My first son was born in a hospital on a Saturday, and, as per the advice of more seasoned moms, I immediately asked to see the hospital’s lactation consultant for some help getting started breastfeeding. In response, I got on a two-day-long waiting list—in fact, the LC finally came into my room as I was packing up to head home with my newborn and some already cracked and sore nipples. Apparently, I’m far from the only one who hasn’t received some much-needed breastfeeding support in-hospital: a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that hospitals are doing far too little to encourage new mothers to breastfeed.
The CDC’s report on hospital practices to support breastfeeding in this month’s Vital Signs found that less than 4 percent of U.S. hospitals do everything they should to help mothers breastfeed, and only 14 percent of hospitals have a model written breastfeeding policy in place. Sadly, the majority of hospitals give infants food or drink other than breast milk when it’s not medically necessary. Additionally, only a third of hospitals keep baby at mom’s bedside, a practice that facilitates breastfeeding—instead opting to keep the babies in hospital nurseries.
CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, said during a press briefing that improvements may require “large cultural changes within hospitals,” and explained that some formula companies give hospitals formula for free for use in preemies and other special needs infants who can’t breastfeed—but only if the hospitals put samples of formula in the goody bags they send home with new moms. While hospitals worry about the short-term cost of having to pay for the formula for babies who actually need it, Frieden explained that promoting breastfeeding would reduce costs in the long run because of the health benefits associated with breastfeeding, including a lower risk of SIDS, obesity, diabetes, and a variety of infectious diseases, as well as benefits for moms, including a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
To help hospitals encourage breastfeeding and win the designation of “baby-friendly,” the World Health Organization and UNICEF sponsored the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, which includes the following principles in the U.S.:
- Have 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.
If you delivered in a hospital, did the staff support you in your attempts to breastfeed? Did you have access to a lactation consultant or helpful nurses? Did you leave with a gift bag of formula samples?