Despite the reported health benefits of breastfeeding, only 4 percent of US hospitals provide the full range of support for mothers who choose to breastfeed, according to a recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Research shows that breastfeeding, especially in a child’s early months of life, can help prevent childhood obesity and reduce mothers and children’s likelihood of suffering from illnesses.
The study found nearly 75 percent of hospitals in the United States do not provide sufficient breastfeeding support to mothers and babies once they leave the hospital, including follow-up visits and providing referrals to lactation consultants. In addition, only 14 percent of hospitals have enacted a breastfeeding policy.“In the United States most women want to breastfeed, and most women start,” said Ursula Bauer, who has a PhD in epidemiology and a master’s in public health. She is director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “But without hospital support many women have a hard time continuing to breastfeed, and they stop early.”
The CDC designated some hospitals as “baby-friendly,” determining that they practice WHO/UNICEF’s Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding. There are no designated baby-friendly facilities DC nor Maryland, and Culpeper Regional Hospital is the only baby-friendly hospital in Virginia.
The 2011 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding cited various studies that have found that breastfeeding offers various health benefits for both mothers and their babies. Research shows that breastfeeding can help protect against a host of illnesses and diseases, including breast and ovarian cancer among mothers, and type two diabetes, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome among children.
In particular, with the proper support and post-natal care for new mothers, breastfeeding decreases a baby’s risk of becoming obese. However, due to low rates of breastfeeding and lack of help from hospitals, the CDC estimates $2.2 billion is spent per year on additional medical costs that could be lessened with higher breastfeeding rates.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers feed their babies only breast milk for at least the first six months and encourages mothers to continue breastfeeding in addition to baby or solid foods for the rest of the year. According to the CDC, by nine months, only 31 percent of infants are breastfeeding.