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Surgeon General: Help make breastfeeding easier for moms
January 20th, 2011
10:36 AM ET

Surgeon General: Help make breastfeeding easier for moms

Breastfeeding seems to be the most natural thing in the world and is recommended as the optimal form of nutrition for newborns, yet many moms find it difficult to do for a variety of reasons.  This is why the Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin is launching a “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.”

Dr. Regina Benjamin talks with CNN's Kiran Chetry about the call for breastfeeding support

Benjamin says the number of women breastfeeding in the United States is low compared with other countries, and “we'd like to change that.” Her plan identifies 20 different things families, employers, health care professionals and communities can do “to help encourage women to breastfeed and give them the support they need.”

According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year, 75% of new moms initiate breastfeeding. At 3 months only 33% of moms are only feeding their infants breast milk and at 6 months only 13% are still exclusively breastfeeding their babies.  Benjamin points out that the numbers for African-American women are even lower – 22% at 3 months and only 8% are still exclusively breastfeeding by the time their little one is 6 months old.

The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for first 6 months because it benefits babies and mothers.  Breast milk contains antibodies, which can protect babies from ear infections, digestive problems, and severe lung infections.  Studies also suggest it protect babies against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), diabetes, obesity and asthma. Moms also benefit, according to a report issued by Benjamin’s predecessor,  former acting Surgeon General Dr. Steven Galson,  which says breastfeeding benefits for moms include “reduced risk for type 2 diabetes, as well as breast and ovarian cancers.”

Benjamin says “something happens between when they [moms] start breastfeeding and 6 months,” and she is trying to help change this.

She recognizes that some women are simply unable to breastfeed because the babies are not latching on and she is not trying to make them feel bad for not doing so.  She suggests that while these moms may not be able to directly feed their babies, encouraging them to express their breast milk and then giving it to the baby in the bottle is another way for the infant to get mom's nutrient-filled and protective milk.

Any woman who has breastfed can attest to it being a learned skill that requires patience.  Both mom and baby have to learn how to do this and if you first do not succeed, encouragement from family and instruction from a lactation expert can prevent a mother from giving up.  According to the CDC, 1 in 4 breastfed babies also is getting formula within 2 days of birth.

Benjamin’s plan calls for developing programs to educate spouses and grandparents about the benefits of breastfeeding, but also for support groups within communities and for hospitals and health care professionals to provide support and help for moms when they leave the hospital.

Having access to prenatal care and instruction on how to breastfeed before the baby is born can help moms prepare for what’s ahead. But for many women who want to breastfeed, the support to do so is often lacking, particularly when they return to work.

According to the “Call to Action,” half of all mothers with children under age 1 were working in 2009 and more than two-thirds were employed full time.

While they’re at work, moms need to pump their breast milk, so their infants can be bottle-fed mom’s milk while they’re away.  However, if mom can’t take a break to pump, or there isn’t a private place for her to set-up to pump, she may feel as if  she doesn't have much of a choice but to discontinue breastfeeding.  Benjamin says women working in low-income jobs have a  particularly difficult time pumping at work.

Over the next 6 months to a year, Benjamin says she wants to have a constant conversation and raise awareness about helping women breastfeed. “We want to get them [businesses] to understand that there are some economic benefits – it helps to retain good employees. Companies who have lactation programs or breastfeeding programs tend to keep their employees longer.”


soundoff (138 Responses)
  1. LG

    One of the thing that is often missed in the BF conversation is the ignorance and lack of education and training that MDs get. Most MDs know nothing about BF however mothers(and the rest of us) have been trained to believe that doctors always know what is best when it comes to health. FALSE! Doctors know what they know, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pharmaceuticals. A baby can deliver a baby but often times have no clue about the nutrition needs of the baby and tips/normal BF patterns. Doctors need to stop giving mothers the WRONG ADVICE, and encourage new mothers to see lactation consultants and other health professionals who are trained and educated about BF, maintaining supply and latching!

    January 21, 2011 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mom of 2

    I just wish people would stop touting breast milk as the Cure To Everything. Come on. The only reason breastfed kids are "healthier" than formula-fed kids is all in what they're exposed to. I'm willing to bet that the majority of formula-fed babies have mothers who work, and therefore those kids will be with sitters or in daycare and exposed to more germs. Moms who exclusively breastfeed will likely be at home (not all of them, but most), and their kids will be exposed to less. Breastfeeding your baby doesn't guarantee he will never be sick, never fall down, never stub his toe, never have a bad hair day, etc. Breast milk is not going to guarantee your child becomes President of the United States in 40 years. What matters is that your baby is loved, fed, and cared for. Period.

    January 21, 2011 at 15:12 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jen

      Good point!

      January 21, 2011 at 16:15 | Report abuse |
    • Mamaof3

      There are plenty of studies that attempt to correct for maternal education level, baby in childcare, etc. It isn't easy to tease those things out but most of the good studies attempt to address it.

      January 21, 2011 at 16:46 | Report abuse |
  3. Jen

    @Lilian
    You posted "formula-fed preemies who die from NEC, which could have been prevented if they had been breastfed". I have been a NICU nurse for 20 years and NEC is not from fromula and it is false to say that NEC would have been prevented if breatfed...

    January 21, 2011 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jen

    @Lilian
    You posted "formula-fed preemies who die from NEC, which could have been prevented if they had been breastfed". I have been a NICU nurse for 20 years and NEC is not from fromula and it is false to say that NEC would have been prevented if breastfed...

    January 21, 2011 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. YoungMom

    I am a young mother who has exclusively been breastfeeding my 3 month old. Early in my pregnancy I hadn't even considered breastfeeding until I began doing research and took a class and realized just how beneficial breastfeeding is for baby and mom, not to mention economical. I am so happy with my decision, I think the more information and support new moms have the better. It's too bad how low the numbers are and with younger mothers especially. I see no reason why you wouldn't at least try. Along with private places to pump at the work place I think universities should also be obligated to provide a space for mothers to pump. I am consdering going back to school in the spring but this would make it very difficult if not impossible to continue breastfeeding. I wish I did not have to choose between the two. As for those who have a problem with giving breastfeeding mothers the most support and opportunity possible to continue breastfeeding and providing their babies with the best nutrition available, perhaps you are just feeling guilty for not giving your baby the start every baby deserves.

    January 21, 2011 at 23:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Laura

      YoungMom, you've already gotten your baby through the most critical 3 months. Yay!

      Now looking ahead.

      One of the most important things you can do for your baby is secure a strong financial future for yourself and baby. So continue with your classes!!!! But does that really mean you have to suddenly stop breastfeeding? No, you still have several alternatives.

      1) Pump (or expel by hand, I found this easier) between classes.
      2) Your body does adjust on timing. You could breastfeed at home AND expel at home. It takes a few days to get in the right "schedule", but your breasts are supply-and-demand calibrated, so you would produce a LOT of milk at home, yet not leak, etc, at school. You have to be diligent on the schedule though, so it's hard. But if you're up for it, it's worth trying.
      3) Supplement. If your baby is 50% breastfed through 6 months, you will have done a great service. Don't beat yourself up over it. You're a good mom, doing the right thing.

      Good luck!!!
      PS I'm a mom of 4 breastfed babies who went back to law school when my youngest was 8 months.......

      February 11, 2011 at 18:42 | Report abuse |
  6. TW

    I am a mother of a preemie. My daughter was born at 28 weeks. Needless to say my body didn't just start overflowing with milk. She was only 2 lbs 4 oz. It took some time for my milk to come in but I knew that my milk was actually created just for her and I was determined to give it to her. She was ready to leave the NICU before 34 weeks. I truly believe that breastfeeding was a very key compontent to her successful development. Don't give up!!

    January 22, 2011 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Barb

    I mixed formula and breast milk for the 1st six months or less with my 4 kids and they are all healthy teenagers, no allergies and I was able to sleep better feeding formula at night. My mom had 8 children 1950s thru 70s, all formula fed and we truned out just fine...I cannot understand mothers feeding or having them latch on till 2 and beyond. I say psyche issues, but who cares? First time moms, use formula if you need sleep or to get a breather. And militant LaLeche gals, chill out. The risk of dehydration from pressure to solely breast feed is catastrophic and wrong. Clip those coupons!

    January 23, 2011 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Barb

    Barb

    I mixed formula and breast milk for the 1st six months or less with my 4 kids and they are all healthy teenagers, no allergies and I was able to sleep better feeding formula at night. My mom had 8 children 1950s thru 70s, all formula fed and we truned out just fine...I cannot understand mothers feeding or having them latch on till 2 and beyond. I say psyche issues, but who cares? First time moms, use formula if you need sleep or to get a breather. And militant LaLeche gals, chill out. The risk of dehydration from pressure to solely breast feed is catastrophic and wrong. Clip those coupons!

    January 23, 2011 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Professional IBCLC

    Such interesting and passionate thoughts by all. These are the same issues that have been debated for years about breastfeeding. I work in the hospital, in private practice, and run a FREE Lactation Support Center, and dedicate my life to providing the crucial assistance women need to be successful at bfeeding- WHEN THEY CHOOSE TO. And I help women wean when they need to, and help them face unsuccessful breastfeeding even when they've tried everything.
    There is NO doubt in any medical arena that human milk is the best food for human infants- it is a no-brainer. Anyone who debates that is terribly ignorant.There is extensive research that shows human milk indeed reduces NEC, among other health benefits that extend into adulthood.
    Our nation needs desperately to provide whatever support moms need so they can succeed in giving their children the best start. Any breastmilk is better than none. My heart goes out to the heroic women who work/pump/face difficulties and do not make their goals. And my heart goes out to women who criticize other women who advocate for breastfeeding.I don't know how you can be so callous and blind to undermine women who care about our nation's health issues.
    But one important concept has not been voiced. If infants could read the research, what food would they choose???? Shouldn't every baby get the chance? Every healthy newborn placed on it's mother's chest will wiggle up to her heartbeat and attempt to latch onto the breast and suckle- seems to be a strong statement from a very important voice.

    January 24, 2011 at 15:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. HS123

    Hi all–I'm weighing in late here, but I don't think that the Surgeon General is trying to make moms who can't or don't want to breastfeed feel guilty. In fact, the Call to Action Executive Summary specifically says "The decision to breastfeed is a personal one, and a mother should not be made to feel guilty if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed. The success rate among mothers who want to breastfeed can be greatly improved through active support from their families, friends, communities, clinicians, health care leaders, employers and policymakers." The whole point of the Call to Action is to get those around new moms to be supportive - family members, doctors, employers, communities, policy makers etc. - and make sure they are helping her when she faces challenges. Here's a link to the executive summary in case anyone is interested: http://surgeongeneral.gov/topics/breastfeeding/executivesummary.pdf.

    February 2, 2011 at 17:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. HS123

    I'm weighing in late here, but I don't think the Surgeon General is trying to make moms feel guilty. In fact, the Call to Action executive summary actually says "The decision to breastfeed is a personal one, and a mother should not be made to feel guilty if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed." I think what Dr. Benjamin is trying to say is that all those people who surround a new mom - her doctor, family, employer, community, etc. - need to HELP her, especially when she's frustrated and facing challenges. Here's the link to exec summary if you're interested: http://surgeongeneral.gov/topics/breastfeeding/executivesummary.pdf.

    February 2, 2011 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Laura

    I didn't learn until my fourth baby that it's actually EASIER to expel breast milk by hand than by pumping.

    For some reason, I could get the glands just right, and just squirt straight into the bottle. Also, having your hand on your breast is much more relaxing than bothering with the complicated mess of pumps.

    I can't help but wonder if trying to expel by hand would help many of the moms struggling with pumping at work or just trying to get an hour of time for themselves (which new moms so desperately need and deserve, please, try to take care of yourselves too!).

    I felt a little weird the first time I tried. But hey, it was no less weird than sticking a pump to your breast.....

    February 11, 2011 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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