Surgeon general: Eliminate barriers to breastfeeding

President Obama’s top health advocate issued “a call to action” for communities, employers and care providers to eliminate barriers to breastfeeding, citing the practice’s numerous health benefits.

Several factors impede a mother’s efforts to breastfeed, according to a new report from Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. Those factors include a lack of support at home or lack of family members with breastfeeding experience; a lack of breastfeeding information from healthcare providers; a lack of time and privacy at the workplace; and no connection with other breastfeeding mothers in their communities.

Babies that are breastfed are protected from certain infections and illnesses and are less likely to develop asthma, and those who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese, according to the report. While 75 percent of babies are breastfed after birth, only 13 percent are exclusively breastfed after six months, and rates are much lower among blacks, the report said.

Further, mothers who breastfeed are less likely to develop breast and ovarian cancers, the report said.

As part of her call to action, the surgeon general recommended the following steps:

• Communities should expand and improve programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling.

• Healthcare systems should ensure that maternity care practices provide education and counseling on breastfeeding.

• Clinicians should ensure that they are trained to properly care for breastfeeding mothers and babies, and they should promote breastfeeding to pregnant patients.

• Employers should work toward establishing paid maternity leave and high-quality lactation support programs that allow nursing mothers to have babies close by during the day. Employers should also provide women with break time and private space in which to breastfeed.

• Families should give mothers the support and encouragement they need to breastfeed.