Lack of Support for Breastfeeding in United States Hospitals


A recent report by the CDC found that in the United States most babies begin breastfeeding, but within the first week half have been given formula, and by 9 months only 31% of babies are breastfeeding. This is an alarming result when one considers the benefits of breastfeeding. Babies who are fed formula and stop breastfeeding early have higher risks of obesity, diabetes, respiratory and ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and tend to require more doctor visits, hospitalizations, and prescriptions. Additionally, low rates of breastfeeding add $2.2 billion a year to medical costs. When hospitals offer mothers support for breastfeeding this leads to mothers breastfeeding longer.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative is a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding. The BFHI supports breastfeeding through The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding for Hospitals.

Based on the CDC report only 4% of United States Hospitals have implemented nine or more of the Ten Steps outlined in the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, only 14% of United States hospitals have a written model of a breastfeeding policy and in 80% of hospitals healthy breastfeeding infants were given formula even when there was no medical reason. It should be of paramount importance of hospitals to provide mothers with the support they need to implement successful breastfeeding practices. The federal government should help hospitals implement the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding and hospitals should be encouraged to partner with Baby-Friendly hospitals to learn how to improve their practices to achieve better support for mothers who chose to breastfeed.

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5 Responses to “Lack of Support for Breastfeeding in United States Hospitals”

  1. Agnes Says:

    This is an area that needs analysis based on ecological model as the percentage of hospitals that have adopted BFHI is very low in the U. S. It is felt that the fifth criteria “The mother and her family should be protected within the health care setting from false or misleading product promotion and/or advertising within the health care setting which interferes with or undermines informed choice regarding infant health care practices” is the most difficult one to maintain due to budgetary constraints regarding purchase of formula for the hospital. I agree that federal level efforts need to be directed at increasing the number of BFHI hospitals as this would promote an environment conducive to breast feeding.

  2. mjberley Says:

    I agree that this is an area that absolutely needs to be addressed. This year several of my best friends have had their first babies and only one is still breastfeeding. As was mentioned in the article one of the babies was given formula in the hospital and afterward it was very difficult for her to begin breastfeeding. Much more support and encouragement needs to be given in the hospitals, because few appreciate how difficult breastfeeding can be and if the hospitals don’t appear to make breastfeeding a priority it may lead new mothers to misunderstand its importance.

  3. caroberts7 Says:

    Considering the known benefits of breastfeeding, I am shocked to see that so few hospitals in the US have established breastfeeding policies. As has been previously commented, it would be very interesting to do an ecological analysis to determine what the barriers to breastfeeding are for both hospitals and mothers. Considering the challenges facing different hospitals and demographics, various approaches would be necessary to improve the level of breastfeeding across the country. I agree that getting more US hospitals in line with the BFHI is a great place to start.

  4. ctyhuang Says:

    I agree with Agnes in that the ecological model needs to be applied to this area. If at the interpersonal level, moms do not have good role models (my mom’s generation grew up believing formula was the gold standard), then their support might only come from people who are in the same stage as they are. Though this is support of some kind, and they have exhibited self-efficacy in seeking it out, I think (and speak from experience) it would be much more effective to hear advice and encouragement from someone who has already gone through the process.

    Also, in the US, breastfeeding is not addressed at the community level since this is seen as a private matter between a mother and her child (and hopefully with support from her partner). There is an acceptance and tolerance of whatever way a mom may choose to care for her child, since there may be a variety of factors involved and she should not be judged for her decisions. Because of this, the issue is left up to the individual, who may not see or hear very much discussion about the topic until she’s in the thick of it.

    While I applaud this program and the thinking behind it, I don’t think the most effective way of promoting long-term breastfeeding is through hospitals. They are only present for the first few days of life, but the challenges of breastfeeding may come much later when staff are out of the picture. Perhaps there should be policy aimed at groups or institutions that will have more frequent and longer-lasting contact with mom and baby such that there will be a sustained effort to them all the way through the first year of life.

  5. maggiebp Says:

    I also agree that working with US hospitals is of first-line importance; after all, a landslide majority of babies are born in hospitals, and even though new moms and babies may only spend several days there at the most, it is a crucial window for establishing healthy breastfeeding skills for mom and breastfeeding familiarity for baby. It is necessary to find out what exactly the roadblocks to breastfeeding are in US hospitals when breastfeeding is so beneficial. The fact that healthy breastfeeding babies have been started on formula for no medical reason is pretty disconcerting. Without reasons shown, this appears to be lack of consideration for the wishes of moms who want to exclusively breastfeed, as well as complete ignorance of national guidelines that set breastfeeding as the nutritional gold standard for newborns and infants.

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