Public Release: 

Hospital practices affect long-term breastfeeding success

Only 1 in 5 mothers experience all breastfeeding-friendly practices post-delivery

Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Denver - August 28, 2007 - Breast milk and breastfeeding are recognized to be the ideal choices of nutrition and feeding for infants. Breastfeeding is the normal method of feeding infants, and provides many benefits to both infants and mothers. In addition to receiving essential nutrients, breastfed infants have lower rates of ear infections, gastroenteritis, asthma, obesity and diabetes. Benefits for mothers include decreased incidence of breast and ovarian cancer. National goals in the U.S. are a breastfeeding initiation rate of 75 percent (with an exclusive breastfeeding rate for the first 3 months of 60 percent), and continuation of 50 percent at 6 months of age (with 25 percent exclusively breastfeeding).

A new study in Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care suggests that implementing 5 breastfeeding-friendly practices in hospitals following birth can significantly improve long-term breastfeeding success. Nearly two-thirds of mothers who engaged in all 5 supportive practices were still breastfeeding 4 months after going home. The specific hospital practices include:

  • Initiating breastfeeding within 1 hour of delivery

  • Keeping infants in the mother's hospital room

  • Feeding infants only breast milk in the hospital; no supplementation of water or formula

  • Prohibiting pacifier use in the hospital

  • Providing a telephone number to call for breastfeeding help after hospital discharge

"These practices are important because a high percentage of mothers initiate breastfeeding, but a large percentage discontinues it within the first month or two after birth," says Erin Murray, lead author of the study, "and the main reasons for stopping are related to preventable or resolvable difficulties with breastfeeding."

Study results indicate that most Colorado hospitals were not committed to these practices at the time of the study. Of the more than 4,500 Colorado mothers surveyed, only 1 in 5 mothers who began breastfeeding in the study experienced all of these breastfeeding-friendly practices. To significantly improve a mother's likelihood of continuing to breastfeed, many hospitals must change their current practices of caring for mothers and babies after delivery. Today, only 56 hospitals and birth centers in the U.S. follow the baby-friendly global guidelines for breastfeeding, which include these 5 practices.

"When these practices were experienced together, they significantly improved how long mothers breastfed regardless of their socioeconomic status," says Murray . "Thus, all mothers who want to be successful with breastfeeding will benefit from delivering their baby at a hospital that consistently provides these breastfeeding practices shown to support the establishment of breastfeeding."

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This study is published in Volume 34 Issue 3 of Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article may contact professionalnews@bos.blackwellpublishing.net.

Erin K. Murray, MSPH, RD, is a public health consultant with a group of hospitals in Colorado to evaluate their breastfeeding policies and procedures and implement more evidence-based hospital practices that are supportive of breastfeeding. She can be reached for questions at ekmurray@comcast.net.

Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care is a multidisciplinary, refereed journal devoted to issues and practices in the care of childbearing women, infants, and families. It is written by and for professionals in maternal and neonatal health, nurses, midwives, physicians, public health workers, childbirth educators, lactation counselors, and other health caregivers and policymakers in perinatal care. For more information, please visit www.blackwellpublishing.com/bir.

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