Updated February 20, 2011Stating that breastfeeding mothers should not have to "go it alone," US Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin on January 20, issued a "Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding," detailing ways in which communities, health professionals, employers and families can remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breastfeed their babies.
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"Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breastfeed," Dr. Benjamin said in a press release. "They shouldn't have to go it alone. Whether you're a clinician, a family member, a friend, or an employer, you can play an important part in helping mothers who want to breastfeed."
In announcing her "Call to Action," Surgeon General Benjamin cites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that while 75% of US babies are breastfed during the first months of their lives, only 13% continue to be exclusively breastfed at the end of six months. The long-term breastfeeding rate among African-American infants, Benjamin noted, is especially low.
"Of course, the decision to breastfeed is a personal one," added Dr. Benjamin, "no mother should be made to feel guilty if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed."
Health Benefits of Breastfeeding
According to Dr. Benjamin's "Call to Action," babies who are breastfed for 6 months are less likely to become obese during later childhood, less likely to develop asthma and show greater resistance to illnesses and infection like diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia. In addition, states the "Call to Action," breastfeeding mothers show a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding
Along with health benefits, the "Call to Action" highlights dollars-and-cents benefits of breastfeeding to both families and the nation as a whole. "For example, a study conducted more than a decade ago estimated that families who followed optimal breastfeeding practices could save more than $1,200-$1,500 in expenditures for infant formula in the first year alone."
In addition, states the "Call to Action," the health benefits of breastfeeding reduce health care costs for all Americans. One report cited showed that if 90% of US families followed guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the United States would save $13 billion annually from reduced direct medical and indirect costs and the cost of premature death.
Barriers to Breastfeeding
Detailed in the Surgeon General's "Call to Action" are factors mothers reported as impeding or preventing them from breastfeeding, such as a lack of support at home; absence of family members who have experience with breastfeeding; a lack of breastfeeding information from health care clinicians; a lack of time and privacy to breastfeed at the workplace; an inability to connect with other breastfeeding mothers in their communities and embarrassment.
"A study that analyzed data from a national public opinion survey conducted in 2001 found that only 43 percent of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public Places."Ways to Help
"Restaurant and shopping center managers have reported that they would either discourage breastfeeding anywhere in their facilities or would suggest that breastfeeding mothers move to an area that was more secluded."
"When they have breastfed in public places, many mothers have been asked to stop breastfeeding or to leave."
Dr. Benjamin's "Call to Action" identifies ways that families, communities, employers and health care professionals can improve breastfeeding rates and increase support for breastfeeding:
- Communities should expand and improve programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling.
- Health care systems should ensure that maternity care practices provide education and counseling on breastfeeding. Hospitals should become more "baby-friendly," by taking steps like those recommended by the UNICEF/WHO's Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
- Medical professionals and clinicians should ensure that they are trained to properly care for breastfeeding mothers and babies. They should promote breastfeeding to their pregnant patients and make sure that mothers receive the best advice on how to breastfeed.
- Employers should work toward establishing paid maternity leave and high-quality lactation support programs. Employers should expand the use of programs that allow nursing mothers to have their babies close by so they can feed them during the day. They should also provide women with break time and private space to express breast milk.
- Families should give mothers the support and encouragement they need to breastfeed.