10 reasons the U.S. should support breastfeeding policy

Supporting breastfeeding moms doesn't mean NOT supporting formula feeders.

10 reasons the U.S. should support breastfeeding policy

The World Health Organization considers breastmilk the best source of nourishment for babies, and a generation of mothers have grown up hearing that "breast is best" (though we all know that fed is actually truly best). So when a recent report from The New York Times revealed the American government's strong opposition to a breastfeeding resolution at the World Health Assembly, many mothers and breastfeeding advocates wondered why.

The resolution comes after authors of a United Nations-backed study released last summer called on governments to further promote breastfeeding by enforcing guidelines around formula marketing and by legislating paid maternity leave policies.

Officials from the Department of Health and Human Services say they have reasons for opposing the resolution as it was originally written, including the intent to support mothers who need alternatives to breastfeeding. But there are at least 10 reasons why the the United States should support such a breastfeeding policy.

1. Because not a single country in the world meets all the recommended standards for breastfeeding

It's true, and the rates in the United States are lower than those in other parts of the world. According to the Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, fewer than 25% of American mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, which is attributed in part to inadequate cultural support for breastfeeding and pumping moms.

2. The benefits of breastfeeding are well documented

Study after study has found that breastfeeding offers optimal nutritional and immune system benefits. Being breastfed lowers a baby's risks for asthma, obesity, type 2 diabetes, ear and respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Breastfeeding has also been linked to better heart health for mothers.

3. Breastfeeding can save lives

That same study suggests the lives of more than 823,000 children could be saved annually in lower income countries if exclusive breastfeeding was standard practice globally. Some 20,000 maternal deaths could be prevented, according to the researchers, because breastfeeding also has a lasting impact on a mother's health.

4. Breastfeeding could save billions of dollars

A 2016 study published in The Lancet estimates the adoption of exclusive breastfeeding would result in a savings of $300 billion dollars in health care spending, as babies would experience fewer infections and protection against health issues like obesity and diabetes.

5. Because women need support to succeed in breastfeeding

According to UNICEF, "Breastfeeding is not just a one woman job. It requires encouragement and support from skilled counsellors, family members, health care providers, employers, policymakers and others."

If countries want to increase their breastfeeding rates, they must first increase the support they provide to new mothers. This means developing policies to make sure mothers have access to paid family leave, paid breastfeeding breaks at work, and skilled lactation counseling among other resources. It also means putting controls in place to ensure formula marketers are not overly aggressive or inaccurate in their statements.

6. Without clean water, formula feeding can be dangerous

For millions of families around the world, reliable access to clean water and sterile bottles is far from a guarantee. Because babies can be exposed to water-borne pathogens through formula feeding, the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding is truly a matter of life or death in regions where access to clean water is restricted.

7. Because the American Academy of Pediatrics does

In a statement to Motherly, Dr. Colleen Kraft, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states the AAP "strongly recommends" breastfeeding as the preferred feeding method for all infants.

"The AAP agrees we should promote, protect and support breastfeeding globally and in the U.S., and supports public policies that support mothers who are breastfeeding," Kraft says.

8. Because we need to close the "breastfeeding gap" in America and globally

A lack of support for new mothers, combined with cultural views on infant feeding and marketing efforts have contributed to what UNICEF calls the "breastfeeding gap": In low- or middle-income countries, an average of 96% of babies are breastfed. But in countries designated as "high-income," such as the United States, the United Kingdom and more, the average rate is 79%.

There's not only a gap between rich and poor countries, but also a gap between income levels within those countries.

"We know that wealthy mothers in poor countries are less likely to breastfeed, but somewhat paradoxically, we're seeing indications that in wealthy countries, it's the poor who are the least likely," Shahida Azfar, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director said in a press release earlier this year.

"These breastfeeding gaps across income levels are a strong indication that countries, regardless of the level of wealth, are not informing and empowering every mother to breastfeed her baby."

9. It isn't mutually exclusive to promote breastfeeding or support formula feeding

The national spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, Caitlin Oakley, tells Motherly "many women are not able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, these women should not be stigmatized; they should be equally supported with information and access to alternatives for the health of themselves and their babies."

That is certainly true. Only, it is possible to both promote breastfeeding and support mothers who are not nursing.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists does so by both recommending exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and also officially recognizing that a baby's mother "is uniquely qualified to decide whether exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding or formula feeding is optimal for her and her infant."

In the United Kingdom, the The Royal College of Midwives' new position statement on infant feeding advises that the midwives will both promote breastfeeding and recognize that "the decision of whether or not to breastfeed is a woman's choice and must be respected."

"We recognize that some women cannot or do not wish to breastfeed and rely on formula milk. They must be given all the advice and support they need on safe preparation of bottles and responsive feeding to develop a close and loving bond with their baby," RCM chief executive Gill Walton said when the position statement was announced last month.

10: Babies and mothers deserve a chance to experience breastfeeding

For some moms, breastfeeding is a time to nurture their baby's body while also nurturing the bond they have with them. Mothers and babies should get the chance to experience that connection, but too often, a lack of support and resources means mothers have to give up breastfeeding earlier than they intended.

It shouldn't be that way, but when mothers have short or non-existent maternity leaves, limited opportunities to pump or nurse at work, and don't have people they can turn to for help, breastfeeding becomes nearly impossible.

If the world doesn't first acknowledge the barriers that are preventing moms and babies from getting that chance to bond over breastfeeding, we won't be able to knock them down.

You might also like:

A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.


I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

Keep reading Show less

Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less

It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

Keep reading Show less