Published: Jul 14, 2011 5:50 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 14, 2011 4:50 PM EDT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Richmond leaders are launching an initiative to increase breastfeeding in an effort to improve urban babies' and mothers' well-being and reduce public health costs.

Mayor Dwight Jones has formed a commission made up of health care, business and government leaders, as well as breastfeeding advocates, to encourage new mothers to breastfeed. The panel aims to formulate an initial strategic plan by December.

Commission member Lisa Akers, the Virginia Department of Health's breastfeeding coordinator, says Richmond has very low breastfeeding rates, particularly among low-income and black women. The goal of the initiative is to encourage one out of four Richmond mothers to exclusively nurse their babies for at least six months rather than use infant formula.

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of infant mortality and childhood obesity and illness.

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