Mamas on Bedrest: Surgeon General Calls For Support For Breastfeeding!

February 9th, 2011

“One of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself is to breastfeed. However, in the U.S., while 75 percent of mothers start out breastfeeding, only 13 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months. Additionally, rates are significantly lower for African-American infants.”

So begins the Executive Summary of Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin’s Call to Action in Support of Breastfeeding. While Dr. Benjamin acknowledges that breastfeeding is a personal decision each mother must make, she also notes that many women would like to breastfeed or breastfeed longer than they do but lack the support and resources to continue.

According to the surgeon general, there is significant evidence to support breastfeeding exclusively until 6 months of age. A recent study performed by Children’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School confirmed these findings showing that feeding an infant solid food before four months of age may raise the baby’s risk of becoming obese by the toddler years. Yet, many mothers give up breastfeeding well before the six month mark due to difficulty with breastfeeding, lack of support from spouse and family members (Grandmothers and other older relatives are highly influential when it comes to breastfeeding and negative comments can significantly undermine a mama’s efforts to breastfeed.) and lack of support and resources in the work place.

In issuing this call to action, the Surgeon General further states,

“Given the importance of breastfeeding for the health and well-being of mothers and children, it is critical that we take action across the country to support breastfeeding.”

The Surgeon General has identified these 20 key action steps to increase breastfeeding.

Actions for Mothers and Their Families:

1. Give mothers the support they need to breastfeed their babies.
2. Develop programs to educate fathers and grandmothers about breastfeeding.

Actions for Communities:

3. Strengthen programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling.
4. Use community-based organizations to promote and support breastfeeding.
5. Create a national campaign to promote breastfeeding.
6. Ensure that the marketing of infant formula is conducted in a way that minimizes its negative impacts on exclusive breastfeeding.

Actions for Health Care:

7. Ensure that maternity care practices around the United States are fully supportive of breastfeeding.
8. Develop systems to guarantee continuity of skilled support for lactation between hospitals and health care settings in the community.
9. Provide education and training in breastfeeding for all health professionals who care for women and children.
10. Include basic support for breastfeeding as a standard of care for midwives, obstetricians, family physicians, nurse practitioners, and pediatricians.
11. Ensure access to services provided by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants.
12. Identify and address obstacles to greater availability of safe banked donor milk for fragile infants.

Actions for Employment:

13. Work toward establishing paid maternity leave for all employed mothers. (Yes!!)
14. Ensure that employers establish and maintain comprehensive, high-quality lactation support programs for their employees. (Such provisions have been included in the Affordable Care Act, “Obamacare”2010)
15. Expand the use of programs in the workplace that allow lactating mothers to have direct access to their babies.
16. Ensure that all child care providers accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers and infants.

Actions for Research and Surveillance:

17. Increase funding of high-quality research on breastfeeding.
18. Strengthen existing capacity and develop future capacity for conducting research on breastfeeding.
19. Develop a national monitoring system to improve the tracking of breastfeeding rates as well as the policies and environmental factors that affect breastfeeding.

Action for Public Health Infrastructure:

20. Improve national leadership on the promotion and support of breastfeeding.

The United States can improve the success of breastfeeding for mothers who wish to do so.  However, it is going to take an aggressive, national effort to educate the public on the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. Additionally, there will have to be changes in employment environments and community services so that the support breastfeeding mothers need is readily available.

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