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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.