There are five areas where help is needed most.

The likelihood of a new mother deciding and continuing to breastfeed is determined by many influences throughout her life. They occur before, during, and after pregnancy and in various environments — especially at work, at home, in health care, and in the public and social environments where she carries out her daily activities.

At Home

Women should be encouraged to discuss their desire and plans to breastfeed and to seek support for carrying out these plans. Both the father and the woman's mother play important roles in the decision to breastfeed. Family members, friends, and her other sources of social support — including other mothers — are important for her to successfully reach her goals.

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At Work

Most U.S. women of childbearing age work. Employed women are less likely to initiate breastfeeding and tend to breastfeed for a shorter length of time than women who do not work. Mothers need sufficient time at home with their babies after giving birth to establish breastfeeding and to bond with their newborns as well as support from their employers and child care providers when they return to work.

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In Health Care

Most women plan to breastfeed, and the support they receive after birth is critical in getting breastfeeding off to a good start. The Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding is a bundle of practices that are recommended maternity practices for lactating mothers and their babies. The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative recognizes birthing facilities that implement the Ten Steps as a standard of care.

Continued support with breastfeeding is often needed after a woman is discharged. To navigate normal breastfeeding challenges such as knowing what medications are safe with breastfeeding, understanding normal infant feeding patterns and behaviors, handling growth spurts and teething, continuing to breastfeed when returning to work, introducing solids, and weaning, women need access to health-care professionals who are adequately trained to provide routine breastfeeding guidance and support. And women with breastfeeding complications need access to skilled breastfeeding specialists such as International Board Certified Lactation Consultants.

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In Public and Social Environments

Every day, a mother's interest and efforts to breastfeed are influenced by public perception, culture, social norms, policies, and physical environments. From supporting breastfeeding at a restaurant to developing a community-based support program, communities can assure that mothers receive the support they need.

Many organizations and agencies are currently working to increase rates of breastfeeding and support mothers and their children in a variety of ways. The United States Breastfeeding Committee is a national focal point for efforts in this area, and state and local breastfeeding coalitions now exist in all 50 states.

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With Research and Public Health Assessment

While there is breastfeeding research available and state and national monitoring to track trends, gaps exist in the following areas:

  • Barriers to breastfeeding among populations with low rates of breastfeeding.
  • Economic research on how breastfeeding affects mothers and employers.
  • Best practices for management and support of lactation and breastfeeding.
  • Enhanced tracking of breastfeeding rates and factors that affect breastfeeding at state and local levels.
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