Surgeon General Urges Docs, Others to Support Breastfeeding Efforts

Report Calls for Improved Physician Education, Training on Issue

January 26, 2011 05:50 pm David Mitchell

Breastfeeding should be easier for mothers who wish to do so, and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., is calling on physicians and others to make a difference.

[Stock photo of mom breastfeeding infant]

Benjamin, a family physician from Bayou La Batre, Ala., said during a Jan. 20 news conference( announcing the release of a new report( on this issue that 75 percent of U.S. infants begin their lives breastfeeding. However, by the end of six months, breastfeeding rates drop to 43 percent, and only 13 percent of mothers follow recommendations to provide breast milk exclusively for the first six months of their child's life.

Benjamin said mothers face a variety of barriers to breastfeeding, including lack of physician training. A number of community and workplace obstacles also are cited in The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding(, including lack of an acceptable place to breastfeed or pump milk at work, inadequate maternity leave, and lack of support from family and friends.

"Everyone can help make this easier, whether you are a clinician, family member or friend," Benjamin said.

Julie Wood, M.D., of Lee's Summit, Mo., the AAFP's liaison to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee(, or USBC, and a member of its board of directors, said family physicians are uniquely positioned because they can educate mothers and their family members about breastfeeding.

[Photo of Julie Wood, M.D.]

Listen to a brief AAFP News Now audio interview(3:39 minute MP3) with Julie Wood, M.D., of Lee's Summit, Mo. Wood, who is associate director of the Research Family Medicine Residency Program in Kansas City, Mo., and the AAFP's liaison to the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, attended a Jan. 20 event in Washington, D.C., during which Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., issued a call for action, urging physicians and others to support breastfeeding.

"Family physicians can play a role," Wood said in an interview with AAFP News Now, "and we need to do everything we can to make breastfeeding easier."

Benjamin's report outlines steps that communities, employers, researchers and others should take to improve support for breastfeeding. The following six steps are aimed specifically at the health care industry:

  • ensure that maternity care practices are fully supportive of breastfeeding;
  • develop systems to guarantee continuity of skilled support for lactation between hospitals and community-based health care settings;
  • provide education and training in breastfeeding for all health professionals who care for women and children;
  • include basic support for breastfeeding as a standard of care for midwives, obstetricians, family physicians, nurse practitioners and pediatricians;
  • ensure access to services provided by International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners(; and
  • identify and address obstacles to greater availability of safe banked donor milk for fragile infants.
Labor Department Seeks Public Input on Breastfeeding Statute

The U.S. Department of Labor is requesting information( from the public regarding an amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act that requires employers to provide a reasonable break time and a place for mothers to express breast milk for as long as one year after their child's birth.

"Mothers often lack a clean, private place where they can breastfeed or express milk," U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, M.D., M.B.A., said during a Jan. 20 news conference to announce her call to action regarding support for breastfeeding.

The amendment requires employers to provide employees who are breastfeeding with "a place other than a bathroom" that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public.

Gillian Pon, Ph.D., VP of human resources for AOL Inc., said during the news conference that 64 percent of working women in the United States are of child-bearing age. This group of women, she noted, is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. workforce.

The deadline to submit comments is Feb. 22.

Specifically, Benjamin said, more and better education about breastfeeding issues is needed in medical schools, as well as in CME programs. She also said such content should be included in licensing and certification examinations.

"We can do a better job of training in this area," she said.

The USBC recently released a document( that outlines core competencies in breastfeeding care and services for all health care professionals.

"I think demanding that we learn more and get more training is going to be key" to fulfilling the surgeon general's call to action, Wood said.

Benjamin pointed out during the news conference that infants who are breastfed are less likely to develop asthma and less likely to be obese, and their mothers have decreased risks for breast and ovarian cancers. She also said mothers who breastfeed exclusively can save as much as $1,500 in the first year of a child's life by not having to buy infant formula.

Benjamin emphasized that her efforts to increase support for breastfeeding were aimed at helping women who want to continue breastfeeding but face obstacles, and that women who cannot breastfeed, or choose not to, should not be made to feel guilty.

Although the report calls for improved training for all health care professionals who care for women and children, Laurence Grummer-Strawn, Ph.D., chief of the CDC's Nutrition Branch, emphasized during the Jan. 20 news conference that "a strong focus on physician education is really needed."