Skip Navigation
Print Email Facebook Tweet Share
Text Size: A A A

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding

FACT SHEET

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding outlines steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breastfeed their babies.

How many American women breastfeed their babies?

  • Three out of four mothers (75%) in the U.S. start out breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2010 Breastfeeding Report Card.
  • At the end of six months, breastfeeding rates fall to 43%, and only 13% of babies are exclusively breastfed.
  • Among African-American babies, the rates are significantly lower, 58% start out breastfeeding, and 28% breastfeed at six months, with 8% exclusively breastfed at six months.
  • The Healthy People 2020 objectives for breastfeeding are: 82% ever breastfed, 61% at 6 months, and 34% at 1 year.

What are the health benefits of breastfeeding?

  • Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia.
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma.
  • Children who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese.
  • Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

What are the economic benefits of breastfeeding?

  • Families who follow optimal breastfeeding practices can save between $1,200–$1,500 in expenditures on infant formula in the first year alone.
  • A study published last year in the journal Pediatrics estimated that if 90% of U.S. families followed guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the U.S. would annually save $13 billion from reduced medical and other costs.
  • For both employers and employees, better infant health means fewer health insurance claims, less employee time off to care for sick children, and higher productivity.
  • Mutual of Omaha found that health care costs for newborns are three times lower for babies whose mothers participate in the company’s employee maternity and lactation program.

What obstacles do mothers encounter when they attempt to breastfeed?

  • Lack of experience or understanding among family members of how best to support mothers and babies.
  • Not enough opportunities to communicate with other breastfeeding mothers.
  • Lack of up-to-date instruction and information from health care professionals.
  • Hospital practices that make it hard to get started with successful breastfeeding.
  • Lack of accommodation to breastfeed or express milk at the workplace.

What can the health care community do?

  • More hospitals can incorporate the recommendations of UNICEF/WHO’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
  • Provide breastfeeding education for health clinicians who care for women and children.
  • Ensure access to International Board Certified Lactation Consultants.

What can employers do?

  • Start and maintain high-quality lactation support programs for employees.
  • Provide clean places for mothers to breastfeed.
  • Work toward establishing paid maternity leave for employed mothers.

What can community leaders do?

  • Strengthen programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling.
  • Use community organizations to promote and support breastfeeding.

What can families and friends of mothers do?

  • Give mothers the support and encouragement they need to breastfeed.
  • Take advantage of programs to educate fathers and grandmothers about breastfeeding.

What can policymakers do?

  • Support small nonprofit organizations that promote breastfeeding in African-American communities.
  • Support compliance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes.
  • Increase funding of high-quality research on breastfeeding.
  • Support better tracking of breastfeeding rates as well as factors that affect breastfeeding.

To order a printed copy of The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding, call 1-800-CDC-INFO or email cdcinfo@cdc.gov and reference the publication title. For a downloadable copy, visit www.surgeongeneral.gov.

Prepared January 20, 2011