Dr. Maureen Phipps, chair of obstetrics and gynecology in the Alpert Medical School and a member of the task force, discusses its new recommendations supporting breastfeeding.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On Oct. 25, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that to support breastfeeding, health care providers offer interventions among women who are pregnant or who have recently given birth. The research evidence supports the idea that breastfeeding has important health benefits and that primary care interventions can increase the rate of breastfeeding and the length of time mothers spend doing it.

Among the task force members making the recommendation is Dr. Maureen Phipps, chair and Chace-Joukowsky Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and assistant dean for teaching and research in Women’s Health at the Alpert Medical School, professor of epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health, and chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Women & Infants Hospital and Care New England Health System.

Phipps comments on the new recommendations and her experience serving on the task force since February 2014.

Why does the task force feel it’s important to recommend interventions to support breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding has a number of proven health benefits for both the mother and the baby, with evidence showing that babies who are breastfed are less likely to get infections such as ear infections, or to develop chronic conditions such as asthma, obesity and diabetes. For mothers, breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk for breast and ovarian cancer and type 2 diabetes. However, many new mothers who want to breastfeed often need support to be successful. Because we want women to have access to the information and tools they may need to breastfeed, and because the evidence shows that interventions can successfully help more women breastfeed for longer, the task force recommends that clinicians support women who choose to breastfeed so that they can successfully achieve this goal.

What form would effective interventions take?

This recommendation focuses on interventions to support breastfeeding that primary care clinicians can implement or offer as a referral. These interventions fall into three main categories: education, support from clinicians or other professionals, and peer support from other mothers. These types of breastfeeding interventions may be provided individually or may be combined and are meant to offer guidance and encouragement as well as practical help for how to breastfeed.

The recommendation was careful to acknowledge that breastfeeding is a personal choice. Why was that an important aspect of this issue?

The task force’s recommendation encourages women make the right decision for themselves and their babies, recognizing that some women may not choose to, or be able to, breastfeed their infants. The task force supports mothers in making a personal, informed decision about how to feed their babies and encourages primary care clinicians to provide interventions that meet the needs of their patients’ individual situations.

More generally, what is involved in volunteering on the task force? What do you do to fulfill that substantial responsibility?

Task force members are national experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine, brought together with a mission to improve the health of all Americans by making evidence-based recommendations about clinical preventive services such as screenings, counseling services and preventive medications. The task force uses a rigorous, evidence-based scientific approach in determining whether a clinical preventive service is effective, striving to answer important questions about the benefits and harms of each topic we examine. We base each recommendation on a review of evidence published in peer-reviewed journals, which ensures that each is based on high-quality research. The task force meets in person three times per year, and between meetings, we continue working to develop and refine recommendation statements via regular conference calls and email communication, ensuring recommendations are up to date with the latest data. All of this work is intended to help doctors and patients decide together whether a preventive service is right for a patient's needs.

What has been most interesting and rewarding about your service so far?

Serving on the task force is incredibly rewarding because our focus, regardless of topic, is on giving doctors and their patients the information and tools they need to make an informed decision that best suits their health care needs. As a member of the task force, I have the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from a variety of fields related to preventive medicine and primary care, including internal medicine, family medicine, pediatrics, behavioral health, obstetrics and gynecology, and nursing, who have come together to improve the health of all Americans.