A mere 4% of hospitals in America provide mothers with the full range of support they need to be able to breastfeed, says a new Vital Signs report issued by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The authors stressed that providing full hospital support to mothers and their newborns is a crucial part of improving children’s health. Breastfeeding has many benefits, including reducing a baby’s chances of becoming obese later on in life.

The USA has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the world.

CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. said:

“Hospitals play a vital role in supporting a mother to be able to breastfeed. Those first few hours and days that a mom and her baby spend learning to breastfeed are critical. Hospitals need to better support breastfeeding, as this is one of the most important things a mother can do for her newborn. Breastfeeding helps babies grow up healthy and reduces health care costs.”

The Vital Signs report, which gathered data from the National Survey of Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care, known as mPINC (a CDC database), found that only 1 in every 7 US hospitals has a written, model breastfeeding policy.

The authors also found that almost 4 in every 5 US hospitals give healthy breastfed newborns formula milk – something that is not medically necessary. Such practices undermine mother and baby’s chances of continuing breastfeeding at home.

Rooming-in is only practiced by one-third of hospitals in America. A practice which helps mothers and infants learn how to breastfeed, by letting them try lots of times.

Three-quarters of hospitals do not provide mother and baby with support after they have left the hospital. Examples include a follow-up visit, a phone call, referrals to lactation consultants and other vital support systems that exist in their local community.

The mPINC survey compares US hospitals with WHO/UNICEF Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding guidelines. The authors stress that the guidelines contain proven hospital practices that improve breastfeeding rates by supporting the mother, something vital for public health and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The guidelines include the following recommendations:

  • Unless there is a medical need, do not give infants drink or food other than breast milk.
  • Mothers should be encouraged to room in 24 hours per day with their babies
  • Mothers should be put in touch with support groups and other local resources so that their breastfeeding may continue successfully after they has left the hospital

A hospital that has made a concerted effort to support mothers to begin and continue breastfeeding by supporting and adhering to the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding can be designated as Baby-Friendly.

Ursula Bauer, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said:

“In the United States most women want to breastfeed, and most women start. But without hospital support many women have a hard time continuing to breastfeed, and they stop early. It is critical that hospitals take action to fully support breastfeeding mothers and babies so they can continue to breastfeed long after their hospital stay.”

According to the CDC:

  • Poor breastfeeding rates add $2.2 billion to annual medical costs in America
  • A baby who stops breastfeeding early has a higher risk of becoming obese, developing diabetes one day, and suffering respiratory and ear infections
  • A baby who stops breastfeeding early is likely to require more doctor visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations
  • Hospitals could do the following to improve breastfeeding rates: Implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, partner with Baby-Friendly hospital and learn how to improve the service, use the mPINC survey data to decide which maternity care practices need improving, and stop giving away formula samples to breastfeeding mothers.

“Hospital Support for Breastfeeding – Preventing obesity begins in hospitals”

Written by Christian Nordqvist