Studies have long shown the benefits of breastfeeding, but a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that less than four percent of U.S. hospitals provide the full support that new mothers need to be able to successfully breastfeed.

The report, published in the current issue of the CDC’s Vital Signs, examined data from the National Survey of Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care, and found that only 14 percent of hospitals actually have a written model of a breastfeeding policy. The report also found that in nearly 80 percent of hospitals, healthy breastfeeding infants were given formula even when there was no medical reason. Experts say this can make it very difficult to learn how to breastfeed and continue at home.

“Hospitals play a vital role in supporting a mother to be able to breastfeed,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden in a press release. “Those first few hours and days that a mom and her baby spend learning to breastfeed are critical. Hospitals need to better support breastfeeding, as this is one of the most important things a mother can do for her newborn. Breastfeeding helps babies grow up healthy and reduces health care costs.”

U.S. mothers are also not getting the breastfeeding support they need after leaving the hospital, according to the study. Almost 75 percent of hospitals don’t schedule a follow-up visit with moms, a phone call, or referrals to lactation consultants.

The CDC survey proves that most U.S. hospitals are not in compliance with the WHO/UNICEF Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, including:

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-Not giving healthy, breastfeeding infants food or drink other than breast milk unless there is a medical need for it;

-Encouraging mothers to room in, staying with their baby 24 hours a day;

-Connecting mothers with support groups and other resources to help with breastfeeding after they leave the hospital.

“In the United States most women want to breastfeed, and most women start,” said Ursula Bauer, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “But without hospital support many women have a hard time continuing to breastfeed, and they stop early. It is critical that hospitals take action to fully support breastfeeding mothers and babies so they can continue to breastfeed long after their hospital stay.”

This study coincides with World Breastfeeding Week, which takes place every year from August 1-7 in more than 170 countries worldwide.

Click here to read the full study.