Breastfeeding has been linked to a lower risk of negative health outcomes for both baby and mother, yet the practice is still unevenly adopted. For some women, the reasons for not breastfeeding are practical and appropriate, but evidence suggests there are many women who do breastfeed but stop earlier than they should, or who do not adopt the practice due to a lack of education. About half of women in the U.S. who start breastfeeding stop by six months.
Now a panel of experts that makes recommendations about preventive health has found that programs designed to encourage women to breastfeed their infants really do work.
That group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), issued an update today to its 2008 recommendations about breastfeeding interventions. “The USPSTF found adequate evidence that interventions to support breastfeeding, including professional support, peer support, and formal education, change behavior and that the harms of these interventions are no greater than small,” the authors write in the paper, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. USPSTF analyzed 43 trials and found with moderate certainty that interventions to support breastfeeding increase how many women breastfeed and for how long.
Health professionals can support new and expectant mothers by talking one-on-one about the choice to breastfeed as well as teaching them how to do it, providing psychological support, and giving them supplies like breast pumps, the authors write. Formal education online or in a group setting is also effective, and family members, friends and peers can also provide support, the report says.
The authors also acknowledge that not every woman is able—or wants—to breastfeed, and say that doctors should respect those limitations or decisions.