March 23, 2009

Hospitals influence breastfeeding decision

Hospital practices, such as supplementing newborns with formula or giving them pacifiers, reduce the odds new mothers will breastfeed, U.S. researchers say.

A research team led by Eugene Declercq of the Boston University School of Public Health finds a significant drop-off between the numbers of mothers who intend to breastfeed exclusively and those who go on to fulfill that intention one week after giving birth.

Among first-time mothers, 70 percent reported an intention to breastfeed exclusively but only 50 percent achieved that goal at one week, Declercq says.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, finds the practice of hospital staff providing formula or water to supplement breastfeeding was significantly related to the failure to achieve exclusive breastfeeding.

Mothers whose infants were not offered supplementation were far more likely to achieve their intention to breastfeed -- 4.4 times more likely among primiparas, first-time mothers, and 8.8 times more likely among multiparas, woman who have given birth two or more times.

First-time mothers who delivered in hospitals that practiced at least six out of seven recommended steps to encourage breastfeeding -- such as helping mothers get started and not giving babies pacifiers -- were six times more likely to fulfill their intention to breastfeed exclusively than mothers who reported experiencing one or none of these practices, Declercq says.