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Hospitals Need Better Maternity Care Practices

Photo: Mother and childBreastfeeding helps protects children from obesity. In the US, most mothers want – and try – to breastfeed. Unfortunately, even moms who want to breastfeed have a hard time without hospital support. The CDC Vital Signs report, Hospital Practices to Support Breastfeeding — United States, 2007 and 2009, shows 96 percent of hospitals lack maternity care policies and practices that fully support moms to be able to breastfeed. Hospitals can do more to make sure every mother can start and continue breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding, An Important Step To Protect Against Childhood Obesity

In the US, 1 preschooler in 5 is overweight, and half of these are obese. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults who suffer from chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

A baby's risk of becoming overweight goes down with each month of breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that healthy babies only be given breast milk for about the first six months of life. When babies are fed formula, their risks are higher for obesity and other illnesses.

Baby-Friendly Hospitals are Breastfeeding Friendly Hospitals

With nearly 500 babies born in US hospitals every hour, hospitals play a vital role in helping moms be able to breastfeed. Separating mothers and babies, or routinely giving formula to breastfeeding babies makes it harder for mothers to breastfeed. Experts recommend Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding that hospitals can take to support breastfeeding moms and help them to continue feeding only breast milk at home:

  • Photo: A child breastfeedingHave a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
  • Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
  • Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
  • Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
  • Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
  • Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
  • Practice "rooming in" – allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
  • Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
  • Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
  • Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.

The international Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative recognizes hospitals that follow the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding by designating them Baby -Friendly. Only 5 percent of babies are born in Baby-Friendly hospitals.

Photo: A healthcare professional providing guidance to a new mother breastfeed her child.State and Local Government can:

  • Set statewide maternity care quality standards for hospitals to support breastfeeding.
  • Help hospitals use the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, starting with the largest hospitals in the state.

Hospitals can:

  • Partner with Baby-Friendly hospitals to learn how to improve maternity care.
  • Use CDC's Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC) survey data to prioritize changes to improve maternity care practices.
  • Stop distributing formula samples and give-aways to breastfeeding mothers.

Doctors and Nurses can:

  • Label: Baby Friendly. Help write hospital policies that help every mother be able to breastfeed.
  • Include lactation consultants and other breastfeeding experts on patient care teams.

Mothers and their Families can:

  • Talk to doctors and nurses about breastfeeding plans, and ask how to get help with breastfeeding.
  • Ask about breastfeeding support when choosing a hospital.

More Information

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  • Page last reviewed: August 2, 2011
  • Page last updated: August 2, 2011 The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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