Hard times could be coming for breastfeeding, maternal and child health expert says

April 11, 2014

The resignation of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius could mean hard times for advancing policies about breastfeeding, says Miriam Labbok, MD, MPH.

Dr. Labbok

Dr. Labbok

Labbok is Professor of the Practice of maternal and child health at The University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health and director of the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute, based in the School’s Department of Maternal and Child Health.

“As we approach World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7) and National Breastfeeding Month (August), we acknowledge the importance of strong advocates of breastfeeding, a practice that saves the lives and improves the health of mothers and children around the world,” Labbok says.“Secretary Sebelius has supported the fight against obesity and infant mortality, as did now-retired Dr. Regina Benjamin, former U.S. Surgeon General, who established a major call to action to support breastfeeding in 2011.”

Now, Labbok says, nominees for Secretary of Health and Surgeon General claim little or no orientation to infant survival or maternal health.

“[Proposed Secretary of Health] Sylvia Burwell is a manager – and good management skills are greatly needed in the department at this time,” Labbok says. “But Ms. Burwell’s background is in business. Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama’s nominee for Surgeon General, is an internist who co-founded and chairs TrialNetworks, a cloud-based clinical trial optimization system for pharmaceutical and biotechnology trials to improve quality and efficiency of new drugs rapidly to market. That orientation is unlikely to include a solid belief or orientation to preventive health or social behavioral change.”

The good news is that both declare support for the Affordable Care Act, which includes some new support for breastfeeding.

“There is a need for all who care about breastfeeding or maternal or infant health – or obesity, child development or scholastic achievement – to inspire, educate and empower these two nominees,” Labbok says. “Despite their business- and pharmaceutically-oriented pasts, as the World Breastfeeding Week and our National Breastfeeding month approach, we need to call on these two excellent individuals to speak out and support optimal infant feeding.”

World and National Breastfeeding is celebrated annually starting the first week of August. Learn more at www.USbreastfeeding.org.

Labbok serves on the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Infant Mortality and on the boards of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Advocacy.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or dpesci@unc.edu.