at 12 months
- Of breastfeeding mothers, 6 in 10 stop earlier than they intend
- Only 14% of babies are born in hospitals designated Baby-Friendly.
The Ten Steps are the core of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) - a program established by the WHO and UNICEF. Some of the steps include helping mothers initiate breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth, keeping mothers and babies together during the whole hospital stay, and providing mothers with information about breastfeeding support groups.
To compile the report, researchers examined data from a national CDC survey that measures the percentage of hospitals in the US with practices that are consistent with the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.
Encouraging findings show that hospital staff provided: prenatal breastfeeding education to 91% of women in 2007 and 93% in 2013, and breastfeeding technique education to 88% in 2007 and 92% in 2013.
Additionally, the report found that early initiation of breastfeeding increased from 44% in 2007 to 65% in 2013.
Commenting on the report's findings, Cria Perrine, PhD, from the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, says:
"What happens in the hospital can determine whether a mom starts and continues to breastfeed, and we know that many moms - 60% - stop breastfeeding earlier than they'd like.
These improvements in hospital support for breastfeeding are promising, but we also want to see more hospitals fully supporting mothers who want to breastfeed."
According to the report, improved hospital care could increase breastfeeding rates nationwide, contributing to healthier children.
Further areas for improvement
Although the report showed many positive developments, there are still areas that need to improve. For example, in 2013, only 26% of hospitals made sure that only breast milk was given to healthy breastfeeding infants who did not need formula for medical reasons.
Additionally, in 2013, only 45% of hospitals kept babies together with their mothers during the whole hospital stay, which helps mothers learn feeding cues and enables more breastfeeding opportunities.
Further support also needs to be improved; in 2013, only 32% of hospitals gave enough additional support for breastfeeding mothers when they left the hospital.
To better help breastfeeding mothers, the CDC recommend that hospitals implement the Ten Steps and work with doctors, nurses, lactation counselors and organizations to provide better community support.
Although breastfeeding is encouraged for its many benefits, Medical News Today recently explored whether some women feel stigmatized if they are unable to breastfeed.