Surgeon General Regina Benjamin is calling for families and employers to make it easier for mothers to breast-feed their newborns. "Many barriers exist for mothers who want to breast-feed," Benjamin said. "They shouldn't have to go it alone." Studies show that newborns reap numerous health benefits if they are breast-fed for the first six months, something only one in 10 babies experiences. (Nursing has even been linked to higher IQs.) Is Benjamin's "call to action" much needed, or will it only provoke unfair criticism of parents who choose to feed their babies formula?
There is no downside to Benjamin's call: This is a "bold" and overdue move, says Tanya Lieberman in Motherwear's breast-feeding blog. Mothers need easier access to breast-feeding education and counseling. Hospitals need to become more "baby friendly," instead of pushing formula on new moms. And employers need to make it easier for mothers with newborns to find the time and privacy they need to pump breast milk. Benjamin's call should put pressure on everybody to help out.
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It's wrong to denigrate parents who choose formula: Kudos to Benjamin for supporting breast-feeding moms, says Rebecca Goldin at Stats.org. But it's unfair to use this as another excuse to "hound families about using formula." Some people want to believe that Benjamin is linking formula- and bottle-feeding to the childhood obesity problem, but the statistics don't support that connection. "Given that formula is recommended" only until the age of 1, "it seems other foods given to toddlers are the culprit. Fries, anyone?"
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Breast-feeding has become hopelessly politicized: Both breast-feeding advocates and formula manufacturers tout the health benefits of their choice, says Nancy Shute in U.S. News & World Report. And while "there's good evidence that breast milk gives babies a boost in the first year of life," after that the benefits are less clear. One thing is for sure: Until science can conclusively prove that one approach is superior, this highly politicized parenting debate will drag on.
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