Why Breastfeeding Should Be Like Cardiac Rehab

February 6, 2016

After a heart attack, no one argues against the benefit of a cardiac rehabilitation program. Such programs offer education and support for an individual to achieve a healthy outcome, and generally start in hospital before a patient is discharged. Programs are free of charge, supported by numerous government agencies and charities, and no one gives a heart attack survivor a hard time at work if they use their breaks to go for a walk and eat broccoli.

Now, compare cardiac rehab to breastfeeding. Whereas coronary artery disease is considered a public health issue, breastfeeding – despite the mounting evidence of its ability to reduce infant and maternal mortality – is mired in politics and still lacks a consistent, evidence-based approach to support its practice.

Last week The Lancet published The Breastfeeding Series highlighting, not for the first time, the benefits to babies and mothers of breastfeeding and disparaging the continued resistance from many sectors of society to support women in breastfeeding.

New figures estimate that over 820,000 babies each year die because of inadequate access to breast milk. Approximately 22,000 maternal deaths from breast cancer could be prevented if breastfeeding continued up to two years in developing countries and twelve months in developed countries. Women who don’t breastfeed also face a higher risk of ovarian cancer, as well as obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.

Women are not ignorant to the evidence, but they are not getting the support they need to start and continue the process of breastfeeding. On top of that, the infant formula milk industry is expected to spend over 70 billion dollars on advertising by 2019, far outpacing what governments spend to support breastfeeding. And there continues to be stigma associated with breastfeeding in public, which makes this an issue for every one of us, small business owners to bosses and managers to public transportation users.

Not every woman can or will choose to breastfeed. But each of us has the ability to offer support to breastfeeding mothers and to encourage leadership to address the real public health issue of maternal and child health.