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.”
Today, only 56 hospitals and birth centers in the U.S. follow the baby-friendly global guidelines for breastfeeding, which include these 5 practices. To significantly improve a mother’s likelihood of continuing to breastfeed, many other hospitals must change their current practices of caring for mothers and babies after delivery.
“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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