Few Hospitals Offer Full Range of Breastfeeding Support, Says CDC
By Jacqueline Tourville
Hospitals don’t do enough to help moms and babies succeed at breastfeeding, according to a disappointing new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found less than 4 percent of hospitals nationwide provide a full range of support for new moms interested in nursing.
Less than 4 percent of hospitals nationwide provide a full range of support for new moms interested in nursing.
What supports are missing? After surveying almost 3,000 obstetric hospitals and birthing centers, results showed that only 14 percent have any kind of formal breastfeeding policy in place to offer guidelines on such issues as when to offer formula supplementation to breastfeeding newborns. Maybe because of this, the report also found that in nearly 80 percent of hospitals nationwide, healthy breastfeeding infants are routinely given baby formula, even when it is not medically necessary–a practice that makes it much harder for mothers and babies to learn how to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding at home.
Additionally, says the CDC, only one–third of hospitals practice rooming in, which helps mothers and babies learn to breastfeed by allowing frequent chances to breastfeed. Finally, the report finds that in nearly 75 percent of hospitals, mothers and babies do not receive any kind of follow up contact from a lactation consultant or other hospital staff after they leave the hospital.
“In the United States most women want to breastfeed, and most women start,” said Ursula Bauer, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, in an agency news release. “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.”
Visiting the hospital where you plan to deliver? Besides checking out the birthing rooms, ask the staff tour leader what happens after you give birth–specifically, how does the hospital assist moms and babies as they begin breastfeeding? Also ask whether the hospital is designated a “Baby-Friendly Hospital” by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Launched in 1991, the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative requires hospitals to follow 10 specific steps to support successful breastfeeding:
- Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
- Inform all pregnant women and new moms about the benefits of breastfeeding.
- Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one half-hour of birth.
- Show mothers how to breastfeed and maintain lactation,even if they should be separated from their infants.
- Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically necessary.
- Practice “rooming in” as a way to allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
- Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
- Refrain from offering pacifiers to breastfeeding infants.
- Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them after discharge from the hospital.
The CDC used these ten standards to evaluate hospitals. While, as the agency found, only 4 percent of hospitals and birthing centers follow all 10 steps, an amazingly small number of hospitals–only 25 in the entire country–have gone through the process to become officially designated “Baby-Friendly”.
Health experts say hospitals in the U.S. should work quickly to turn this situation around. “Hospitals need to greatly improve practices to support mothers who want to breastfeed,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC’s director, told CNN. “If they don’t, at current trends, it will take more than 100 years before every baby in this country is born in a hospital where the hospital fully supports a mother’s desire to breastfeed.