The U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin today issued a Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding outlining steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breast feed their babies. While 75% of U.S. babies start out breast feeding, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, only 13 % are are exclusively breastfed at the end of six month. The rates are particularly low among African-American infants.
Many mothers who attempt to breastfeed say several factors impede their efforts, such as a lack of support at home, lack of information on breastfeeding from health care clinicians, a lack of time and privacy to breastfeed or express milk at the workplace, and an inability to connect with other breastfeeding mothers in the community.
Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop asthma, and those who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese. Mothers themselves who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers according to the Call to Action.
A study published in Pediatrics estimated that the nation would save $13 billion per year in health care and other costs if 90% of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months. Dr. Benjamin added that, by providing accommodations for nursing mothers, employers can reduce their company’s health care costs and lower their absenteeism and turnover rates.
On a personal note, I just got back from Brazil and noticed the number of women that were casually nursing their babies in public—at the beach, in airports and even in restaurants. The U.S. has not quite reached this level of acceptance and, hopefully, this initiative by the surgeon general will help move us forward. Having a female surgeon general may make the difference! Check out the Call to Action, it has a lot of excellent resources!