Surgeon general issues call to action around breast-feeding

WASHINGTON — Surgeon general Regina Benjamin on Thursday issued a “Call to Action to Support Breast-feeding,” outlining steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breast-feed their babies.

The announcement drew support from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “The AAP has recommended for decades that all mothers breast-feed for their child’s first year of life,” said AAP president Marion Burton. “Benjamin’s report adds increased federal attention to the importance of breast-feeding, identifying areas for continued improvement and building support for breast-feeding mothers across the country.”

While 75% of U.S. babies start out breast-feeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 13% exclusively are breast-fed at the end of six months. Rates are particularly low among African-American infants.

Benjamin’s “Call to Action” identifies ways that families, communities, employers and healthcare professionals can improve breast-feeding rates and increase support for breast-feeding. For example, communities can expand and improve programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling, healthcare systems can ensure that maternity care practices provide education and counseling on breast-feeding and employers can both work toward establishing paid maternity leave and high-quality lactation support programs and expand the use of programs that allow nursing mothers to have their babies close by so they can feed them during the day.

Breast-feeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia, Benjamin noted. Breast-fed babies also are less likely to develop asthma, and those who are breast-fed for six months are less likely to become obese. Mothers themselves who breast-feed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics estimated that the nation would save $13 billion per year in healthcare and other costs if 90% of U.S. babies exclusively were breast-fed for six months. Benjamin added that, by providing accommodations for nursing mothers, employers can reduce their company’s healthcare costs and lower their absenteeism and turnover rates.

“I believe that we as a nation are beginning to see a shift in how we think and talk about breast-feeding,” Benjamin said. “With this ‘Call to Action,’ I am urging everyone to help make breast-feeding easier.”

To order printed copies of the surgeon general’s “Call to Action to Support Breast-feeding” and other materials, call (800) CDC-INFO or e-mail cdcinfo@cdc.gov and reference the publication title.

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