Lately, debates over long-term breast-feeding have been all the rage. Thanks to a shocking Time magazine cover and a controversial book suggesting pressure to breast-feed is oppressive to women, a lot of people are talking about how long mothers should breast-feed.

Look at what I found in the hospital. (David Cook / blueshiftstudios / Alamy)

Even though the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics cite major health benefits associated with early breast-feeding and recommend that mothers breast-feed exclusively for about six months, in the U.S. only 35 percent of infants are exclusively breast-fed for three months and 15 percent for six months, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Now, a study published today finds that part of the problem may be in the hospitals, in the earliest days after delivery. For women who want to breast-feed, hospital staff may be doing more harm than good.

A group of researchers from the CDC surveyed pregnant women about their intentions to breast-feed and then followed up with the same women a year later.

Eighty-five percent of the women said they planned to exclusively breast-feed for at least three months. Just less than a third of them did.

One of the major factors that led to success was if a mother began breast-feeding within an hour of birth and — this is key — her child was not given supplemental feedings or pacifiers in the hospital.

But, the researchers found too often hospital staff were quick to supplement feedings. Forty percent of the mothers in the survey said that hospital staff had supplemented their baby’s feedings.

A separate CDC report from 2011 found that 78 percent of U.S. hospitals routinely feed non-breast-milk to healthy breast-feeding infants.

The supplemental feedings, in the form of formula or water, might be more of a habit in many hospitals. Supplements have been given to quiet a baby or test his ability to suck. But it is a problem because, according to the report, published in Pediatrics:

“Hospital supplementation of breast-feeding infants is associated with delayed onset of lactation, suboptimal breast-feeding practices, perceived problems with breastfeeding during the hospital stay and shorter durations of exclusive breastfeeding.”

In fact, it can interfere enough with lactation that a mother and baby might not even get a chance to nurse at all. The survey found that 15 percent of the mothers who had planned to exclusively breast-feed had stopped by the time they left the hospital.

Was your baby given supplemental feedings in the hospital after delivery? Did it hinder your breast-feeding efforts?

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