January 24, 2011

Surgeon General Releases Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding

Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina M. Benjamin issued “The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding ” [PDF]. The report describes barriers to and rates of breastfeeding in the United States and the health, economic, psychosocial and environmental benefits of breastfeeding.  The report is a call to action for all people to take steps to make the choice to breastfeed easier for mothers.

Rather than simply exhorting women to breastfeed, the report calls for educating fathers and grandmothers about breastfeeding; strengthening of community-based mother-to-mother and peer support; addressing the way infant formula is marketed; ensuring that maternity care providers and systems are supportive of breastfeeding and lactation consultants are accessible; improving maternity leave and workplace support for lactating mothers; and conducting further research.

The inclusion of workplace and community supports is important, because the factors that lead many women not to breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding earlier than they would like are often external ones, such as a lack of sufficient breaks and facilities for pumping milk in the workplace. Three quarters of U.S. women currently attempt breastfeeding, but fewer than half have kept it up by six months. As Dr. Benjamin stated for the press release:

Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breastfeed. 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.

As we keep watch on efforts to roll back provisions of health care reform, this is yet another issue to keep an eye on, as the legislation passed last year included a provision to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure that employers provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers in a private place other than a bathroom.

Additional resources for mothers and employers are provided at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/breastfeeding/index.html.


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