CDC: Hospitals fail to promote breastfeeding

Few U.S. hospitals provide the full range of support that mothers need to be able to breastfeed their infants, the CDC reported Tuesday.

Only 14 percent have a model breastfeeding policy, and less than 4 percent follow at least nine of 10 recommended practices, the report said.

And in Georgia, as in several Southern states, the percentage of births at ‘’Baby-Friendly’’ hospitals that promote breastfeeding is zero, according to the CDC report.

The Georgia Hospital Association, though, responded Tuesday that the negative statistic is misleading. It said hospitals in the state practice, or have in place, policies that encourage breastfeeding, even if none may have pursued the official Baby-Friendly designation.

“We firmly believe that most hospitals in the state already practice the 10 Baby-Friendly steps recommended in the study,’’ said Kevin Bloye, a GHA vice president.

A hospital is designated ‘’Baby-Friendly’’ when it follows the 10 steps to successful breastfeeding. These include helping moms initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth; practicing “rooming in’’ by allowing mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day; and connecting mothers with support groups and other resources to help with breastfeeding after hospital discharge.

The CDC report was based on a national survey of U.S. obstetric hospitals and birth centers. The CDC analyzed these data to describe the prevalence of facilities using maternity care practices consistent with the 10 breastfeeding steps.

Breastfeeding has important health and economic benefits, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in commenting on the report Tuesday.

It can reduce the risk of childhood obesity and diabetes, and lower the risk of respiratory and ear infections. “Breast milk is the perfect nutrition for an infant,’’ Frieden said. And mothers who breastfeed also benefit, having lower risks of breast and ovarian cancer.

Low breastfeeding rates add $2.2 billion a year to health care costs, the CDC said.

Hospitals play an important role in supporting mothers’ ability to breastfeed, said Frieden.

While hospitals have shown some recent improvements, “we’re still a very long way from where we need to be,’’ he said.

The CDC report found that in nearly 80 percent of hospitals, healthy breastfeeding infants are given formula when it is not medically necessary, the report added.

Some hospitals are concerned that a breastfeeding policy will cost more money, Frieden said, noting that formula manufacturers often supply free formula.

But the CDC’s Cria Perrine, lead author of the study on breastfeeding, said the cost of a birth at a Baby Friendly hospital isn’t different than those at other hospitals.