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Support for Breastfeeding Moms Lacking, Says CDC

By Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor
Published Online: Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Editor's Note: In recognition of World Breastfeeding Week, we've provided current information on the benefits of breastfeeding and the importance of providing adequate support for patients, along with links to more resources.

Despite the fact that breastfeeding protects against childhood obesity, less than 4% of US hospitals provide the full range of support mothers need to be able to breastfeed, according to a new Vital Signs report from the CDC. Improving rates of breastfeeding by providing better hospital support to mothers and infants can lead to better overall health in children, including a reduced risk of childhood obesity, the organization stated.

“Hospitals play a vital role in supporting a mother to be able to breastfeed,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH. “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 report examined data from CDC’s national survey of Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC), which found the following:
  • Only 14% of hospitals have a written, model breastfeeding policy;
  • In nearly 80% of hospitals, healthy breastfeeding infants are given formula when it is not medically necessary, a practice that makes it much harder for mothers and infants to learn how to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding at home;
  • Just one-third of hospitals practice rooming in, which helps mothers and infants learn to breastfeed by enabling frequent opportunities to attempt it;
  • In nearly 75% of hospitals, mothers and infants do not get the support they need when they leave the hospital, including a follow-up visit, a phone call from hospital staff, and referrals to lactation consultants, WIC, and other important support systems in their community.
CDC’s mPINC survey measures the percent of US hospitals with practices that are consistent with the WHO/UNICEF Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. This list of proven hospital practices that increase rates of breastfeeding by providing support to mothers is the core of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and is endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The steps include:
  • Not giving healthy, breastfeeding infants food or drink other than breast milk unless there is a medical need for it;
  • Encouraging mothers to room in, staying with their baby 24 hours a day;
  • Connecting mothers with support groups and other resources to help with breastfeeding after they leave the hospital.
“In the United States most women want to breastfeed, and most women start,” said Ursula Bauer, PhD, MPH, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “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.”

To access the Vital Signs report, click here.

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