A huge increase in breastfeeding compliance at hospitals is encouraging scientists.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that breastfeeding support has improved at many hospitals in the United States since 2007.
The latest CDC Vital Signs report, which was released on Tuesday, found that the percentage of U.S. hospitals that adhered to the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeed global standard increased from 29 to 54 percent between 2007 and 2013, according to a CDC press release.
It’s a huge increase that could result in healthier children due to higher rates of breastfeeding nationwide.
Breastfeeding is important because it has huge health benefits compared to using formula purchased at the grocery store, said CDC Director Tom Frieden.
“Breastfeeding has immense health benefits for babies and their mothers,” he said. “More hospitals are better supporting new moms to breastfeed — every newborn should have the best possible start in life.”
A total of 4 million babies are borne very year in the United States, but just 14 percent are born at what the CDC considers “baby-friendly” hospitals under the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative. The bright side of that fact is that the number has tripled in recent years.
The Vital Signs report took data from CDC’s national survey, which is called Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC). Using this, researchers were able to measure what percentage of U.S. hospitals had practices that were consistent with the Ten Steps, which measures how much breastfeeding support there is before, during, and after a stay in a hospital. CDC publishes Vital Signs on the first Tuesday of each month. It is part of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a CDC journal.
The report found that hospital staff actually showed a surprisingly high percentage of breastfeeding education, both in the early stages of the study and toward the end, showing at 91 percent in 2007 and 93 percent in 2013. They also taught mothers breastfeeding techniques 92 percent of the time in 2013, up form 88 percent in 2007. Also, early initiative of breastfeeding jump from 44 to 65 percent over that period.
But there are still some causes for concern, states the report: “In 2013, just 26 percent of hospitals ensured that only breast milk was given to healthy, breastfeeding infants who did not need infant formula for a medical reason. In 2013, only 45 percent of hospitals kept mothers and babies together throughout the entire hospital stay, which provides opportunities to breastfeed and helps mothers learn feeding cues. In 2013, only 32 percent of hospitals provided enough support for breastfeeding mothers when they left the hospital, including a follow-up visit and phone call, and referrals for additional support.”
The World Health Organization and UNICEF teamed up to create the BFHI, which was subsequently endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It was the BFHI that came up with the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.
Cria Perrine, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, said that the hospital is critical in the push to encourage more breastfeeding among mothers.
“What happens in the hospital can determine whether a mom starts and continues to breastfeed, and we know that many moms – 60 percent – stop breastfeeding earlier than they’d like,” she said.”These improvements in hospital support for breastfeeding are promising, but we also want to see more hospitals fully supporting mothers who want to breastfeed. The Ten Steps help ensure that mothers get the best start with breastfeeding.”
Some of the 10 steps include: “Educate all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth. Keep mothers and babies together throughout the entire hospital stay. Provide mothers with information about breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to these groups upon discharge from the hospital.”
Hospitals will need to work to improve their scores. The CDC advises them to implement the Ten Steps and work toward Baby-Friendly status. They should also be using the CDC’s Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care survey to improve their practices, and work with organizations, doctors, and the medical community to improve their networks of breastfeeding support.
The CDC says the benefits to breastfeeding are numerous. Studies have shown that breastfed babies have lower risks for infections of the ear, stomach, and intestines, to name a few. They also appear to be less likely to get later ailments like obesity, asthma, or even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
And the benefits are great for mothers too. Studies show that women are less likely to get breast cancer or ovarian cancer if the breastfeed. They also have a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Furthermore, there’s a financial gain. A total of $2 billion is spent every year on medical costs for children that develop complications that may have come as a result of not breastfeeding. And, of course, women who breastfeed don’t have to spend money on formula.
On safely preparing and storing expressed breast milk: “Be sure to wash your hands before expressing or handling breast milk. When collecting milk, be sure to store it in clean containers, such as screw cap bottles, hard plastic cups with tight caps, or heavy-duty bags that fit directly into nursery bottles. Avoid using ordinary plastic storage bags or formula bottle bags, as these could easily leak or spill. If delivering breast milk to a child care provider, clearly label the container with the child’s name and date. Clearly label the milk with the date it was expressed to facilitate using the oldest milk first. Do not add fresh milk to already frozen milk within a storage container. It is best not to mix the two. Do not save milk from a used bottle for use at another feeding.”
On safely thawing breast milk: “As time permits, thaw frozen breast milk by transferring it to the refrigerator for thawing or by swirling it in a bowl of warm water. Avoid using a microwave oven to thaw or heat bottles of breast milk. Microwave ovens do not heat liquids evenly. Uneven heating could easily scald a baby or damage the milk. Bottles may explode if left in the microwave too long. Excess heat can destroy the nutrient quality of the expressed milk. Do not re-freeze breast milk once it has been thawed.”
On maintaining a milk supply while traveling: “A mother who has a flexible schedule while traveling may take regular breaks to express her milk. Milk expression approximating the frequency with which the infant or child typically nurses (generally every 2-3 hours for infants less than 6 months old) helps a mother maintain her milk supply. Certainly, the longer the separation between the nursing mother and child, the more difficult it is to maintain a full milk supply. In general, separation of a week or less usually poses no major problem for a mother wishing to maintain breastfeeding during separation from her child. This duration becomes more flexible and can be maintained for a longer period of time as the child grows older and complementary foods play a greater role in the child’s diet. In many cases, after returning from travel, a nursing infant or child will help bring her milk supply to its prior level. Depending on her destination, a mother may need to plan for alternative methods of milk expression. Intermittent milk expression can be done manually or with the help of a small battery or manual breast pump. However, to maintain an abundant milk supply over an extended period of time, a woman may have greater success using a hospital-grade double breast electric pump.”
On storing and handling while traveling: “Expressed milk should be stored in clean, tightly sealed containers. Any container may be used if it can be thoroughly cleaned with hot, soapy water and if it seals tightly. Many mothers choose to use infant feeding bottles with solid caps to store milk. Milk may be stored and transported in refrigeration, or frozen in dry ice. Freshly expressed milk is safe for infant consumption even when stored at room temperature for up to 6–8 hours.
Fresh milk may be safely stored in an insulated cooler bag with frozen ice packs for up to 24 hours. Refrigerated milk can be stored for 5 days. Once milk is cooled, it should remain cool until the milk is consumed. Refrigerated milk can subsequently be frozen, however once frozen milk is fully thawed it should be used within one hour. Because of these requirements, a breastfeeding mother needs to consider access to safe storage options in making her decision whether to keep her expressed milk to bring back to her infant or child, or to discard it before returning home. Depending upon the destination, if no reliable milk storage is available, a mother traveling without her nursing infant or child may need to discard her expressed milk. In such a situation it is important to recognize the value of regular expression while separated to help her maintain her milk supply until she and her nursing infant or child can be reunited, regardless if milk is stored.”