ALBANY -- New York will install regulations next year to encourage new mothers to breastfeed.
The state Health Department on Wednesday said the new regulations will help mothers in the state's 126 birthing hospitals to begin breastfeeding right after babies are born.
Hospitals will be required, unless there is a medical reason otherwise, to place newborns with their mothers immediately after delivery.
The goal, the state said, is that skin-to-skin contact between infants and their mothers lead to better breathing and heart rates in the newborn and allows for a greater chance of breastfeeding.
“The amended regulations help ensure that we provide the support and encouragement new mothers need to breastfeed their babies and continue to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months,” Howard Zucker, commissioner of health, said in a statement.
New York's breastfeeding rates are well below the national target, the health department said.
In New York, 44 percent of newborns in New York are breastfed within the first few days of life, compared to the national target of 70 percent, the agency said.
Hospitals are already required to educate patients on the risks of early pacifier use, such as limiting a mother’s ability to know if a newborn is hungry.
But the new regulations will also prohibit the distribution of gift bags at hospitals that contain products promoting bottle-feeding, such as free formula and formula coupons.
The health department, though, said its new policies will not affect mothers who choose not to breastfeed or can't do so for medical reasons.
Hospitals will still provide formula to infants while they are in the hospital, and hospitals will still be "required to provide individual training in formula preparation and feeding techniques," the agency said.
The regulations, which also include requiring hospitals to communicate breastfeeding policies to staff annually, go into effect Jan. 16
The health department touted the health benefits of breastfeeding, such as lowering the risks for ear infections and respiratory problems.
The state said that national statistics show that 87 percent of new mothers breastfeed, but only 20 percent exclusively breastfeed until their infant is six months old.
The issue, the state said, is that many mothers report a lack of support and training they received in the hospital to encourage breastfeeding.
The state said the regulations are based on recommendations from the World Health Organization and United Nations Children’s Fund.