Few U.S. hospitals are providing the full support mothers need to successfully breastfeed, and moms are therefore, missing the opportunity to prevent childhood obesity beginning at birth.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC, released its Vital Signs report on Tuesday and found that only 4 percent of U.S. hospitals provide the full range of support mothers need in order to breastfeed.

The CDC stated that babies are at risk of becoming overweight children without enough breastfeeding, as a baby's risk of becoming an overweight child decreases with each month of breastfeeding.

Therefore, improving the breastfeeding rates by providing better hospital support to mothers and their babies is an important strategy to develop children's health and reduce childhood obesity, according to the report.

"Hospitals play a vital role in supporting a mother to be able to breastfeed," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden in a statement. "Those first few hours and days that a mom and her baby spend learning to breastfeed are critical. Hospitals need to better support breastfeeding, as this is one of the most important things a mother can do for her newborn. Breastfeeding helps babies grow up healthy and reduces health care costs."

The report looked at data from CDC's national survey of Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care, or mPINC, and finds that 14 percent of hospitals have a written, model breastfeeding policy.

CDC's mPINC survey measures the percent of U.S. hospitals with practices that are consistent with the World Health Organization/United Nation's Children's Fund Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.

This list of practices is used to increase rates of breastfeeding by providing support to mothers and is the core of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. It is also endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The steps include:

  • Not giving healthy, breastfeeding infants food or drink other than breast milk unless there is a medical need for it;
  • Encouraging mothers to room in, staying with their baby 24 hours a day; and
  • Connecting mothers with support groups and other resources to help with breastfeeding after they leave the hospital.

A hospital is designated as baby-friendly when it has made special efforts to support mothers to start and continue breastfeeding and also when it shows that it follows all of the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, the CDC said.

But the report shows that in almost 80 percent of hospitals healthy breastfeeding infants are given formula when it isn't medically necessary. This is a practice that makes it much harder for mothers and babies to learn how to breastfeed and continue the breastfeeding practice at home.

"In the United States most women want to breastfeed, and most women start," said Ursula Bauer, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, in a statement. "But without hospital support many women have a hard time continuing to breastfeed, and they stop early. It is critical that hospitals take action to fully support breastfeeding mothers and babies so they can continue to breastfeed long after their hospital stay."

Only one-third of hospitals practice rooming in, which helps mothers and babies learn to breastfeed by allowing frequent chances to breastfeed, according to the CDC.

Furthermore, in nearly 75 percent of hospitals, mothers and babies don't get the support they need when they leave the hospital, including a follow up visit, a phone call from hospital staff and referrals to lactation consultants, Women, Infants, and Children program and other important support systems in their community.

About $2.2 billion is added to medical costs each year because of low rates of breastfeeding.

Babies who are fed formula and have breastfeeding cut early have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and respiratory and ear infections. They also tend to need more doctor visits, hospitalizations and prescriptions, the CDC said.

The report shows that in the U.S., one in five preschooler is at least overweight, and half of them are obese. Moreover, in America, most babies start breastfeeding, but within the first week, half have already been given formula, and by 9 months, only 31 percent of babies are breastfeeding at all.

The CDC believes that changing hospital practices to better support mothers and babies can improve these rates. The recommend taking action such as implementing the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding; partnering with Baby-Friendly hospitals to learn how to improve maternity care; using CDC's mPINC survey data to prioritize changes to improve maternity care practices; and stopping distribution of formula samples and give-aways to breastfeeding mothers.

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from Aug. 1 to7 in more than 170 countries worldwide. It serves as an awareness campaign highlighting and recognizing the benefits of breastfeeding in communities across the globe.