RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—You've probably heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." And last week, the U.S. Surgeon General reminded us all that it takes a community to support a mother who chooses to breastfeed that child. Unveiling the Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding last Thursday, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD, didn't try to talk mothers into breastfeeding, but rather urged communities to make things easier for women who do choose to breastfeed.
Dr. Benjamin calls on everyone from doctors and nurses to business owners and employers to create atmospheres where mothers who want to breastfeed can do so successfully, without the misinformation and other sorts of roadblocks mothers commonly face today. "It's a wonderful opportunity to make sure that people understand the message: Record-high numbers of mothers are trying to breastfeed and want to breastfeed, and they are being prevented from succeeding," says Danielle Rigg, cofounder of the Best for Babes Foundation, the group that coined the phrase, "Beating the Breastfeeding Booby Traps!" "This is not a guilt thing. This is not a breast-versus-bottle issue. It's about giving mothers who want to breastfeed the support they need," Rigg adds.
THE DETAILS: Breastfeeding is viewed by many as the ultimate form of prevention, protecting against health ailments both immediately and in the long term. Studies overwhelming show that breastfed children enjoy many health benefits, including a decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), along with a reduced risk of obesity, ear and respiratory infections, GI disorders, type 1 and 2 diabetes, allergies, asthma, and leukemia later in life. Mothers who breastfeed receive benefits beyond bonding with the child, as well, including better heart health, a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and less weight gain. "The research is there. The debate's over on that end," says Cathy Carothers, president of The International Lactation Consultant Association. Now, she says, the question is, "What are we going to do to support it? How are we going to break down those breastfeeding barriers?"
The Surgeon General's campaign seeks to eliminate unnecessary struggles for breastfeeding mothers, ones making it difficult for a woman to access science-based information on the benefits of breastfeeding, or give birth in a hospital that's adequately staffed with properly qualified lactation consultants. In addition, employers without a good lactation policy, stores without comfortable and well-marked lactation areas for mothers who may not feel comfortable feeding in public, family members who swear by formula-feeding, and the general stigma of breastfeeding all serve as roadblocks that could prevent a women from meeting her personal breastfeeding goals. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 75 percent of women leave the hospital breastfeeding, yet only 13 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months, which is the preferred feeding method for that age group endorsed by the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Often, women give up breastfeeding just days or after giving birth, long before heading back to work, says Rigg.