(NaturalNews) The majority of hospitals and birth centers in the United States have practices that make it less likely that mothers will breastfeed, according to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the first-ever nationwide review of breastfeeding promotion practices in the United States, the CDC sent questionnaires to hospitals and birthing centers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Depending on their answers, institutions were given a score between zero and 100 (perfect).
A total of 2,546 hospitals and 121 birth centers responded to the survey.
The average score among hospitals was 62, while the average score for the smaller, specialized birth centers was 86. Scores were lowest in the South and highest in the West and Northeast. The state with the lowest score was Arkansas, at 48, while New Hampshire and Vermont tied for the high score of 81.
More specifically, the CDC found that 70 percent of both hospitals and birthing centers gave out free infant formula to new mothers; a practice that the agency says discourages breastfeeding.
"By providing formula, it's ... an implicit endorsement of that product," said lead researcher Deborah Dee.
Other practices that the CDC was critical of include separating mothers from newborns in the hospital and supplementing the diets of healthy, breastfed infants with nutrients from other sources, including formula. Twenty-four percent of hospitals and birth centers were found to follow the latter practice.
"Those of us who work in hospitals are aware that the 'baby friendly' practices aren't as prevalent as they should be," said Caroline Chantry, head of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, and that breastfeeding continue at least until the first birthday, even as other foods are introduced. Breastfeeding has been strongly linked to improved immune health in children and to a decreased risk of allergies, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Breastfeeding may also boost intelligence and decrease the risk of cancer later in life.