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As an exclusively breastfeeding new mom, I was extremely heartened to read that U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, MD recently announced a call to action to support breastfeeding, for its unmatched health benefits to both babies and moms.

”One of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect her child and her own self is to breastfeed," Benjamin told a news conference in Washington, D.C.

”Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma," she says. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, and breastfeeding for the first six months reduces the risk of later obesity, among other benefits.

For mothers, breastfeeding reduces the risk of both ovarian and breast cancer, she says.

Breastfeeding can save money, too. "Families who follow the optimal breastfeeding practice can save anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500 in infant formula in the first year alone," Benjamin says. –WebMD

Despite all of these benefits, and despite the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics that babies be exclusively breastfed for at least six months, only 13% of babies are still exclusively breastfed at this age. Many of the reasons for this are social: though 75% of American mothers start their babies out on breast milk, many aren’t getting the support they need from their employers, their health care professional, their families and their communities to continue breastfeeding, even if they want to.

Benjamin’s call to action urges us to start trying to change this, by supporting the following:

· Education and counseling on breastfeeding from hospitals and other health care systems. With the majority of U.S. babies born in hospitals, Benjamin says, ”that is an excellent place for education."

· Expansion and improvement of community programs providing support in the form of mother-to-mother support and peer counseling. Among programs in place already are the support groups offered by La Leche League. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s WIC program can expand the support that women ideally have received in the hospital, according to the call to action report.

· Promotion of breastfeeding by doctors, who should be sure their patients get the best advice on breastfeeding. One good source, according to the surgeon general’s report, is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, trained to work with mothers to solve breastfeeding problems and educate them about breastfeeding benefits.

· Lactation support programs at the workplace. Employers are also urged to establish paid maternity leave for mothers and to provide clean places (other than restrooms) for mothers to breastfeed [or pump milk]. –WebMD

With state and federal programs in place to remove some of the obstacles to breastfeeding in our society, hopefully more and more mothers will start feeling that the decision to exclusively breastfeed is within their reach.

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