I love parenting newborns, and if there is any one thing I miss most about not having a newborn in the house anymore – it is breastfeeding. Breastfeeding was a very satisfying experience for me, despite the difficulty I had in establishing breastfeeding with my first baby. I was bound and determined to breastfeed, willing to work through whatever problems came up.
I don’t know exactly how I became so solid in the choice to breastfeed my babies. My mother did not breastfeed, my grandmother did not breastfeed, and neither did my mother-in-law. I had rarely seen a woman breastfeeding in public. My sister was the only one in the family who knew I would give it a try, and encouraged me. Actually, I was 14 years old before I saw any woman breastfeed, and that woman was my sister who made the courageous decision breastfeed her baby at age 15. Her mother had breastfed and supported her in that choice.
I didn’t know much about breastfeeding at all really when I started. All I knew was that it seemed to me (intuitively and logically) that it would be the best/healthiest food source for my baby. Resarch shows us that being the healthiest choice for baby is one of many reasons breastfeeding is a great choice. I also remembered being relieved when I watched my sister breastfeeding her daughter. I was relieved that my breasts had a purpose other than the one that I had been shown by hyper-sexualized media.
Aside from the good feeling I had about breastfeeding being an excellent choice, when I think about it now, the odds were really set up against me being successful (only Louisiana ranks lower than Kentucky for amount of breastfeeding mothers). I’m so thankful I was able to find the support I needed to keep trying. I sought out the support because I didn’t want to give up. I knew I could get the hang of it eventually with a little experienced help.
Supporting Women in Making the Choice to Breastfeed
Recently, the United States Surgeon General released a call to action to support breastfeeding. In the call to action report, the barriers to breastfeeding were sited. Reading these barriers, it is obvious that there is a lot of overcome. Changing the culture of a whole nation, not to mention its most rural areas, is not an easy task. But, when a culture has developed around misinformation it becomes necessary to try our best for the public good.
Barriers Summarized from the Surgeon General’s Call to Action:
- Lack of Knowledge – Most women in the United States are aware that breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants, but they seem to lack knowledge about its specific benefits and are unable to cite the risks associated with not breastfeeding.
- Social Norms – In the United States, bottle feeding is viewed by many as the “normal” way to feed infants… Widespread exposure to substitutes for human milk, typically fed to infants via bottles, is largely responsible for the development of this social norm.
- Poor Family and Social Support – Women with friends who have breastfed successfully are more likely to choose to breastfeed. On the other hand, negative attitudes of family and friends can pose a barrier to breastfeeding. Some mothers say that they do not ask for help with breastfeeding from their family or friends because of the contradictory information they receive from these sources.74 In many families, fathers play a strong role in the decision of whether to breastfeed. Fathers may be opposed to breastfeeding because of concerns about what their role would be in feeding, whether they would be able to bond with their infant if they were personally unable to feed the baby, and how the mother would be able to accomplish household responsibilities if she breastfed.
- Embarrassment – A study that analyzed data from a national public opinion survey conducted in 2001 found that only 43 percent of U.S. adults believed that women should have the right to breastfeed in public places.98 When they have breastfed in public places, many mothers have been asked to stop breastfeeding or to leave. Such situations make women feel embarrassed and fearful of being stigmatized by people around them when they breastfeed.
- Lactation Problems – Frequently cited problems with breastfeeding include sore nipples, engorged breasts, mastitis, leaking milk, pain, and failure to latch on by the infant. Women who encounter these problems early on are less likely to continue to breastfeed unless they get professional assistance. Women report receiving conflicting advice from clinicians about how to solve problems with breastfeeding. Successful initiation depends on experiences in the hospital as well as access to instruction on lactation from breastfeeding experts, particularly in the early postpartum period. Most problems, if identified and treated early, need not pose a threat to the continuation of successful breastfeeding.
- Employment and Child Care – Employed mothers typically find that returning to work is a significant barrier to breastfeeding. Women often face inflexibility in their work hours and locations and a lack of privacy for breastfeeding or expressing milk, have no place to store expressed breast milk, are unable to find child care facilities at or near the workplace, face fears over job insecurity, and have limited maternity leave benefits.
- Barriers Related to Health Services – Studies have identified major deficits relevant to breastfeeding in hospital policies and clinical practices, including a low priority given to support for breastfeeding and education about it, inappropriate routines and provision of care, fragmented care, and inadequate hospital facilities for women who are breastfeeding.
This issue goes well beyond a mother wanting to breastfeed her baby, and making the choice to do so. Whether or not she will be successful will depend upon her finding familial support, along with the suppport of her friends and partner, receiving accurate information and help with lactation difficulties that may arise, having the time and support from her employer and those who provide her with child care, getting the initial care from her birth care givers to help her initiate breastfeeding, and our society’s change in views of breastfeeding in public or her ability to overcome the embarrassment she might be made to feel by others.
Choosing to breastfeed in our culture is not a simple choice. The benefits to both mother and baby are tremendous. From my experience, it can be a huge reward of mothering. We must make the conscious effort to support breastfeeding women and raise awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding. Not only that, but to minimize the guilt that some women are made to feel when not choosing breastfeeding, or when they have not been able to continue breastfeeding once they began.
Share with us your experience with breastfeeding, either as someone who supported a breastfeeding mother, or a breastfeeding mother yourself. If you chose not to breastfeed, please share your story as well.
Many happy days to you and yours,