Surgeon General Focuses on Supporting New Mothers and Their Babies

Jan 26, 2011

By Teresa Lim

The Surgeon General in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released a call to action on supporting new mothers who want to breastfeed their babies. The call to action identifies the challenges that new mothers face when attempting to breastfeed and highlights opportunities for communities, employers, health care professionals, and families to reduce these barriers.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other national health experts recommend that infants be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life. This recommendation is based on research which shows that breastfeeding, particularly during the early months, has many health benefits to babies and their mothers.  

Among the benefits, breastfed babies are less likely to catch illnesses and infections, such as diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia. In addition, they are less likely to develop asthma, while children who are breastfed for at least six months also have a reduced  risk of childhood obesity.  Mothers who breastfeed are at lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers. 

States can take a variety of actions to help new mothers, such as providing guidance to child care programs that serve infants on creating supportive policies. Wisconsin, for example, has developed a resource kit that provides step-by-step assistance to child care centers on designing and implementing breastfeeding-friendly policies, training staff to be supportive, and creating comfortable spaces for mothers. 

Healthy babies and mothers translate to significant cost-savings to the economy. In one study, researchers calculated that the U.S. would save $13 billion a year from reduced medical costs and other expenses if 90 percent of newborn babies were breastfed exclusively for the first six months.    

According to CDC data, 75 percent of U.S. mothers start out breastfeeding. However, only 43 percent are still breastfeeding at the end of six months; 13 percent are exclusively breastfeeding. At the state level, breastfeeding rates range from 20 to 62 percent at the half-year mark. The CDC also finds that states vary in their level of support for new mothers and babies. Nearly all states (42 states) have breastfeeding coalitions with public websites, but only about a quarter (12 states) have child care center regulations that support breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding can help to ensure that babies have a strong and positive start in life. It is important that new mothers have the support and services they need to set their children on a healthy path.

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