Ask President-elect Obama to make breastfeeding a priority

BlogHer Original Post

This morning President-elect Barack Obama reaffirmed his strong commitment to health care reform. The United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) believes that breastfeeding is an "essential public health issue" and should be a high priority for the incoming administration. In light of this, the USBC has created a petition urging President-elect Obama to make breastfeeding a high priority. The petition is up to more than 6400 signatures and growing.

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USBC points out that beyond the numerous health benefits to both mother and child, breastfeeding also provides "significant economic and environmental benefits for families, employers, and society." According to the USBC (definitions in parentheses are mine):

Excess health care costs totaling more than $4 billion must be paid by the U.S. health care system each year to treat otitis media (middle ear infection), gastroenteritis (infection or irritation of the stomach and intestines), and necrotizing enterocolitis (an acute inflammatory disease occurring in the intestines of premature infants) – childhood diseases and conditions preventable or reduced by breastfeeding. When prevention of obesity, diabetes, and other chronic conditions is factored in, the potential economic benefits of breastfeeding are significantly greater.

The petition calls for President-elect Obama to:

1. Instruct the Surgeon General to issue a statement in support of breastfeeding urging all sectors (governmental and non-governmental) involved in supporting women, children, and families to improve their breastfeeding policies.

2. Enact a national paid family leave policy.

3. Endorse the World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes as well as the Global Strategy for Infant & Young Child Feeding.

4. Ask the Federal Trade Commission to monitor infant formula marketing.

5. Ask the Food and Drug Administration to include labeling on powdered infant formula warning that it is not sterile and providing instructions on how to properly reconstitute it.

6. Highlight the benefits for employers of workplace breastfeeding support programs as part of your program to promote flexible work arrangements.

7. Urge all insurers to cover lactation care and support services.

8. Approve an increase in breastfeeding support funds for the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), especially to support the peer counseling program.

9. Instruct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to recommend that all hospitals achieve the Baby-Friendly designation.

10. Ensure that emergency management agencies are trained in breastfeeding support and have breastfeeding supply kits available for distribution in emergencies.

If you agree, I hope you will sign the petition too.

Also this morning President-elect Obama appointed former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and Director of the new White House Office on Health Reform.

In his remarks, Secretary-designate Daschle appealed to Americans to play an active role in health reform by signing up to lead a health care discussion -- a series of meetings everyday people are hosting, in which they'll gather ideas and report back to the Transition's Health Policy Team. The team will then incorporate the results into its recommendations for the Obama-Biden administration. He said it's up ordinary Americans to "share their ideas about what’s broken and how to fix it" by leading a health care discussion.

This looks like another great opportunity to impress upon the incoming administration the need to make breastfeeding a priority.

Angela White at Breastfeeding 123 remarks, "What if politicians learned of something they could do to lower health care costs yet improve infant and maternal health at the same time? Doesn’t that sound like something everyone could and should get behind?"

Marijke from Womb Within says:

Although we know about the benefits of breastfeeding and that it helps lower healthcare costs in so many ways, encouraging and offering much needed assistance to new mothers who encounter problems is still not a priority in the United States.

The government had produced a plan and came up with realistic targets, Healthy People 2010 Breastfeeding Targets, that were only met by a few states. (If you click on the Healthy People link, that gives you a pdf document report card.)

2010 is just one year away (wow, that snuck up on me!) and, according to the "breastfeeding report card," there is still a lot of work to be done to meet the breastfeeding targets.

API Speaks, the blog of Attachment Parenting International, and Tanya at Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog are also encouraging people to sign the petition.

Heather at A Mama's Blog recently wrote a post about melamine found in United States infant formula and then a follow-up post about the FDA's "irresponsible" response to the melamine where they state that trace amounts of melamine are safe. She points out that beyond the health benefits, there is the added peace of mind that comes from breastfeeding because you don't have to worry about harmful chemicals, like trace amounts of melamine, showing up in formula, as has been the case first (in larger amounts) in China and now in the United States.

It is my hope that President-elect Obama will take the petition seriously and, with the help of Tom Daschle, make the positive changes needed to create an environment where not only can we achieve our national breastfeeding targets, but women and their families can be successful in reaching their personal breastfeeding goals too.

Contributing editor Amy Gates blogs about green living, attachment parenting, activism and photography at Crunchy Domestic Goddess.

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