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PHR Article of the Week: Surgeon General’s Perspectives: Helping Women Achieve Their Breastfeeding Goals: The Role of Hospitals

In the latest issue of Public Health Reports, September/October 2014 , the U.S. Acting Surgeon General, Dr. Boris D. Lushniak reflected on the thirtieth anniversary of the former Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop’s Workshop on Breastfeeding and Human Lactation. Since the 1984 workshop, the Office of the Surgeon General has continued to champion breastfeeding as a public health goal ever since, including the 2000 “HHS Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding” and the 2011 “Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.”

More than 80 percent of mothers in the United States indicate prenatally that they intend to breastfeed their babies, and 76.5 percent start breastfeeding. However, only 16.7 percent meet the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for about the first six months of the child’s life (i.e., giving the child breast milk with no solids or other liquids except vitamin/mineral supplements or medications). Only 27.0 percent of women breastfeed for the recommended 12 month minimum. These low rates of exclusive and continued breastfeeding have major implications for public health. Babies who are not breastfed are at increased risk for ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infections; asthma; sudden infant death syndrome; and necrotizing enterocolitis. Additionally, breastfeeding reduces a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Suboptimal breastfeeding rates in the U.S. result in an estimated $2.2 billion annually in direct medical costs.

The Office of the Surgeon General remains committed to supporting breastfeeding mothers. Systematically improving maternity care practices, including increased adherence to the 10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, will help women who intend to breastfeed get the support they need to meet their breastfeeding goals.

This week’s PHR feature article, Surgeon General’s Perspectives: Helping Women Achieve Their Breastfeeding Goals: The Role of Hospitals is available online now. For full access to all current content, visit the Public Health Reports website to subscribe.