Surgeon General Issues Call To Action to Remove Obstacles to Breastfeeding

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Late last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card which showed that more than 75% of babies born in 2007 started life breastfeeding. Unfortunately, however, the rate of mothers who continue to breastfeed for six months significantly drops to less than 43%. One of the reasons is the many obstacles that women face from the community and the workplace.

Communities, Healthcare Organizations, and Policymakers Should Join Forces to Make Breastfeeding More Accessible

Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin released a report entitled “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding” outlining steps that can be taken to remove some of these obstacles, which include lack of support at home, lack of information from healthcare clinicians, lack of time and privacy to breastfeed or express milk at the workplace, and an inability to connect with other breastfeeding mothers in their communites.

“Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breastfeed,” Dr. Benjamin said. “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.”

The health benefits of breastfeeding include infant protection from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are also less likely to become obese or to develop asthma. Breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) which claims thousands of babies in the United States each year.

Read: The Complete Book of Breastfeeding, an Update to the Classic Guide

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There are economic benefits to breastfeeding as well. Families who follow optimal breastfeeding practices can save between $1200 and $1500 in expenditures for infant formula in the first year alone. Medical costs could also be reduced because of the lower infection and illness rates in breastfed babies.

One action step that healthcare systems can take, for example, is to become an approved facility through the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI), an effort by UNICEF and the World Health Organization to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding. Clinicians, both prenatal and those caring for infants after birth, should also ensure that they are properly trained to care for breastfeeding mothers and babies.

Read: Hospitals Encouraged to Promote Breastfeeding

Employers should work toward making their organizations more “breastfeeding-friendly” as well. Because breastfeeding for at least six months could save $13 billion annually due to reduced medical and other costs, and better infant health means fewer health insurance claims and reduced absenteeism, workplaces should expand the use of programs that allow nursing mothers either access to close-by child care or provide a private space to express breast milk.

Mutual of Omaha has found that healthcare costs for newborns are three times lower for babies whose mothers participate in an employee maternity and lactation program.

Local communities should also make efforts to expand and improve programs that provide mother-to-mother support. The La Leche League, for example, uses peer counseling to help increase the number of women who choose to breastfeed and the length of time they continue to nurse.

“Of course, the decision to breastfeed is a personal one,” says Dr. Benjamin, but “with this ‘Call to Action,’ I am urging everyone to help make breastfeeding easier.”

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