In a move that shocked world health officials, the Trump administration indicated its opposition to a resolution intended to encourage breastfeeding among new mothers. This move is contrary to decades of medical studies that have shown the health benefits of breastmilk for newborn infants.1,2
“There’s data to show that [physicians] don’t talk to women about the health impacts of breastfeeding,” said Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, professor of medicine at the University of California, Davis. “I think there’s a range of reasons they don’t talk about it. Some clinicians don’t think it matters that much…. But a [physician’s] words are powerful.”
During the July 2018 World Health Assembly, the White House took a standpoint more aligned with the billion-dollar infant formula industry.
Although it’s important to recognize and support women who are unable to breastfeed, for those who can, researchers have found that they should be encouraged to do so. Breastfeeding reduces infections such as pneumonia and immune disorders such as leukemia, and even reduces the risk for death in the first year of the infant’s life. For women, it reduces risk for breast cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
“If 90% of US mothers were able to breastfeed for one year after every birth, an estimated 14,000 heart attacks would be prevented each year,” wrote Dr Schwarz in a 2015 American Family Physician editorial. This would “save the United States billions of dollars annually, preventing more than 4,000 premature maternal deaths and close to 1,000 infant deaths each year.”3
For physicians, talking about breastfeeding can be a difficult, but important, conversation.
“It takes practice to know how to have these conversations, but it is similar to talking to patients about other health-related behaviors, like smoking or alcohol,” said Dr Schwarz. “Some still choose to smoke, and some will choose to use formula.”
- Jacobs A. Opposition to breast-feeding resolution by US stuns world health officials. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/08/health/world-health-breastfeeding-ecuador-trump.html. July 8, 2018. Accessed August 13, 2018.
- Rabin RC. Trump stance on breast-feeding and formula criticized by medical experts. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/09/well/breastfeeding-trump-resolution.html. Published July 9, 2018. Accessed August 13, 2018.
- Schwarz EB, Nothnagle M. The maternal health benefits of breastfeeding. Am Fam Physician. 2015;91(9):603-604.