Breastfeeding Support In US Hospitals Improving But CDC Says More Still Needs To Be Done

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that support for breastfeeding among hospitals has improved since 2007, but said breastfeeding rates could be increased and children could become healthier nationwide.

The Vital Signs report found that the percentage of hospitals in the United States using a majority of the “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” – deemed the global standard for hospital care in supporting breastfeeding – had a nearly two-fold increase from about 29 percent in 2007 to 54 percent in 2003.

"More hospitals are better supporting new moms to breastfeed -- every newborn should have the best possible start in life," said CDC Director Tom Frieden.

The CDC report examined data from Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care, its national survey measuring the percentage of hospital practicing the “Ten Steps” consistently, including helping moms start breastfeeding within an hour of birth and referring them to breastfeeding support group.

It also showed that 14 percent of the close to 4 million babies born every year in the U.S. are born in baby-friendly hospitals, a figure that almost tripled in recent years but stays low.

Other findings include increased levels of teaching mothers different breastfeeding methods from 88 percent in 2007 to 92 percent in 2013, and initiating breastfeeding early on from about 44 percent in 2007 to 65 percent in 2013.

Continued improvement, however, is considered necessary. Based on survey data, only 26 percent of hospitals ensured healthy, breastfeeding babies are given only breast milk – meaning about three-quarters of hospitals still feed them formula in the first few day even if mothers say they want to breastfeed.

Only 45 percent of them kept moms and babies together to ensure bond and feeding cues. Only 32 percent, too, provided plenty of post-hospitalization support to breastfeeding moms.

Cria Perrine, PhD, epidemiologist in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity of CDC, said that while the improvements are “promising,” they want to see more health care facilities fully supporting breastfeeding mothers, as guided by the “Ten Steps” program.

"What happens in the hospital can determine whether a mom starts and continues to breastfeed, and we know that many moms – 60 percent – stop breastfeeding earlier than they'd like,” Perrine warned.

Pediatrician Valerie Flaherman from the University of California, San Francisco agrees with giving mothers a head start in breastfeeding but calls for updating the 10 best practices.

According to her, the list has not been revisited since it was drafted over two decades ago, including the recommendation to limit pacifier use with the belief that it inhibits breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding benefits include reduced risk for ear and respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in babies, and a lower likelihood of getting breast and ovarian cancers, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease among mother, CDC said.

Breastfeeding is also estimated to help save over $2 billion in annual healthcare costs for children.

Photo: David Leo Veksler | Flickr

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