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Breastfeeding support at hospitals is growing for new moms

More hospitals are supporting new moms who want to breastfeed, and the shift could make for healthier little ones, but officials said today more progress is needed.

The percentage of U.S. hospitals following guidelines known as the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding almost doubled between 2007 and 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The "Ten Steps" are the global standard for hospital care to support breastfeeding, and over the course of six years, their use in U.S. hospitals jumped from 29 percent to 54 percent, the CDC said.

When it comes to breastfeeding, how hospital staff approach a new mom in the hours and days after her baby is born can make a big difference in whether or not breastfeeding begins and for how long it continues, said CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden at a press briefing today that highlighted the results of the CDC's Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care Survey.

"Breastfeeding is important and it's good for an infant's health and for a mother's health," said Frieden. "We're seeing more progress than we thought we'd see but we do have much more progress to make."

Of the nearly four million babies born each year in the U.S., 14 percent are born in what Frieden calls "baby-friendly" hospitals.

Frieden said more hospitals need to jump on board and adopt "Ten Step" plans, or if they have them, make sure they follow all ten of the steps. The steps are:

    • 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 1 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.

    Right now, nine out of 10 hospitals use at least two of the ten steps.

    When it comes to breastfeeding, babies should get nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life and continue breastfeeding for at least a year, according to recommendations from The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

    There are health perks to breastfeeding from day one, even hour one, said Frieden. Babies who are fed formula and stop breastfeeding early are at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, respiratory and ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). They also tend to require more doctor visits, hospitalizations, and prescriptions.

    Moms benefit too. Women who breastfeed have a lower risk for breast and ovarian cancers and are at a lower risk for diabetes and heart disease.

    The survey also showed that as of 2013, only 32 percent of hospitals provided enough support for breastfeeding mothers when they left the hospital, including a follow-up visit and phone call, and referrals for additional support.

    "What happens in the hospital can determine whether a mom starts and continues to breastfeed, and we know that many moms -- 60 percent -- stop breastfeeding earlier than they'd like," said the CDC's Dr. Cria Perrine, an epidemiologist in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, who also spoke at the briefing.

    Perrine encouraged pregnant women and those planning to have children to ask their local hospitals about their "baby friendly" policies and to encourage those without plans to create them. Pediatricians can do the same.

    Frieden said roadblocks to making hospitals "baby friendly" may include old notions about what new mothers and babies need, such as giving a little formula to be sure babies are well-hydrated.

    "Even a little bit of formula can undermine a strong start to breastfeeding," he said.

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