Center for Reducing Health Disparities

Celebrate World Breast Feeding Week: August 1-7, 2011

One of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect the health of her infant and herself is to breastfeed. However, in the U.S., while 75 percent of mothers start out breastfeeding, only 13 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months. Additionally, rates are significantly lower for African-American infants.

The decision to breastfeed is a personal one, and a mother should not be made to feel guilty if she cannot or chooses not to breastfeed. The success rate among mothers who want to breastfeed can be greatly improved through active support from their families, friends, communities, clinicians, health care leaders, employers and policymakers.

Given the importance of breastfeeding for the health and well-being of mothers and children, it is critical that we take action across the country to support breastfeeding.  Through the technical assistance of the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC), all 50 states have now formed breastfeeding coalitions, and there are many local, tribal, and territorial coalitions as well. These coalitions mobilize local and state efforts to promote and support breastfeeding.

Below are the 20 key actions identified by the U.S. Surgeon General to improve support for breastfeeding:

 Actions for Mothers and Their Families:

1. Give mothers the support they need to breastfeed their babies.

2. Develop programs to educate fathers and grandmothers about breastfeeding.

Actions for Communities:

3. Strengthen programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling.

4. Use community-based organizations to promote and support breastfeeding.

5. Create a national campaign to promote breastfeeding.

6. Ensure that the marketing of infant formula is conducted in a way that minimizes its negative impacts on exclusive breastfeeding.

Actions for Health Care:

7. Ensure that maternity care practices around the United States are fully supportive of breastfeeding.

8. Develop systems to guarantee continuity of skilled support for lactation between hospitals and health care settings in the community.

9. Provide education and training in breastfeeding for all health professionals who care for women and children.

10. Include basic support for breastfeeding as a standard of care for midwives, obstetricians, family physicians, nurse practitioners, and pediatricians.

11. Ensure access to services provided by International Board Certified Lactation Consultants.

12. Identify and address obstacles to greater availability of safe banked donor milk for fragile infants.

Actions for Employment:

13. Work toward establishing paid maternity leave for all employed mothers.

14. Ensure that employers establish and maintain comprehensive, high-quality lactation support programs for their employees.

15. Expand the use of programs in the workplace that allow lactating mothers to have direct access to their babies.

16. Ensure that all child care providers accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers and infants.

Actions for Research and Surveillance:

17. Increase funding of high-quality research on breastfeeding.

18. Strengthen existing capacity and develop future capacity for conducting research on breastfeeding.

19. Develop a national monitoring system to improve the tracking of breastfeeding rates as well as the policies and environmental factors that affect breastfeeding.

Action for Public Health Infrastructure:

20. Improve national leadership on the promotion and support of breastfeeding.


SOURCE:  The U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding:  Accessed at: (2011)