Support for Breast-Feeding Found Lacking in Many U.S. Hospitals

TUESDAY Aug. 2, 2011 -- Less than 4 percent of U.S. hospitals offer the full range of support services that new mothers need to master breast-feeding, a new government report shows.

This is an important issue because breast-feeding protects against childhood obesity and offers other health benefits to children, according to the Vital Signs report released online Tuesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed data from CDC's national survey of Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care, and found that only 14 percent of hospitals have a written breast-feeding policy.

In nearly 80 percent of hospitals, healthy breast-feeding infants are given formula when it is not medically necessary. This practice makes it much more difficult for new mothers and infants to learn how to breast-feed and to continue breast-feeding at home.

Among the other findings:

  • Only one-third of hospitals practice "rooming in," in which mothers stay with their newborns 24 hours a day. This helps mothers and newborns learn to breast-feed by giving them frequent opportunities to breast-feed.
  • Nearly 75 percent of hospitals do not provide necessary breast-feeding support to mothers and babies when they leave the hospital. Required support includes a follow-up visit, a phone call from hospital staff and referrals to lactation consultants and breast-feeding support systems in the community.

The report's release coincides with World Breast-Feeding Week.

"Hospitals play a vital role in supporting a mother to be able to breast-feed," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said in a CDC news release. "Those first few hours and days that a mom and her baby spend learning to breast-feed are critical. Hospitals need to better support breast-feeding, as this is one of the most important things a mother can do for her newborn. Breast-feeding helps babies grow up healthy and reduces health-care costs."

Low rates of breast-feeding in the United States result in $2.2 billion in additional medical costs per year. Babies who are fed formula and stop breast-feeding early have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, respiratory and ear infections. They also require more doctor visits, hospitalizations and prescriptions, according to the CDC.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health & Human Development has more about breast-feeding.

Posted: August 2011


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