This week, I spent two days at the Second Annual Summit on Breastfeeding hosted by the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The Summit was here in Washington, DC, and the theme was, First Food: The Essential Role of Breastfeeding. The meeting was packed with information and presentations focusing on a range of topics that included leadership and legislation from federal agencies, breastfeeding community initiatives and community-based approaches, involvement of companies, roles and responsibilities of health professionals, and regulation. I learned a great deal over these last two days on breastfeeding and where we are in this country with initiation, as well as duration rates in the communities we serve. However, what sticks with me the most, are the remarks at yesterday’s luncheon, from the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin. I feel compelled to share some of the points that Dr. Benjamin shared with the group, as she talked about the importance of breastfeeding and how we can work together to improve rates in the U.S.
- Breastfeeding is a top priority in the Surgeon General’s office and it will continue to be a measure within Healthy People 2020.
- Despite improvements, socioeconomic, racial and geographic disparities still exist.
- Women in the southeastern part of the U.S. have breastfeeding numbers that are lower than any other part of the country. This is also the case for the rural communities in the U.S. compared to urban communities.
- Black infants are breastfed 50% less than white infants. “We really need to figure out ways to improve this rate.”
- We need to teach moms, grandmoms and dads about breastfeeding to increase the support among women.
- There needs to be safe and private areas in the workplace for women to breastfeed and/or pump, as well as cooling areas to store the breastmilk.
- Ongoing research and data — the science — is needed to validate what we are all saying about breastfeeding.
- “I want to move us (U.S.) to a system of wellness and prevention, and breastfeeding is included in this.”
These are all things we should keep in mind as we work to improve the health and well being of children. I also had the pleasure of speaking with the Surgeon General about how the NHSA and Healthy Start programs can work with her office to enhance breastfeeding education and increase breastfeeding rates among African-American infants and rural communities. It is our plan to continue this conversation with Dr. Benjamin’s office in the very near future.
Happy Friday and continue to give children a healthy start!
~Stacey D. Cunningham, MSW, MPH, Executive Director, National Healthy Start Association