Most moms who want to exclusively breastfeed their baby for 3 months fail

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(CBS News) While moms might want to breastfeed their children for an extended period of time after giving birth, most of them don't reach their goals, according to a new study.

Research published in the July issue of Pediatrics shows that out of the 85 percent of new mothers who said they wanted to try exclusively breastfeeding their children for three months or longer, only 32.4 percent of them actually met their goal.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding as the only form of food or drink until babies reach six months old, and adds that breastfeeding can be a supplemental food source for children up to two years old and older. However, they recognize that around the world, less than 40 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed until they are six months old.

Not only does breast milk give children all the nutrients they need for healthy development, it contains antibodies that help protect children from common illnesses such as pneumonia and diarrhea, the WHO says.

It helps moms too. Breastfeeding has been associated with lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, and it can aid new moms in getting back to their pre-pregnancy weight faster, with reported lower rates of obesity. For mothers, it can even act as a natural, although not fail safe, form of birth control: It can give woman 98 percent protection against pregnancy if done exclusively six months after giving birth.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 73.9 percent of children born in 2006 from a nationally-representative survey were breastfed. However, only 43.4 percent were still breastfeeding at six months of age, and only 13.6 percent were exclusively breastfed. By the time they reached their first birthday, only 22.7 percent were receiving any of their mother's breast milk.

For the Pediatrics study, researchers asked 1,457 mothers who were part of an earlier infant feeding study to complete prenatal and monthly questionnaires for 12 months.

Although many of the women who said they wanted to exclusively breastfeed wanted to do it for three months or more, 42 percent of stopped in the first month and 15 percent stopped before they left the hospital.

Mothers who were married and had previously given birth to another child were more likely to reach their goals, and were also more likely to breastfeed within one hour of giving birth and less likely to give their children pacifiers or formula during their time in the hospital. Moms who were obese, smoked or aimed for longer goals of exclusive breastfeeding were less likely to make it to their intended date.

The researchers suggest increased "Baby-Friendly" Hospital Initiative (BFHI) practices - including promoting solely giving breast milk while infants stay in the hospital - which may help mothers reach their goals. BFHI, introduced in 1991, is a joint project between UNICEF and the WHO which helps promote that all maternal wards become areas to promote breastfeeding. Their 10 steps to encourage successful breastfeeding has been adopted at many locations, with tips including: 

  • 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 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 breastmilk, unless medically indicated.
  • Practice rooming in - that is, allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
  • Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
  • Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.
  • Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic.

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