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Despite public health recommendations and efforts, and goals set by health organizations to increase and promote initiation and duration rates of breastfeeding, in the United States especially, there still exist major disparities.

The "Demonization" Of Breastfeeding In Public

For many decades breastfeeding has a played a major role health promotion and is one of many public health interventions that has been strengthened through health education. However, the rates and support of breastfeeding still lag, and much work still needs to be done.

Public health needs and interventions include but are not limited to protecting the public's health, and promoting and encouraging health behaviors, which include support for policies and laws that encourage and accommodate breastfeeding. 

Major Benefits Of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding promotes and maintain an infant's health, and facilitates and helps to maintain critical skin-to-skin contact that is necessary between a mother and her baby following birth. After birth, a mother's body produces colostrum, containing antibodies to boost the baby's immune system, and aid in  short and long term prevention of disease for both mother and baby. Since the flow of colostrum is slow, a mother can learn nursing skills, and baby learns how to latch, suck its mother's milk, swallow, and breathe while  breastfeeding.

Social, Cultural, Federal, Legal And Political Determinants

With a host of great  benefits, why is breastfeeding so demonized? Our health behaviors, cultural and social perceptions and beliefs are heavily influenced by our surroundings and environment. Although everywhere we turn, there is an abundance of exposed breasts on television, in the media, and magazines, a mother and her baby are demonized if they engage in breastfeeding in public.

Proponents of breastfeeding, regard this as truly infringing, scary and downright hypocritical. Especially in the United States, mothers still cite negative, cruel experiences by the public, and even some health care professionals when they attempt to breastfeed in public. While in many cultures breastfeeding is normal and expected, in other cultures, especially Western cultures, women are vilified. Breastfeeding is seen as a 'forbidden, mysterious, and vile activity.'

Even with state and federal laws allowing mothers to breastfeed in public, such laws are not enforced, and women are only protected if they breastfeed on federal property. Many have been asked to leave certain establishments and places of business and other locations.  Mothers still feel uncomfortable, and fear for their lives and the safety of their babies when they breastfeed in public. As such, they avoid doing so-however necessary. Further exacerbating this situation, is the fact that there are no allowances or accommodations for mothers to breastfeed while traveling or at work, and no policies in place to support, promote and enforce the laws for this necessary and health promoting activity.

In sum, the major determinants for the low rates include but are not limited to cultural and societal norms, health beliefs and behaviors, access to health education and health care, and the lack of health educators and knowledgeable health care professionals, lack of sufficient funding and federal and state support to effectively support breastfeeding.

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