State and City Health Departments Promote Breastfeeding During World Breastfeeding Week

New York Health Commissioners Call on Hospitals to Support Exclusive Breastfeeding

Albany, N.Y. (July 31, 2012) – In recognition of World Breastfeeding Week, August 1 – 7, State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., and New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, M.D., M.P.H are highlighting the importance of breastfeeding by asking hospitals to support the more than 80 percent of new mothers in New York who breastfeed their newborns initially in the hospital.

Breastfeeding has numerous well-documented health benefits for infants including fewer episodes of acute respiratory illnesses, inner-ear infections, and gastroenteritis, reduced incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, as well as reduced risk of asthma, obesity and chronic disease in childhood and beyond. These benefits are maximized when infants are exclusively breastfed for six months. Conversely, mothers who do not breastfeed are at increased risk for postpartum bleeding and anemia, and have higher rates of breast cancer later in life.

Commissioners Shah and Farley are joining forces and sending letters to all hospitals in the state reminding them of current New York State laws and regulations that limit unnecessary formula feedings for breastfed newborns. Supplementing breastfed infants with infant formula and the distribution of free formula samples by hospitals are both associated with lower rates of exclusive breastfeeding and shorter breastfeeding duration. Breastfed infants who receive supplemental formula during their hospital stays are half as likely to still be breastfeeding at six weeks of age as infants who are exclusively breastfed in the hospital.

Under current regulations, hospitals are only allowed to provide formula to infants who have an indicated medical reason and a doctor's order for the supplemental feedings. However, only 39.7 percent of newborn infants in New York are exclusively breastfed. This percentage is significantly below the federal government's Healthy People 2020 goal of at least 70 percent. Approximately half of breastfed infants were given supplemental formula in the hospital.

Commissioner Shah said: "Mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies are making the healthy choice. Formula supplementation and discharge gifts containing infant formula send mixed messages to mothers about their ability to breastfeed. New York hospitals that provide support to breastfeeding mothers positively impact a women's success at exclusively breastfeeding. Every mother wants the best for her infant and New York's hospitals need to provide that opportunity."

"We're proud to partner with our colleagues at the New York State Department of Health to encourage hospitals to voluntarily stop giving out free samples of formula to new mothers, and to minimize and document the use of supplemental formula to breastfed babies," Dr. Farley said.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of breastfed infants in New York who are supplemented with formula during the first two days of life is the second worst (highest) in the U.S., which means efforts to stop unnecessary formula supplementation need to be a top priority for New York hospitals, physicians, and nurses.

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