Patt Morrison for February 15, 2011

Michelle Obama to, very gently, push more moms to breastfeed their babies

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Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

Women breastfeed their babies at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington during a 'nurse-in' organized after a woman was stopped from nursing in public at the museum by security guards.

It’s long been conventional wisdom that breastfeeding is the single most important thing that mothers can do for their infants, in terms of disease and obesity prevention—but that wisdom is fraught with anxiety and debate over how vital breastfeeding is, how long it should be done and the magnitude of the promised health benefits. Perhaps with that in mind, first lady Michelle Obama is doing a delicate dance to increase US breastfeeding rates without expressly telling women to breastfeed but by making it easier for moms to breastfeed if they so choose. To do that, she’s launching a multi-pronged campaign, giving IRS tax breaks for breast pumps and lactation assisting supplies; targeting the workplace and economic factors that impede breastfeeding; and encouraging hospitals to become “baby friendly,” or promote breastfeeding rather than unnecessarily giving infants formula and separating them from their mothers at birth. For a topic as personal and sometimes controversial as breastfeeding, the national campaign seems to be about as sensitive as possible, but what are the real barriers to breastfeeding access in this country and how can they be dismantled?


Karen Peters, Executive Director, Breastfeeding Task Force of Greater Los Angeles, which is part of the California Breastfeeding Coalition, a local NGO that works to promote breastfeeding

Mary Noonan, Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Iowa; she focuses on work, family and gender

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