Parenthood is not for sissies. Babies are demanding, expensive, frustrating and, for first-time parents, sometimes terrifying. Nevertheless, the vast majority of moms and dads love their infants unconditionally and want to give them the best.
Fortunately, the best, most nutritious, specially manufactured food for babies is free and almost always readily available. Mother's milk, and the colostrum that comes first, contain all the nutrients, calories and fluids that newborns need, along with immunities passed on from the mother.
That doesn't mean breast-feeding is always easy or convenient for mothers. And, while it is the most natural way to feed a baby, it simply doesn't come naturally to all new moms. Sometimes they need help.
Hospital staffs are in a perfect position to provide that help, and a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says they should, and can, do more.
Breast-feeding encouragement and instruction are most helpful in the initial few days after birth, when both mother and child are forming good or bad habits. It's important enough to the future good health of children and adults and lower health-care costs for everyone that go along with it that hospital staff should make the effort to forestall the bad and promote the good.
In Utah, full-time breast-feeding mothers who stick with it for three months account for 44 percent of all mothers, but only 17 percent continue for a full six months, the recommended period for optimum benefit to baby and mother. That's just slightly better than the national average.
But the cultural importance of breast-feeding can be seen in the percentage of mothers who have ever breast-fed a baby: 84.5 percent in Utah. Obviously, there is no disinclination to breast-feed, but apparently circumstances or bad experiences got in the way. That's unfortunate.
Hospitals can help prevent mothers abandoning this healthful practice by abiding by the 10 steps for Baby Friendly Hospitals outlined by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children's Fund. Those include educating all staff members about the importance of breast-feeding and requiring they pass on the information to new mothers. Also, hospitals should avoid giving newborns formula unless directed by a doctor for medical reasons show moms how to breast-feed in the first hour after birth, and allow babies to room with mothers during their hospital stay.
Infant formula is a fine substitute for mother's milk when necessary. But if possible, babies should get the food that's best for them.