Two thirds of new mothers who intended to breastfeed exclusively for several months or more didn't meet their own goals in a new study.
Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that several factors influenced whether mothers of newborns would stick to their plan to breastfeed only, including actions by hospital staff in the first hours and days after delivery.
"We do know the hospitals have an important role to play. It's certainly a short period of time, but it's a very critical period of time," said Cria Perrine, a CDC epidemiologist who led the study.
To find out what hospitals can do, and what they should avoid, to help promote breastfeeding, Perrine and her colleagues used information from an existing study that followed more than 3,000 pregnant women between 2005 and 2007.
The women were all over 18 years old, were pregnant for at least 35 weeks and gave birth to a child who weighed at least five pounds. Participants answered at least 11 questionnaires over the course of one year, starting while they were still pregnant.
At that time, 1792 women (60 percent) who completed the questionnaires said they planned to exclusively breastfeed their babies for some period of time, ranging from several weeks to seven months or more.
Of these, the majority (85 percent) planned to breastfeed for three months or more.
But whatever their intended breastfeeding period, only 32 percent actually met their goal.
Many women who intended to breastfeed for months more stopped after only one month, and about 15 percent stopped before leaving the hospital.
Ideally, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies should be fed breast milk alone for six months, then should keep getting breast milk along with solid foods for at least their first year.
Perrine and her colleagues, who published their results in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, found that certain women were more likely to give up on their breastfeeding goals than others.
Specifically, mothers who were obese, smoked or said they would exclusively breastfeed longer than most were less likely to meet their goals. Meanwhile, mothers who were married or in a partnership were more likely to meet their goals than single moms.
Certain aspects of hospital care right after delivery also seemed to influence whether a woman met her breastfeeding goal or not.
Specifically, mothers who started to breastfeed their babies within an hour of delivery, and those whose babies were not given formula or pacifiers in the hospital were more likely to breastfeed for the time they had intended.
Dr. Jennifer DiPace, medical director of the newborn nursery at the Komansky Center for Children's Health at the NY-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, told Reuters health that the study reinforces the point that hospitals should make sure they're encouraging and promoting breastfeeding from the moment the baby is born -- perhaps even before birth.
"In general, what a mother needs to do is think about what her goals are before a baby (is) born and communicating that to the team once the baby is born, and having realistic expectations," said DiPace.
Perrine told Reuters Health that it's hard to meet the current recommendations in today's environment, so it's also important for the community -- families and people in the workplace -- to support nursing women.