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Promote Breastfeeding

Photo of happy parents with their baby

Both babies and mothers gain many benefits from breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies consume nothing but breast milk for about the first six months and continue breastfeeding for at least one year.

What are the health benefits of breastfeeding?

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Did you know? For Moms, breastfeeding will use about 500 extra calories each day.
There are many ways that communities support mothers and babies to breastfeed, and everyone plays a role. U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin’s “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding” identifies ways to improve breastfeeding rates and increase support for breastfeeding:

  • Communities should expand and improve programs that provide mother-to-mother support and peer counseling.
  • Health care systems should ensure that maternity care practices provide education and counseling on breastfeeding. Hospitals should become more baby-friendly by taking steps like those recommended by the UNICEF/WHO’s Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative.
  • Clinicians should ensure that they are trained to properly care for breastfeeding mothers and babies. They should promote breastfeeding to their pregnant patients and make sure that mothers receive the best advice on how to breastfeed.
  • Employers should work toward establishing paid maternity leave and high-quality lactation support programs. Employers should expand the use of programs that allow nursing mothers to have their babies close by so they can feed them during the day. They should also provide women with break time and private space to express breast milk.
  • Families should give mothers the support and encouragement they need to breastfeed.


  • Breastfeeding protects babies from infections and illnesses that include diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia.
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to develop asthma.
  • Children who are breastfed for six months are less likely to become obese.
  • Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
  • Mothers who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers.

Breastfeeding helps protect against childhood obesity. A baby's risk of becoming an overweight child decreases with each month of breastfeeding.

How many women breastfeed their babies?

  • Three out of four mothers (75%) in the United States initiate, or start out, breastfeeding..
  • At the end of six months, breastfeeding rates fall to 44.3%, and only 14.8% of babies are exclusively breastfed.
  • 79.1% of Virginia mothers start out breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2011 Breastfeeding Report Card.
  • At the end of six months, breastfeeding rates fall to 40.8%, and only 14.5% of babies are exclusively breastfed.
  • The Healthy People 2020 objectives for breastfeeding are to increase the proportion of infants who are breastfed (MICH-21). Target percentages include: 82% ever breastfed, 61% at six months, 34% at one year, 46% breastfed exclusively through 3 months, and 26% breastfed exclusively for 6 months.

Breastfeeding and Returning to Work

The U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Section 4207 has specific provisions for worksite lactation programs. The amendment requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private, non-bathroom place for nursing mothers to express breast milk during the workday, for one year after the child’s birth. The Business Case for Breastfeeding is designed to educate employers about the value of supporting breastfeeding. The program offers tools to help employers provide worksite lactation support and privacy for breastfeeding mothers. The program also offers guidance to employees on breastfeeding and working.

Baby-Friendly Hospitals

With nearly 500 babies born in US hospitals every hour, hospitals play a vital role in helping moms be able to breastfeed. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care to protect, support, and promote breastfeeding based on the WHO/UNICEF Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding for Hospitals.

The Family Birth Center at Novant Health UVA Health System Culpeper Medical Center is the first hospital in Virginia to be designated as a “Baby Friendly Hospital” and other hospitals and birthing centers have made it their goal to become “Baby Friendly Hospitals” in the near future.

Surgeon General’s “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding”

On January 20, 2011, Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin released The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding in the Jack Morton Auditorium at The George Washington University. The “Call to Action” outlines steps that can be taken to remove some of the obstacles faced by women who want to breastfeed their babies.

2011 U.S. Breastfeeding Report Card

Improving the health of mothers and their children is a primary goal of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding, with its many known benefits for infants, children and mothers, is a key strategy toward this goal. The Breastfeeding Report Card, now in its fifth year, provides perspectives on state and national trends in breastfeeding data.