Health Buzz: Do Hospitals Discourage Breast-Feeding?

But: Is breast-feeding always best? Four benefits for mom.

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Fewer Hospitals Handing Out Free Formula, but Most Still Do

Do hospitals discourage breast-feeding by giving new moms free formula? Some breast-feeding proponents say so, and one researcher has found that while the percentage of hospitals handing out formula has decreased in recent years, the majority still do so. In 2007, Anne Merewood, an associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, reported that 14 percent of U.S. hospitals didn't give out free formula. When she repeated the survey in 2010, this time of hospitals in the 20 states with the highest and lowest percentages in 2007, she found the share of hospitals that didn't dole out the freebies had doubled to 28 percent—but that means nearly three-fourths still did. The study is published online and will appear in the journal Pediatrics in October. Many breast-feeding proponents would like to see hospitals abolish their handout policy. Leigh Anne O'Connor, a lactation consultant and spokeswoman for La Leche League, a breast-feeding advocacy group, told HealthDay the presence of formula could encourage moms to make the switch. (Many believe breast milk is the most nutritious and natural meal for a growing baby.) But the International Formula Council says the study didn't find a direct connection between handing out formula samples and breast-feeding rates.

  • Longer Breast-Feeding May Be Key to Bigger Brains
  • Longer Maternity Leave Ups Breast-Feeding Rates
  • Is Breast-Feeding Always Best for Babies?

    Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has issued a breast-feeding "call to action," urging families, communities, and employers to encourage the practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics says women should breast-feed exclusively until a baby is six months old. But only 13 percent of women meet that target, U.S. News reported in January.

    Public health experts have pushed breast-feeding as better for babies because the nutrient balance in breast milk is ideal for infants. Breast milk has also been promoted as giving newborns' immune systems a jumpstart by transferring germ-fighting antibodies from their mothers.

    Breast milk may have other qualities that are more surprising. For example: A mother's body may favor sons over daughters from the moment she first holds them to her breast by creating different milk for boys than for girls. The breast milk delivered to a male infant has a higher proportion of fat and protein, which presumably helps them grow bigger faster. [Read more: Is Breast-Feeding Always Best For Babies?]

    • Breast-Feeding Best for Diabetic Moms
    • Breast-Feeding Can Help Mom's Heart Decades Later
    • 4 Breast-Feeding Benefits for Mom

      The motto "breast is best" has long been drummed into the heads of mothers to be. And heck, the mantra has worked: At least 75 percent of babies today are breast-fed for some period compared to 60 percent 15 years ago—though far under half of babies are nursed beyond six months, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Repeated studies suggest that mothers in addition to their babies are being shortchanged because nursing seems to benefit them as well. Research published in 2010 in the American Journal of Medicine, for example, found that women who breast-fed for less than a month had nearly twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes decades later compared to those who breast-fed longer or to those who never had children. [Read more: 4 Breast-Feeding Benefits for Mom.]

      • Breast-Feeding Can Help Mom's Heart Decades Later
      • Breast-Feeding Lowers Breast Cancer Risk for Some
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