Make Breast Feeding Easier: Surgeon General Issues Call to Action

Everyone can help make breastfeeding easier!

Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin issued a Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, outlining steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breastfeed their babies.

“Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breastfeed,” Dr. Benjamin said. “They shouldn’t have to go it alone. Whether you’re a clinician, a family member, a friend, or an employer, you can play an important part in helping mothers who want to breastfeed.”

“Of course, the decision to breastfeed is a personal one,” she added, “no mother should be made to feel guilty if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed.”

The Call to Action
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action identifies ways that everyone can support breastfeeding:

  • Communities should expand and improve programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling.
  • Health care systems should ensure that maternity care practices provide education and counseling on breastfeeding.
  • Hospitals should become more “baby-friendly,” by taking steps like those recommended by the UNICEF/WHO’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
  • Clinicians should ensure they are trained to properly care for breastfeeding mothers and babies, promote breastfeeding to pregnant patients, and make sure that mothers receive the best advice on how to breastfeed.
  • Employers should work toward establishing paid maternity leave and high-quality lactation support programs, and expand the use of programs that allow nursing mothers to have their babies close by so they can feed them during the day. They should also provide women with break time and private space to express breast milk.
  • Families should give mothers the support and encouragement they need to breastfeed, including after her return to work or school.

“I believe that we as a nation are beginning to see a shift in how we think and talk about breastfeeding,” said Dr. Benjamin. “With this ‘Call to Action,’ I am urging everyone to help make breastfeeding easier.”

As I wrote in a post last year, social stigma has a devastating effect on the process. Most women who breastfeed are simply trying to feed their babies, yet they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to breastfeed in public bathrooms, hiding in corners, draping blankets over the baby’s head, or pumping in to a bottle. Sometimes they are made to feel unwelcome or asked to leave the premises.

The general message woman get is that breastfeeding is unacceptable, should be done only for a brief period of time, and completely hidden from view. Not that breasts aren’t bountiful in public life as objects of sexuality, especially in advertising. The social condemnation seems to stem from the perfectly normal and nurturing act of breastfeeding.

The Affordable Care Act includes a provision to help some breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. The law requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. The employer is not required to compensate an employee for such purpose. The employer must also provide a place — other than a bathroom — for the employee to express breast milk. If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs less than 50 employees is not subject to these requirements. Furthermore, these requirements shall not preempt state laws that provide more protections to employees.

Next: Let’s All Get a Grip!

How many American women breastfeed their babies? Three out of four mothers (75 percent) in the U.S. start out breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card. At the end of six months, breastfeeding rates fall to 43 percent, and only 13 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed.

What are the health benefits of breastfeeding? Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma and children who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Are there economic benefits of breastfeeding? Families who follow optimal breastfeeding practices can save between $1,200–$1,500 in expenditures on infant formula in the first year alone. A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics estimated that if 90 percent of U.S. families followed guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the U.S. would save $13 billion a year from reduced medical and other costs. For both employers and employees, better infant health means fewer health insurance claims, less employee time off to care for sick children, and higher productivity. Mutual of Omaha found that health care costs for newborns are three times lower for babies whose mothers participate in the company’s employee maternity and lactation program.

What can policymakers do? Support small nonprofit organizations that promote breastfeeding in African-American communities. Support compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes. Increase funding of high-quality research on breastfeeding. Support better tracking of breastfeeding rates as well as factors that affect breastfeeding.

What can we all do? Let’s start by getting a grip. Breastfeeding is natural and healthy for mothers and babies. Numerous studies have pounded the message home. Breast is best! Women who can and want to breastfeed deserve to be met with support from the medical community, their families, and from society as a whole. It’s just common sense.

Breastfeeding Resources

Source for Statistics: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Image used under Creative Commons License with thanks to crz

Writer Ann Pietrangelo is a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes, and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


Tiffany Derichsweiler
Tiffany D6 years ago

Odd Wheelz: did you know there are actually federal laws that protect breastfeeding mothers' rights to breastfeed in any public place? I find you to be a very rude person.

Tiffany Derichsweiler
Tiffany D6 years ago

All the women in my family are HUGE breastfeeding advocates--and its amazing how ignorant the general public is on an issue that was status quo for thousands of years--only very recently in history has there even been an option that didnt include breastfeeding. I mean for thousands of years if you didnt breastfeed your child (1 in a million I'm sure) then you had a wet nurse to breastfeed your child. Breastfeeding was the ONLY option, and obviously so. Free, perfectly portable, the perfect nutrition for your baby, immunosupportive; the most natural, built in mechanism for healthy babies.

jane richmond
jane richmond6 years ago


Beverly G.
John Bilsborough6 years ago

If you want to nurse your baby by all means do so. I just dont want to share that experience with you. It can be done discretely

Trish K.
Trish K6 years ago

When the child is hungry you must be able to feed that child.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G6 years ago

Hear, hear!!!

Alicia N.
Alicia N6 years ago

If one mother wants to breast feed her child, go for it ! just PLEASE do it with style, meaning: PUT a blanket over! Thanks. No free-shows!!!

Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson6 years ago

it would be nice to have a quiet space for breastfeeding mothers and infants that are not in bathrooms.

Odd Wheelz
Odd Wheelz6 years ago

Deanna, Ernie: Having a B.M. is natural too. Do you want to see it done in public? Did you know if you urinate outdoors in Colorado (and get caught) you can be arrested as a "sex offender/predator" and have to register? Where do we draw the line?

Deanna Murphy
Cindy Murphy6 years ago

Any woman has the right to breast feed their baby any where they damn well please. Babies have the right to eat in public whether they are bottle or breast fed. Breast feeding is natural and the fact that women who are just trying to feed their babies are shunned by public eye is not right. It's just a baby eating for goodness sake.