THE BLOG
03/28/2013 11:37 am ET Updated May 28, 2013

The Great News About Breastfeeding: Americans Support Nursing Moms at Work, in Public

Did you see the headlines?

"Breastfeeding's Role in Controlling Obesity is Weakened" said TIME.com. From CBS: "Breast-feeding may not stave off childhood obesity like previously thought."

The stories followed a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association analyzing data from children in Belarus who were studied over the course of 11 years. The JAMA report posits that previous studies connecting breastfeeding and reduced obesity may have actually reflected other causes.

If you saw the headline, I hope you read the rest of the story as well, because if you did, you found a much fuller picture.

"There's a lot of other evidence out there to continue to support breast-feeding" regardless of the new report, the study's lead author, Dr. Richard Martin, told TIME.

That includes benefits such as fewer gastrointestinal infections and fewer incidents of eczema. Among the health benefits of breastfeeding cited by CBS' Michelle Castillo are antibodies protecting against diarrhea and pneumonia, lower blood pressure and cholesterol and reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer for the mother.

And that's not to mention the savings in health spending. As Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said in her "Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding," "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."

Interestingly, TIME's Bonnie Rochman said that the baby-friendly practices adopted by Belarusian hospitals in the study offer strong examples for American birth centers. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative encourages hospitals, for example, to help moms begin breastfeeding within an hour of giving birth, to give infants no food other than breast milk unless medically necessary, and to allow moms and babies to remain together 24 hours a day.

The new study actually comes at a time when the "First Food" movement is growing tremendously. At a recent First Food Forum, more than 150 breastfeeding advocates, maternal and child health practitioners, researchers, writers and others gathered to share insights on ensuring that more babies get the breast milk they need to thrive.

Just as important, the public has decided that supporting breastfeeding is "not just up to moms." The W.K. Kellogg Foundation earlier this year surveyed 1,300 Americans about their opinions on breastfeeding. By wide margins, majorities said we need systemic changes to support nursing moms.

  • 68 percent "strongly agree" that hospitals should be baby-friendly (meaning they provide new moms with the support and encouragement they need to breastfeed).
  • 71 percent of those polled said it would be "very helpful" to have clean, private spaces in malls, restaurants and other public places where women can go to breastfeed their children.
  • 66 percent of respondents, for instance, said it would be "very helpful" for workplaces to support breastfeeding mothers by giving them time and space to pump and a place to store breast milk.

The role of breastfeeding in curbing childhood obesity will likely continue to be studied. In HealthDay, Dr. Deborah Campbell, the director of the division of neonatology at New York's Montefiore Medical Center, asked whether ethnic, education and healthcare differences between Belarusian and American populations might mean JAMA's conclusions don't translate strictly to Americans.

Whatever those studies may show, the health benefits to both baby and mother of breastfeeding are well acknowledged. Now it's up to all of us to continue making sure this issue is at the center of our national conversations. Not as a debate -- the debate is over -- but as a necessary and important movement, agenda and policy priority for our country.

Americans want nursing moms to get the support they need in hospitals, workplaces and public spaces.

That's great news for our children -- news that will outlast any single day's headline.