Few U.S. Moms Breastfeed as Planned

< Jun. 06, 2012 > -- Most pregnant women say they plan to breastfeed their baby, but when it comes to actually doing so, fewer than a third of them met their breastfeeding goal of three months or more.

Researchers at the CDC say those best-laid plans appear to be thwarted by hospital procedure.

Although the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that moms breastfeed their infant exclusively for the first six months, only 15 percent do. Thirty-five percent hit the three-month mark.

Hospital program

Women who breastfeed their infant within an hour of birth tend to continue to breastfeed successfully. To encourage more women to breastfeed, the WHO and UNICEF created a U.S. program called the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.

Some of the steps the program asks hospitals to do include not giving infants any supplemental feedings, unless medically necessary; allowing mothers and babies to stay together 24 hours a day; and encouraging breastfeeding on demand.

But when researchers looked at how well hospitals were doing on this front, they found that giving supplemental feedings at the hospital was the biggest factor in predicting whether a woman would fail to meet her breastfeeding goal.

No extra feedings

Mothers of babies who weren't given extra feedings were 2.3 times more likely to achieve their breastfeeding intentions, the study says,

"Breastfeeding needs to be established in the first few days, and if you don't get started then, you probably are not going to be able to stick with it," says lead author Cria Perrine, Ph.D. "Our study shows that we're not supporting mothers as much as we need to."

For the study, Dr. Perrine and her colleagues looked at how much of an impact Baby-Friendly hospital practices had on exclusive breastfeeding. They reviewed data from the 2005 to 2007 Infant Feeding Practices Study II.

The researchers found 1,457 women who intended to breastfeed exclusively. From this group, more than 85 percent said they planned on breastfeeding exclusively for three months or more. Yet, only about 32 percent achieved this goal.

Other factors

In addition to supplemental feedings at the hospital having an impact, other factors played a role. Women who smoked or were obese were less likely to achieve their breastfeeding goals. Women who were married or who had more than one child were more likely to achieve their breastfeeding goals.

"The practice of supplemental feedings usually means that mom and baby are separated for long periods of time, and that's not good for breastfeeding," says Ruby Roy, M.D., at LaRabida Children's Hospital in Chicago. "It means that someone might not be paying attention to when the baby wants to be fed, and by the time baby gets to mom, the baby is so hungry that he or she is wailing."

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Why Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding is one of the greatest health advantages you can give your infant.

A breastfed baby may be less likely to get ear infections and diarrhea. Your breastfed child may also face less risk of developing diabetes, obesity, and asthma, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says. The AAP also recommends breastfeeding because of to its association with the reduced risk for sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS.

Ideally, you should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, with a goal of continuing breast milk for at least the first year. But you may face obstacles.

Both mom and baby must learn how to breastfeed in the first few days. This is the time when your body makes antibody-rich and easily digestible colostrum. Some mothers worry that colostrum isn't enough to nourish their baby, but it's the perfect food for newborns. Breast milk comes in for most mothers from two to five days after birth.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

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CDC - Breastfeeding

National Women's Health Information Center - Your Guide to Breastfeeding

Pediatrics - Baby-Friendly Hospital Practices and Meeting Exclusive Breastfeeding Intention