Bravo, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin! Yesterday, the nation's top doctor had the courage to say simply and starkly that mothers who breastfeed their babies need more support. In the "Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding," the Surgeon General challenged all sectors of our society to support mothers who choose to breastfeed their babies.
"Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breastfeed. 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." -- Surgeon General Dr. Benjamin
As evidence for the need for more support, the Surgeon General noted that while 75% percent of babies are breastfed after birth, only 13% are exclusively breastfed up until 6 months as recommended. She also notes that the rates are particularly low among African-American infants.
Increasing the breastfeeding rates could help keep down our growing healthcare costs. A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics estimated that the nation would save $13 billion per year in health care and other costs if 90 percent of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months.
In her "Call to Action", Dr. Benjamin highlighted the critical role employers can serve in supporting breastfeeding. Specifically, she urged employers to:
- Establish paid maternity leave programs
- Establish high-quality lactation support programs
- Expand the use of programs that allow women to take babies to work or on-site childcare
- Provide adequate break time and private space to express breast milk
The nation's top employer -- the federal government - is beginning to model these changes. Last December, President Obama ordered the Office of Personnel Management to develop rules to allow nursing mothers reasonable break times and private space. These new protections are designed to match those required under a provision of the Affordable Care Act which requires employers to provide adequate break time and space for non-exempt workers who are nursing infants to express milk. Research conducted by the Institute for Women's Policy Research estimates these new rules will apply to approximately 19 million employed women of childbearing age and, each year, result in 165,000 more babies being breastfed through at least six months.
Congress is also quickly becoming a model employer for nursing moms. According to a recent New York Times profileon breastfeeding support facilities on Capitol Hill, the first lactation suite was opened in 2006 and the facilities for nursing moms were expanded when Nancy Pelosi became Speaker.
Now that the Surgeon General has spoken up, it's our turn. What can you do to respond to the Surgeon General's "Call to Action"?
Here are some simple ideas to consider:
- Check out MomsRising's "Breastfeeding & Work" page for resources to share with your employer
- Share Corporate Voices for Working Family's excellent employer toolkit with your employer and friends
- Reach out to friends and colleagues who are expectant and nursing mothers to offer support and guidance around nursing
What are your suggestions for how we can each answer this call to action?