(WOMENSENEWS)— Breastfeeding Awareness Week kicked off last week with New York City on the brink of a major initiative to further wean hospitals off of infant formula.
In New York City, 93 percent of births occur in hospitals that supplement breast-feeding with formula, a practice known to undermine successful breastfeeding.
New York State has the second-highest rate of supplementing healthy breast-fed infants with formula despite regulations barring the practice.
Statewide, approximately half of breastfed infants are given supplemental formula in the hospital, according to the New York State Health Department. City hospitals such as Jamaica Medical Center and Metropolitan Center in Manhattan have rates as high as 99.9 percent and 98.5 percent respectively
Under a program that begins on Labor Day, 27 of 40 hospitals in New York City that deliver babies now have agreed to stop supplement breast-feeding with formula unless it’s for medical reasons or at a mother’s request. In addition, the hospitals agreed to stop providing new parents with free gift bags packed with formula.
The “Latch On NYC” program is an effort to reinforce existing statewide regulations that haven’t done much to improve breastfeeding rates in the city.

Currently, hospitals are officially required to limit formula for infants who have an indicated medical reason and a doctor’s order for the supplemental feedings.
In New York City, 39.7 percent of newborn infants are exclusively breastfed, well below the federal government’s Healthy People 2020 goal of at least 70 percent.
“Formula supplementation and discharge gifts containing infant formula send mixed messages to mothers about their ability to breastfeed,” New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah said in a press statement. “New York hospitals that provide support to breastfeeding mothers positively impact a women’s success at exclusively breastfeeding. Every mother wants the best for her infant and New York’s hospitals need to provide that opportunity,”
In a national ranking, New York State has the second-highest percentage of breast-feeding infants receiving supplement formula in hospitals at 33 percent. The state with the highest percentage is neighboring New Jersey, at 38 percent; that is, nearly 2-in-5 infants who are breast-feeding in New Jersey hospitals receive formula, according to the CDC.
New Jersey, meanwhile, announced last week that its breastfeeding rates had improved from 2008 to 2009. The state’s breastfeeding initiation rate of 79.7 percent is above the national average of 76.9 percent. In addition, the report found that 47.9 percent of mothers continue to breastfeed at six months and 26.1 percent at 12 months, compared to national rates of 47.2 percent and 25.5 percent respectively.
“Breastfeeding support is an important strategy toward improving the health of New Jersey’s mothers and their children,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd said in a press statement. “We must continue to focus on providing better support in our hospitals and communities, and this will, in turn, help improve New Jersey’s breastfeeding rates.”
In 2011, Rhode Island became the first state to halt hospitals’ dispensing of free formula to mothers. Last month, Massachusetts issued a ban on free infant formula.
Breastfeeding awareness week ends Aug. 8.
Check out the Center for Disease Control’s breastfeeding report card and see where your state ranks.
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