Note From The Commissioner: Policies & Services to Support Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Support Group

This month is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. As a physician and public health official, I know the evidence for the many benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding bolsters a baby’s immune system, reduces infant mortality, and improves the mother’s long-term health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and supplemental breastfeeding for a year or as long as the mother wishes.

As the mother of an 11-month old son, I know that while breastfeeding has many benefits for both me and my son, it’s difficult. When I started breastfeeding, my son had trouble latching and ended up so dehydrated and jaundiced that he almost had to be readmitted to the hospital. A month into my breastfeeding experiencing, I developed mastitis—an infection from clogged milk ducts. If it weren’t for an incredible lactation consultant and the support of so many other mothers, I would have stopped breastfeeding.

In Baltimore City, the breastfeeding rate is 71%, lower than the national average of 81%. In order to encourage more mothers to breastfeed, we need to create and implement policies to support breastfeeding and provide community services.

That’s why I stand in strong support of Councilwoman Shannon Sneed and her bill for “Lactation Accommodations in the Workplace." This bill recognizes that pumping in the bathroom is not sanitary and calls for dedicated lactation spaces and the time to do so.

I was proud to join Councilwoman Sneed in support of the bill, and I commend the Baltimore City Council for following medical best practices to promote, encourage, and support breastfeeding.

Theoretical policy is important, but so are the services and support for women and families. Our Women, Infants & Children (WIC) Program provides services for 25,000 Baltimore residents; they work every day to educate on breastfeeding, and I had the opportunity to join mothers in sharing our breastfeeding stories. This week, I also attendeda breastfeeding support group in the Upton/Druid Heights neighborhood. This is the B’More for Healthy Babies Upton/Druid Heights group, which went from having one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country to an infant mortality of zero in the last three years and nearly five years without a sleep-related infant death. The support group is staffed by BHB Resource Moms, including a certified lactation counselor who provides peer support to mothers in the neighborhood. This support is paramount to success.

I am so grateful of the work of our BCHD team and our partners in the effort to prioritize the health of mothers and babies in our City. We will continue to promote the science that shows breastfeeding is the best for the mother and child, and to provide all the support we can to improve the health and well-being of mothers, babies, and families. This is about the future of our families, our community and our city.

Leana Wen, M.D., M.Sc.

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