St. Louis, MO (KSDK) -- Barnes-Jewish Hospital is taking part in a national effort to improve breastfeeding rates. The hospital is one of 90 across the country selected to take part in the Best Fed Beginnings program.

Health experts agree breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventative health measures for infants and mothers. However, half of all babies born in the United States are given formula within the first week. By nine months, only 31% are breastfeeding at all.

Best Fed Beginnings is sponsored by the World Health Organziation and the United Nations Children's Fund. The purpose of the program is to reverse the trends by dramatically increasing the number of U.S. hospitals implementing a proven model for maternity services that better support a new mom's choice to breastfeed.

"This is a fantastic opportunity to improve our women and infants services to better support breastfeeding in the St. Louis community," says Carol Scott, RN, director of women and infants at Barnes-Jewish. "We recognize that for women who plan to breast-feed, the hospital experience strongly influences a mother's ability to start and continue breast-feeding. We are committed to implementing evidence-based care through the baby-friendly designation process. This will ensure that mothers delivering in our hospital who intend to breast-feed are fully supported."

In 2011, 64.2% of new moms report attempting breast-feeding in Missouri, while 70.6% of Illinois moms breastfed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Breastfeeding Report Card. At Barnes-Jewish, the breastfeeding rate is approximately 49%.

Health experts say breastfeeding has multiple health benefits for both infants and mothers. For infants, it decreases the incidence and severity of many infectious diseases, reduces infant mortality, and optimally supports neurodevelopment. It also decreases infants' risk of becoming obese later in childhood. For mothers, breastfeeding decreases the risks of breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.

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