State and City Health Departments Promote Breastfeeding during World Breastfeeding Week August 1-7, 2011

New York Health Commissioners Call on Hospitals to Promote Breastfeeding

ALBANY, N.Y. (August 4, 2011) - 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., encourage pregnant women and new mothers to learn about the benefits of breastfeeding for their babies and for themselves.

Commissioners Shah and Farley sent a joint letter this Monday to hospitals detailing State laws and regulations regarding breastfeeding and supplemental in-hospital feedings for newborns. The letter to hospitals administrators is part of an ongoing collaboration among New York State and City health departments and hospitals throughout New York to support women who choose to breastfeed.

"Medical evidence clearly shows that breastfeeding is crucial to the healthy growth and development of infants, and also provides important health benefits to new mothers," said Commissioner Shah. "World Breastfeeding Week provides an opportunity to raise awareness about breastfeeding and strengthen efforts to support mothers in making a healthy choice to breastfeed."

"Mothers should feed their babies only breast milk for the first six months of a baby's life," said Commissioner Farley. "Formula fed babies are more likely than breastfed babies to suffer from infections, various illnesses, and other health problems such as childhood asthma, diabetes, obesity and to die as a result of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)."

Increasing the rate of breastfeeding is a cost-effective public health strategy to reduce infant illness, childhood obesity and achieve better health outcomes, with the best results reported for those who are exclusively breastfed.

Breastfed babies have been found to have fewer episodes of acute respiratory illnesses, ear infections and stomach viruses, as well as reduced incidence of SIDS and a decreased risk of asthma later in life. Breastfeeding also benefits mothers by reducing postpartum bleeding and anemia, and decreasing the risk for breast and ovarian cancers.

The health care costs for infants who are exclusively breastfed during the first three months of life have been found to be $475 less in the baby's first year as compared to infants who receive formula.

Under State regulations, hospitals are required to have written policies and procedures in place to ensure that breastfeeding infants only receive supplemental feedings of infant formula if indicated by medical conditions of the newborn or mother. The regulations also restrict hospitals from distributing discharge packs containing infant formula unless there is a specific order by the attending practitioner or a direct request from the mother.

In 2010, 76 % of healthy newborns in New York State and New York City hospitals were breastfed, which is below the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Healthy People 2020 goal of 82 percent. Among women who breastfed in the hospital, 61 % of women who gave birth in New York City hospitals and 48 % of women in the rest of the state reported that their newborn also received supplemental formula while in the hospital, a practice the state and city health departments are working to decrease. The percentages of breastfeeding infants vary widely across hospitals, reflecting differences in hospital policies and practices.

Leading health organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the U.S. Surgeon General and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of infancy to ensure a child receives vital nutrition and emotional support. The organizations also advise mothers to continue breastfeeding until at least their child's first birthday.

The State and City health departments will continue to work with hospital staffs, health care providers, breastfeeding experts, and other partners including hospital associations and the New York Statewide Breastfeeding Coalition to improve hospital maternity care practices and increase breastfeeding promotion, protection and support statewide.