Hospitals fall short in providing breastfeeding support

Although more U.S. hospitals educate mothers on breastfeeding, only about half follow a majority of internationally accepted best practices shown to help mothers continue breastfeeding at home, a new study found.

While 91 percent of hospitals provide breastfeeding training during prenatal classes and 92 percent teach breastfeeding techniques, only 26 percent limit non-breastmilk feedings of infants in the hospital, according to the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Most hospitals also fail to:

  • allow healthy, full-term infants to spend at least 23 hours a day with their mothers
  • limit the use of pacifiers
  • foster breastfeeding support groups and actively reach out to mothers after discharge to refer them to breastfeeding coaches and other types of support

The researchers noted that support is most important within the first week after birth, when problems such as getting the baby to latch were most pronounced and mothers might not have connected yet with community breastfeeding support.

The report recommends a "continuum of care that extends from the hospital to other providers and programs in the first few weeks postpartum."

Tom Frieden, M.D., director of the CDC, told reporters during a news conference that hospitals have made significant progress since the study's baseline year of 2007, NPR reported. "But there's still more to be done," he said. "Hospitals really need to support women before, during and after their hospital stay."

What hospitals can do

He encouraged hospitals to participate in CDC's biennial Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care survey so they can receive an individual report on how they compare to other hospitals. Organizations can also work with doctors and lactation consultants to create networks to support breastfeeding mothers, Medscape reported.

Doctors and other providers can also help hospitals write policies that encourage mothers to breastfeed, according to the Medscape article. "They can counsel mothers on breastfeeding during prenatal visits and include lactation care providers on patient care teams. They can support breastfeeding at hospital and at well-baby visits," Frieden said.

In addition, Frieden said that next year The Joint Commission will consider a new hospital indicator for exclusive breastfeeding during and at discharge unless medically contraindicated. 

In some cases, hospitals band together to support breastfeeding. In Texas, 33 hospitals joined a five-year quality improvement program to create environments that improve the chances that mothers can exclusively breastfeed.

The study noted that infants are best served if they can breastfeed exclusively for six months, with breastmilk supplemented by nutrient-rich complementary foods for the second six months.There's a monetary issue as well when it comes to hospitals educating mothers and linking them with breastfeeding support. The U.S. would save $13 billion per year if 90 percent of families would breastfeed exclusively for six months, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

For more:
- here's the study
- read the NPR story