Surgeon General urges support for breastfeeding moms in ‘call to action’

Surgen General Dr. Regina Benjamin speaking to a packed auditorium at GW University in Washington, DC.

Earlier today, Surgeon, General Regina M. Benjamin – a 2010 NCL Trumpeter Awardee – issued a “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding,” The SG’s report outlines steps communities, clinicians, and employers can take to improve breastfeeding rates across the country. Dr. Benjamin spoke to a packed George Washington University auditorium.

The health benefits of breastfeeding, for both babies and mothers, are well documented. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, breastfed infants have a lower risk of contracting ear infections, stomach viruses, diabetes, and leukemia, and mothers who breastfeed enjoy lower risks of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and postpartum depression. They can also lose much of the weight gained during pregnancy because nursing burns up to 900 calories a day. And it’s free! Buying formula can cost $1,200-1,500 the first year alone.

Yet according to the Center for Disease Control, while 75 percent of American babies start out breastfeeding, only 13 percent are exclusively breastfed at the end of 6 months—rates Benjamin considers low compared to other countries. The SG noted that breastfeeding is significantly lower among African-American, with only 8 percent of infants exclusively breastfed at 6 months.

Some of the steps outlined in the call to action include:

Speakers at the Call to Action for breastfeeding moms.

  • Launch or establish campaigns for breastfeeding education that target mothers, as well as fathers and grandparents
  • Provide education and training in breastfeeding for all health professionals who care for women and children
  • Ensure access to services provided by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants
  • Work toward establishing paid maternity leave for all employed mothers
  • Ensure that maternity care practices throughout the U.S. are fully supportive of breastfeeding

NCL has been advocating for measures to improve the health of women and children since its founding in 1899. We’ve expressed concern that the IRS has denied nursing mothers the ability to use their tax-sheltered health care accounts to pay for breast pumps and other supplies.

NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg was in attendance and asked Dr. Benjamin how the surgeon general’s office can work with the IRS to get breast pumps listed as medical devices. Benjamin pledged to work with the federal steering committee, which includes representatives from the FDA, FDC, and USDA, to ensure all branches of government understand the importance of breastfeeding for the health of America’s mothers and children.

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