Newswise — While 75 percent of U.S. babies start out breastfeeding, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports only 13 percent are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months. Six months of exclusive breastfeeding is the American Academy of Pediatrics' minimum recommendation. The rates are particularly low among African-American infants.

Diane Spatz, PhD, RN, of Penn Nursing has joined Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin to develop and promote the Surgeon General’s "Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding".

“As nurses we must continually emphasize the critical role of nurses in evidence-based lactation support and care,” says Dr. Spatz, an expert in breastfeeding and in high-risk pregnancy. “Nurses are at the forefront in helping women achieve their breastfeeding goals.” Spatz chairs the expert panel on breastfeeding of the American Academy of Nursing.

"The Surgeon General’s Call to Action is unprecedented. We're looking at the science of the provision of human milk," says Spatz. "It's a life-changing thing. It influences both the mortality of infants, and also how healthy they are."

According to the “Call to Action,” breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections, and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop asthma, and those who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese. Mothers themselves who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

The report notes that many mothers who attempt to breastfeed say several factors impede their efforts, such as a lack of support at home; absence of family members who have experience with breastfeeding; a lack of breastfeeding information from health care clinicians; a lack of time and privacy to breastfeed or express milk at the workplace; and an inability to connect with other breastfeeding mothers in their communities.

"Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breastfeed," Dr. Benjamin says. "They shouldn’t have to go it alone. Whether you’re a clinician, a family member, a friend, or an employer, you can play an important part in helping mothers who want to breastfeed."

Dr. Benjamin’s "Call to Action" identifies ways that families, communities, employers and health care professionals can improve breastfeeding rates and increase support for breastfeeding. These include: community programs providing mother-to-mother support; more "baby-friendly" hospitals and health care models; proper clinician training; paid maternity leave and lactation support programs; and family involvement.

Related Links:

YouTube Video“Breastfeeding Call to Action”

Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding

Diane L. Spatz, PhD, RN-BC, FAAN

Register for reporter access to contact details