Less than 4 percent of hospitals in the United States offer the full support needed for mothers to breastfeed, according to a new government report.
And only 14 percent of U.S. hospitals have an actual written breastfeeding policy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, the report found that nearly 80 percent of hospitals give formula to infants who are healthy and breastfeeding even though it's not medically necessarily.
"Those first few hours and days that a mom and her baby spend learning to breastfeed are critical," CDC director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., said in a statement. "Hospitals need to better support breastfeeding, as this is one of the most important things a mother can do for her newborn. Breastfeeding helps babies grow up healthy and reduces health care costs."
Also, the report showed that only one-third of hospitals practice "rooming in," which is when the baby is allowed to stay in the room with the mother. The practice allows more frequent opportunities to breast feed.
And almost 75 percent of hospitals don't provide appropriate follow-up support to moms and babies after they leave the hospital, according to the report.
"In the United States most women want to breastfeed, and most women start," Ursula Bauer, Ph.D., director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a statement. "But without hospital support many women have a hard time continuing to breastfeed, and they stop early."
There are a number of practices a hospital can do to ensure the optimal support for breastfeeding, the CDC said, including not giving infants formala unless they medically need it, encouraging moms to stay with their babies 24 hours a day and connecting new moms with support groups after leaving the hospital.
Breastfeeding has a multitude of health benefits for both mom and baby, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The doctor group's policy statement says that breastfeeding decreases baby's risk of infectious diseases, sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes and asthma.
And breastfeeding baby for nine months lowers the baby's risk of becoming overweight by more than 30 percent, according to the CDC.
For moms, breastfeeding decreases bleeding postpartum, risk of breast and ovarian cancers and risk of osteoporosis and hip fractures after menopause, according to the AAP policy statement.