CDC: Too Few Hospitals Support Breastfeeding

Only a fraction of US hospitals fully support new mothers in their efforts to breastfeed, despite evidence that it provides substantial health benefits to infants and mothers. (Image: Tari Faris/

Only 3.5% of US hospitals fully support new mothers in their efforts to breastfeed, according to a report published today by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Most hospitals offer prenatal breastfeeding education (93%) and have their staff teach new mothers techniques for nursing (89%) and how to recognize their infant’s hunger cues (82%). But very few offer the full range of support services recommended by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, according to the report. The data were drawn from the Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care, a national survey of US hospitals and birth centers.

Only 14% of hospitals have model policies for breastfeeding, while 22% limit supplementation of breastfed infants to cases where it is medically necessary. And only 27% provide postdischarge support for nursing mothers. According to CDC Director Thomas R Frieden, MD, MPH, such support is critical for new mothers to establish nursing and to ensure they don’t quit prematurely.

Between 2007 and 2009, the number of hospitals offering this full range of services grew only 1.1%, despite a continued emphasis on the health benefits of breastfeeding. If that slow rate of adoption continues, CDC Director Thomas Frieden said during a press briefing, it could take more than 100 years or several generations for all US infants to be born in “baby-friendly” hospitals.

“We’re very far from where we need to be,” Frieden said.

The low breastfeeding rates contribute an estimated $2.2 billion in medical costs in the United States. This estimate is based on the evidence that nursing reduces a woman’s risk of breast or ovarian cancer and that breastfed infants have lower rates of infection and obesity. Frieden urged more hospitals to offer these services.

In addition the report, the CDC’s Vital Signs program released information about the need for hospitals to support breastfeeding, including a fact sheet on the topic and links to related resources.

Categories: Neonatology and Infant Care, Pediatrics, Pregnancy and Breast Feeding, Women's Health