Breastfeeding as a Health Policy Issue is a Win-Win
The toughest of times can shine a light on opportunities for needed change, often providing long awaited improvements. Faced with state and federal budget crises and promising health care reform, breastfeeding as a policy, not just a health, issue, stands out as a win-win for everyone. Breastfeeding is a comparatively low-cost, low-tech health strategy that results in improved health outcomes for mothers and babies. Our Surgeon General’s Call to Action, details action steps we can collectively take to support our mothers with breastfeeding policies in the places where they receive health care, work and do business, honoring their feeding decision and benefiting our communities.
Clinical preventive services in health plans, including government sponsored plans, will include breastfeeding support. As part of the Affordable Care Act, and the recently released IOM report, which has been approved by HHS, breastfeeding counseling and the provision of breastpumps will be a benefit for mothers. Health plans now need to tap into existing resources that better define effective breastfeeding support, using International Board Certified Lactation Consultants, and quality breastpumps. Effective breastfeeding support will result in improved breastfeeding rates, healthier mothers and babies, and reduced health care costs.
Hospital breastfeeding policies are vital to assisting mothers to fulfill their decision to breastfeed. The support mothers receive in the short 24-48 hour stay has a big impact on getting babies and mothers off to a good start. Baby Friendly certified hospitals, which adopt a set of 10 policies that support bonding and early infant feeding, have higher breastfeeding rates both in the hospital and in the months following. The CDC has excellent resources and studies that examine policy improvement and breastfeeding outcomes, especially related to hospitals. As a society we can reduce costs, including health costs if more of our babies are breastfed, starting in the hospital.
With a majority of mothers with young children returning to work, our mothers need support to return to work breastfeeding. Many states, and now federal law, require worksite lactation support. Mothers often decide whether they will breastfeed based on the support they can depend on when they return to work. Providing worksite lactation support is a win for employee and employer. Worksite lactation support can be accommodated in a variety of work settings and at low cost to the employer. Studies show that babies are sick less often, reduced employee turnover, higher productivity, and improved morale when mothers continue to breastfeed upon return to work.
We have an opportunity in these tough times, to do the right thing for babies, mothers and our communities, supporting breastfeeding as a health policy in our health plans, hospitals and workplaces.
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