State Health Commissioner Cites Obesity Prevention, Nutrition Benefits of Breastfeeding

Showcases Improved Breastfeeding Rates at Hudson Valley Hospital During Last Stop of Public Health Week Tour

CORTLANDT MANOR, N.Y. (April 8, 2011) – State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., today visited Hudson Valley Hospital Center (HVHC) as part of his National Public Health Week tour to showcase the hospital's success in promoting breastfeeding and keeping mothers and newborns together after birth.

The hospital visit was the last stop on Commissioner Shah's six-county National Public Health Week tour to raise awareness about the State's critical public health priorities and showcase effective local efforts to address those priorities. Dr. Shah focused on obesity, diabetes and tobacco use prevention, breastfeeding promotion, and access to a more effective model of health care through Medical Homes during stops this week in Albany, Schenectady, Ulster and Westchester counties, as well as in the Bronx and Manhattan.

"Despite evidence that shows the significant benefits of breastfeeding for both a mother and child, only 43 percent of infants in New York State are exclusively breastfed during the first few days of life," Commissioner Shah said. "The State Department of Health (DOH) is working closely with hospitals and health care providers to increase breastfeeding rates so that babies start life healthy and will grow up strong. Hudson Valley Central Hospital has implemented a successful program to boost breastfeeding in the early days of a newborn's life, and as we recognize their accomplishment we are looking to improve rates at hospitals across the state."

Dr. Shah presented Hudson Valley Hospital Center with an Award of Excellence for efforts that resulted in the doubling of its rate of exclusive breastfeeding in the maternity ward from 40 percent to 95 percent between July 2010 and January 2011.

Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, along with continued breastfeeding for the next six months, is strongly recommended by the health care community to ensure optimal infant growth and development, reduce infections during infancy, prevent chronic diseases later in life, and reduce breast cancer in women. Research has shown that breastfed babies have a reduced risk for developing obesity and diabetes throughout their lifetimes and are also less likely to develop asthma, respiratory illnesses, gastroenteritis, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in infancy.

In addition, breastfeeding burns approximately 500 calories a day, which can help new mothers more easily lose weight they gained during pregnancy. Breastfeeding has also been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and some types of breast cancer, strengthen a mother's bones to prevent osteoporosis, and even help to ward off depression.

Studies show that providing formula to a newborn during the first few days of life interferes with the mother's milk production, leads to fewer nursing sessions, and dramatically increases the likelihood that a mother will discontinue breastfeeding by 6-8 weeks.

In New York State, nearly 80 percent of women choose to breastfeed, yet only 43 percent of new mothers breastfeed exclusively during the initial days after the birth of their child, a level far below the federal "Healthy People 2020" goal of 70 percent or more.

Hospital policies and procedures and the quality of breastfeeding support provided to new mothers all strongly affect the exclusivity and duration of breastfeeding. In many cases, breastfed infants are being supplemented with formula in the hospital, even though the formula is not medically necessary.

During his visit to Hudson Valley Hospital Center, Dr. Shah was joined by hospital President John Federspiel and his staff; Westchester County Acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Archbald, M.D., M.P.H.; Putnam County Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, M.D.; and several mothers and their babies.

"Nothing is more important than getting children off to the right nutritional start, and that begins with breastfeeding," said President Federspiel. "We are encouraged that through our partnership with New York State we have been able to increase the number of mothers who choose breastfeeding. We are honored by Dr. Shah's visit here today, and pleased that we have been chosen to serve as an example of excellence."

"The Westchester County Department of Health strongly supports breastfeeding as the best nutritional option for infants, and this is a key focus of our WIC program," said Dr. Archbald. "Our WIC peer counseling program is a great example of a strategy promoted by the recent Surgeon General's report. Nearly 80 percent of infants in our WIC program are breastfed after birth as compared to 70 percent for WIC programs statewide."

"We are very proud of the breastfeeding rates among Putnam County infants," said Dr. Amler, noting that 81 percent of WIC program infants in the county are breastfed. "As we all know, there is no real substitute for breast milk."

Additional information about breastfeeding is available on the DOH website at