CDC Report: US Hospitals Helping Break Down Barriers To Breastfeeding

By Kate Sheehy
October 06, 2015
Kate Sheehy
Lactation Consultant Noreen Carver talks with moms about breastfeeding at Tucson Medical Center

TUCSON, Ariz. — The introduction of formula led many women to stop breastfeeding in the 1950s and '60s. It’s taken decades, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says breastfeeding rates are on the rise. 

Although it’s the most natural way to feed your baby, it can be extremely difficult. In a new report published Tuesday, the CDC takes a look at how hospitals have improved in helping women with breastfeeding and where there is still plenty of room for progress. One serious impediment is continued support for women once they leave the hospital. 

Lactation specialists, both inside and outside of birth facilities, are helping meet this need. The CDC shows their numbers per 1,000 live births has nearly doubled in less than 10 years. 

On a recent rainy afternoon, Sarah Hatten and her newborn baby boy are both in tears. Malachi was born with a tongue tie. That’s when the cord connecting the tongue to the floor of the mouth is short and restricts mobility. He had surgery to fix it, but now has to learn to suck. 

Crissi Blake works with mom and baby. She is a registered nurse and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She’s also co-owner of Milk and Honey, a new breastfeeding support center in Tucson.

“Because he’s not able to access her milk as efficiently as he needs to, he gets frustrated at the breast,” said Blake.

Kate Sheehy
Nina Isaac and Crissi Blake, owners of Milk and Honey in Tucson

Blake showed Hatten how to use a supplemental nursing system. The baby drinks from a tiny tube attached to a bottle with formula or breast milk that’s been pumped, while at the same time feeding at the breast.

“He’s still getting your breastmilk, he’s getting a little more flow, and he’s getting additional calories which will help increase his weight gain while stimulating your supply,” explained Blake. 

 The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for about the first six months. CDC studies show that breastfed babies have a lower risk of getting asthma, several types of infections and obesity. Moms who breastfeed their babies have a lower risk for breast and ovarian cancers, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. 

The CDC’s new report looking at breastfeeding support in hospitals shows that while 80 percent of infants in the United States begin breastfeeding, only about 22 percent make it to the recommended six months with only breastmilk.

Cria Perrine heads the infant feeding team at the CDC. She said it’s key that breastfeeding starts right away in the hospital.

“Breastfeeding is really about supply and demand. So that demand needs to start right away with breastfeeding the baby so that the supply will follow,” she said.

The data in the report is from a survey that includes indicators for the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding established by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund. This is at the core of the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, a global program that encourages birth facilities to provide optimal breastfeeding support. The CDC started the survey in 2007, sending it out to every birth facility in the country every two years. So far, more than 80 percent have responded.

Kate Sheehy
Sarah Hatten uses a Supplemental Nursing System to help her baby learn to breastfeed.

“We know that a lot of women stop breastfeeding before they intend. So that’s where I think these professionals are really key to helping women starting breastfeeding,” said Perrine. 

Perrine said hospitals have improved in several areas such as initiating breastfeeding and keeping moms and babies together, longer, after delivery. But that support drops significantly after the moms leave the hospital. 

Over the last few years, Tucson Medical Center has been implementing more breastfeeding friendly practices, such as using formula only when medically necessary. And within the last few weeks, it’s opened an outpatient breastfeeding clinic.

“Because it’s so frustrating when you talk to them on the phone and then call them a day later and things still haven’t changed. And you know that if you could just look at the latch, you could come up with different things,” said Noreen Carver, an
IBCLC at Tucson Medical Center.

The "latch" she’s talking about is the way a baby’s mouth connects to the mom’s nipple in order to effectively get milk. Carver said now she’ll be able to see more moms one on one. There is even financial assistance for women who have to pay out of pocket.

In Arizona, the CDC says 49 percent of birth facilities are implementing more than half of the 10 successful breastfeeding practices, more than double what it was in 2007. 

Carver said another impetus for more moms to breastfeed is that lactation support services are covered under Affordable Care Act. She said that many insurance providers are still working out a system to cover or reimburse those costs, though. 

“I think it’s one of those things where culturally you used to have your aunt, your grandma, cousin, sister, whenever to help you, but we don’t have that structure anymore. So, I see us as that,” said Carver. 

Kate Sheehy
Isaac and Blake take some one-on-one time with moms and babies during one of their free breastfeeding support groups

Co-owner of Milk and Honey, and fellow lactation consultant Nina Isaac said breastfeeding may not work for every mom. She said women don’t need to feel ashamed if they choose formula. 

“But we need to give informed consent; we need to give all the information. These are your options: you can pump your milk, or there’s formula — it’s there, it’s not a bad word. It’s saved many a baby’s lives.”

As a new mom myself, I remember during that first week, getting up every few hours to breastfeed, thinking, “Really? Can I do this?”

I was fortunate to get help from a lactation specialist. I found that it does get easier. I’m still breastfeeding my 6-month-old.