Health Promotion Begins at the Breast

Health Promotion Begins at the Breast

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Health Promotion Begins at the Breast A t the turn of this century, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) published its Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding (DHHS, 2000). In it, then Surgeon General David Satcher noted, “Breastfeeding is one of the most important contributors to infant health.” The plan provided concrete direction to help move the nation from 1998 baseline breastfeeding rates of 64% in the early postpartum, 29% at 6 months, and 16% at 1 year toward the Healthy People 2010 goals of 75%, 50%, and 25%, respectively. Strategies to promote breastfeeding among American women and to lessen disparities among ethnic populations in breastfeeding rates were specified for the health care system, the work place, the family, and community. The DHHS Office on Women’s Health (OWH) was funded to carry out the recommendations of the blueprint via a National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign. Initial components of the campaign included a breastfeeding support Web site,, and a Breastfeeding Helpline, 1-800-994-9662, that were established in spring 2003. The OWH partnered with La Leche League International to develop these national resources and to train those who staff them. In collaboration with the Advertising Council, the OWH is now prepared to launch a major public health education initiative that portrays breastfeeding as normal, desirable, and achievable. The 3-year multimedia campaign primarily targets parents who would not normally breastfeed by empowering women to commit to breastfeeding, highlighting the health benefits to babies, encouraging exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months, and eliciting paternal support for breastfeeding. Through public service announcements on television and radio, bus stop posters, articles in community newspapers, and educational pamphlets, the campaign will emphasize the evidence that shows that babies who are exclusively breastfed for 6 months experience fewer ear infections, episodes of diarrhea, and respiratory illnesses, and may be at decreased risk for childhood obesity. In November 2003, political pressures from those concerned about anti-formula messages contained in

May/June 2004

the campaign successfully delayed its scheduled launch. The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC), a collaboration of more than 40 governmental, educational, and not-for-profit organizations, has been monitoring the status of the campaign and releasing periodic updates on its Web site at http://www. AWHONN is among the members of this important advocacy organization. USBC’s vision is breastfeeding as the norm for infant and child feeding throughout the United States (USBC, 2001). So, what is the issue? It is simply, yet profoundly, that a mother’s commitment to breastfeeding and public health efforts to enhance that commitment are economic issues. The best interest of babies is not the primary concern. Scientific research has provided irrefutable evidence that “breast is best,” yet those who profit from decisions women make to not breastfeed can block bringing this evidence to the public consciousness. It is acceptable to supplement the diets of potential childbearing women with folic acid for the prevention of neural tube defects and to publicize the dangers of tobacco and alcohol use during pregnancy, yet unacceptable to do all we can to see that babies are provided with optimal nutrition and immunologic protection through breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the single most important decision that a mother can make related to the continued health and well-being of her baby after pregnancy. It is the baby’s foundational health promotion behavior that must be supported by an informed and willing mother and a caring society. Nancy K. Lowe Editor

REFERENCES United States Breastfeeding Committee. (2001). Breastfeeding in the United States: A national agenda. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Maternal and Child Health Bureau. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health.