THURSDAY, June 12 (HealthDay News) -- Many U.S. hospitals and birth centers don't provide maternity care that's fully supportive of breast-feeding, government researchers reported Thursday.
Previous studies have shown that birth facility practices and policies play a crucial role in establishing the practice of breast-feeding and helping mothers continue breast-feeding after they head home.
For this new study, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a national maternity practices survey last year looking at seven areas involving the care of women who choose to breast-feed their newborns. The responses were rated on a scale of 0 to 100 points.
From the 2,700 facilities that responded, the researchers found that nationally, the average facility score was 63 for key maternity practices in infant nutrition and care.
The average scores for the seven areas were: labor and delivery, 60; breast-feeding assistance, 80; mother-newborn contact, 70; postpartum feeding, 77; breast-feeding support after hospital discharge, 40; nurse/birth attendant breast-feeding training and education, 51; and structural and organizational quality, 66.
The mean total scores combining all seven categories varied widely among states, from 81 in both New Hampshire and Vermont to 48 in Arkansas. The study authors noted that seven southern states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and West Virginia -- had the lowest percentages (less than 30 percent) of children who were breast-fed for six months, according to the survey.
Hospitals and birth centers in many southern states scored lower (a range of 48 to 58) in practices supportive of breast-feeding than states in other regions of the country.
Western and New England states generally scored better than other areas. Vermont and New Hampshire had the highest overall maternity practice scores (81), followed by Maine (77) and Oregon (74).
The findings were published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
"These findings underscore the importance of improving the way hospitals and birth centers provide assistance, encouragement and support for breast-feeding," Laurence Grummer-Strawn, chief of the nutrition branch in CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, said in a prepared statement. "We have a great deal of work to do to accomplish our national objectives related to breast-feeding, and birth facilities can make a huge contribution to this effort."
According to the CDC, the benefits of breast-feeding for both babies and mothers include the facts that: breast milk contains antibodies that can protect infants from bacterial and viral infections; breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight compared to formula-fed babies; and research shows women who breastfeed may have lower rates of diabetes and breast or ovarian cancers than women who don't.
The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about breast-feeding.