Breast milk is easier to digest than formula, and contains antibodies that protect against infections, allergies, inflammatory bowel disease and sudden infant death syndrome. The benefits of breastfeeding extend into adulthood, with lower rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease risk factors, diabetes and some types of cancers. Nursing mothers also enjoy benefits such as reduced risk for breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
There is no shortage of evidence showing the value of breastfeeding for both women and their infants. And yet, studies show that while most women in the United States initiate breastfeeding, more than half wean earlier than they desire. Barriers to breastfeeding can have a dramatic impact on the likelihood a mother will continue to nurse her child. Common barriers include a women’s socioeconomic status, education, misconceptions, and social norms. For example, barriers such as the need to return to work sooner after giving birth and employment in positions that make breastfeeding at work more difficult contribute to lower rates of breastfeeding among low-income women than women with higher incomes.
While the Affordable Care Act includes provisions to support breastfeeding mothers, there is more to be done. Supporting a woman’s decision to breastfeed takes a multifaceted approach, including advancing public policies like paid family leave, access to quality child care, break time, and a location other than a bathroom for expressing milk.
As obstetrician–gynecologists and advocates for women’s health, we can also support women to achieve their infant feeding goals directly through patient care.
According to ACOG Clinical Guidance, obstetrician–gynecologists and other obstetric care providers should:
- Develop and maintain knowledge and skills in anticipatory guidance, physical assessment and support for normal breastfeeding physiology, and management of common complications of lactation.
- Support each woman’s informed decision about whether to initiate or continue breastfeeding, recognizing that she is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding, or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant.
- Support women in integrating breastfeeding into their daily lives in the community and in the workplace.
- Be a resource for breastfeeding women through the infant’s first year of life, and for those who continue beyond the first year.
ACOG strongly supports breastfeeding and provides resources for both you and your patients. I encourage you to visit acog.org/breastfeeding to learn more.