HHS Blueprint to Boost Breast-Feeding

By Lewis, Carol | FDA Consumer, May-June 2003 | Go to article overview

HHS Blueprint to Boost Breast-Feeding


Lewis, Carol, FDA Consumer


Two decades of scientific research, and years of proactive measures by health experts and others, are beginning to pay off. Attitudes and behaviors toward breast-feeding in the United States are changing.

During the last 15 years, the importance of breast-feeding has been recognized as one of the most valuable medical contributors to infant health. In 1990, the United States signed a formal declaration on the protection, promotion, and support of breast-feeding adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). At the same time, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through a national health promotion and disease prevention initiative called Healthy People 2000, and subsequently Healthy People 2010, established breast-feeding objectives for the first year of an infant's life.

Recognition of the benefits of breast-feeding has already spread to many health and professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Dietetic Association, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Moreover, the American Academy of Pediatrics considers breast-feeding to be "the ideal method of feeding and nurturing infants."

A Blueprint for Breast-Feeding

To further these efforts, the HHS Office on Women's Health (OWH), in cooperation with other federal agencies and health care professional organizations, developed a comprehensive national breast-feeding policy, called the HHS Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding.

The OWH has been given funds to translate the recommendations of the Blueprint into the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign to promote breast-feeding among first-time parents. The overall goal of both the Blueprint and the campaign is to increase the number of mothers who breast-feed their babies in the early period following their birth (postpartum) to 75 percent and to raise to 50 percent those who are breastfeeding at 6 months postpartum by the year 2010.

The Blueprint introduces an action plan for breast-feeding that reaffirms its superiority for most newborns. The plan is based on education, training, awareness, support, and science, and includes key recommendations of the HHS Subcommittee on Breastfeeding.

"The Blueprint has been widely circulated and the number of requests for the document has been unprecedented," says Suzanne G. Haynes, Ph.D., chairwoman of the HHS Subcommittee on Breastfeeding and senior science advisor at the OWH. "It is being used in teaching settings, in hospitals, and in communities," she adds, noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is using the document to promote breast-feeding in nine state projects.

As part of the National Breastfeeding Campaign, a comprehensive three-year media campaign will be launched in the summer of 2003. The campaign will be marketed in partnership with selected organizations and will get the message out through public service announcements, bus-stop posters, billboards, articles in community newspapers, parenting and women's magazines, Web sites, and educational pamphlets.

In addition, 18 community-based demonstration projects throughout the United States will work with the OWH and the Advertising Council to implement the National Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign on a local level. The projects will attempt to educate women about the benefits of breastfeeding, encourage them to choose to breast-feed, and create awareness that breast-feeding is normal, desirable, and achievable.

Legislative support of breast-feeding is growing. As of 1999, 33 states had enacted laws relating to a wide range of issues involving various aspects of breast-feeding, such as redefining indecent exposure rules, allowing breast-feeding in public places, jury duty postponement due to breast-feeding, and promotion of breast-feeding programs. Hawaii, for example, prohibits employers from discriminating against a mother who breast-feeds or expresses milk with a pump at the workplace.

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