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Increasing Support of Breastfeeding Mothers
Earlier this year, Scottish researchers examined the disjunction between the idealism of exclusive breastfeeding and the reality experienced by many families. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life for all babies. Other organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that all babies consume breast milk for the first 12 months of life for maximum developmental and immune system benefits. According to the Scottish study, most women find these goals unrealistic, despite the known long-term benefits of breastfeeding for mother and baby.
Breastfeeding can reduce the incidence of diabetes, asthma, obesity, ear infections, upper respiratory tract infections and SIDS. In fact, the World Health Organization has been cited for calling colostrum – the breast milk a mother makes in the first days after a baby is born – “the baby’s first vaccination” because of the immunological benefits. that it confers on newborns. According to the authors of Breastfeeding Made Simple: Seven Natural Laws for Nursing Mothers, “Exclusive breastfeeding for six months by 90 percent of American mothers could prevent 911 infant deaths and save the U.S. health care system $13 billion.” Research has also shown that babies who have been breastfed excel in speech and language development and have higher IQ levels. Breastfeeding also offers a myriad of health benefits for mothers – there is a significantly lower incidence of aggressive breast cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, ovarian cancer and diabetes in women. who have breastfed.
If a mother and baby have so much to gain from breastfeeding, why are exclusive breastfeeding rates at 6 months postpartum only 15% in the United States, according to the CDC? Despite widespread promotion of the benefits and joys of breastfeeding, these low rates are likely due to a lack of support within the infrastructure of the health care system and in our communities at large. In fact, mothers in the Scottish study said that lack of support from healthcare providers, family members and friends contributed to their decision to stop breastfeeding before their baby was born. is 6 months old.
The sad reality is that not all healthcare professionals fully support breastfeeding and, what is more, not all healthcare professionals are qualified or competent to provide breastfeeding support and advice during difficulties. breastfeeding. Many women receive some breastfeeding training before birth, for example, in a childbirth education course, but then receive very little ongoing counseling during the postpartum period. Moreover, the women in the study are correct when they say that many healthcare providers paint a rosy picture of breastfeeding, choosing only to talk about the beautiful bonding experience the mother-baby dyad has during breastfeeding or long-term health benefits. Too few of us talk about the common challenges and pitfalls a woman may face when starting to breastfeed, for fear of discouraging new mothers from starting. Ultimately, however, women who have trouble getting a good latch, having sore nipples, expressing milk at work, or being scolded in public while breastfeeding often feel blindsided by these challenges or feel guilty for not having the “ideal image” of a breastfeeding mother. These are just some of the challenges nursing mothers may face.
To say that many women do not receive the support they need from their communities to continue exclusive breastfeeding for up to 6 months postpartum would be an understatement. While some companies support breastfeeding by having on-site lactation consultants, clean places to express breastmilk, and on-site daycares, many employers still don’t have good systems in place to support a mother who needs to express her milk from time to time. hours to maintain her milk supply for her growing baby. Despite the fact that many states have laws that protect a woman’s right to express her milk in a clean place other than a bathroom – for up to 3 years after the birth of their baby – some women are invited to express their milk in the company’s tiny bathroom stall. Others struggle to get the break time they need to express milk every few hours to avoid engorgement that can lead to breast infection.
Nursing mothers have been escorted off planes, asked to leave restaurants and courtrooms, and dragged into department store locker rooms as they breastfeed their babies. The reasons given? Some members of the public find breastfeeding obscene, offensive or inappropriate. In Maine, the law states that “a mother has the right to breastfeed in any place, whether public or private, so long as she is otherwise permitted to be in that place.” Increased public awareness of the rights of breastfeeding mothers is badly needed to encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding and maximize the health benefits for her and her baby.
So where do we go from here? We must first change cultural attitudes around breastfeeding in the United States Breastfeeding our babies is nature’s way for us to nurture and nurture our offspring. There are often a number of key moments during the first 6 months of a baby’s life when mothers are faced with the decision of whether to persevere in the face of breastfeeding challenges or switch to formula or exclusively feed solid foods. However, increased support from skilled and knowledgeable healthcare providers who use a non-judgmental counseling approach that extends beyond the first 6 weeks postpartum is paramount during these critical times. Let’s be open and honest about the realities of breastfeeding, which can be difficult and frustrating at times and beautifully transcendent at other times. By supporting each other, we can undo the goal of exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, day after day, one breastfeed at a time.
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