Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding… such a simple, beautiful thing. It provides babies with everything they need to grow and thrive and even provides benefits the mother as well. However, it seems to be the source of quite a lot of frustration and discrimination.

In most cultures around the world, breastfeeding was something that was completely normal. You just fed your kid. If you weren’t able to, the baby was fed from a wet nurse (another lactating female) or with another type of milk (such as goat’s). In Western societies, royalty often used wet nurses because breastfeeding was considered “too common”. Around the 18th century, as modern medicine began to flourish, breastfeeding awareness was reaching an all time high and the benefits were beginning to be discovered.
Around the time of the “baby boom” following WWII, infant formula grew tremendously popular. This was largely due to aggressive advertising as well as the move of birth and postpartum care from the home to the modern hospital. Formula was advertised as best because it was developed by “modern medicine”. Doctors and hospitals were able to develop a uniform schedule that fit nicely into the procedural culture that modern medicine is all about even today. Around the 1950’s, it was still a common view that breastfeeding was only something you did if you could not afford formula. In fact, it was quite the norm to believe it to be unpleasant.

After birth rates went back down, breastfeeding began making a comeback. Industrialized countries focused on promoting breastfeeding and people in the 1970’s were all about returning to what was natural. Breastfeeding was finally widely encouraged and touted as being the absolute best for baby.

And it really is the best if you are looking at the facts. Breastfeeding benefits both the child and the mother. Breastfeeding….
…boosts IQ
…lowers the chance of SIDS
…is easily digested, leading to more comfortable babies
…boosts baby’s immune system
…lowers risk of allergies and asthma
…keeps babies on a more healthy weight gain and growth scale
…changes throughout the day and throughout infancy to adapt to baby’s needs. Breastmilk produced for a premature infant is much different than that produced for a toddler.
…encourages skin to skin contact, which has many calming and stabilizing benefits of it’s own
…may help protect against certain cancers and diseases like diabetes
…lowers breast cancer risk for mom
……and much more!

Even though breastfeeding and now fully promoted, we face two major issues.

The first is that, despite the positive views on breastfeeding, new mothers often face obstacles that prevent a successful breastfeeding experience. The high rate of c-sections often prevent mother and child from beginning breastfeeding until much later after birth. Immediate post-birth breastfeeding leads to higher success rates than of births that led to a delayed attempt. Another road-block is a lack of access to someone who can help with breastfeeding, especially once at home. Another problem is the the lack of knowledge on lip and tongue ties, which can often make or break the breastfeeding relationship. And sometimes, breastfeeding is discouraged altogether. Doctors and nurses still sometimes will prefer formula because it is more easily measured and controlled. Well meaning relatives often suggest formula if they see the mother struggling, or if they want to feed the baby themselves. But perhaps the largest issue is the fact that many mother’s need to return to work after the short 6 weeks that is maternity leave here in the U.S. Pumping is difficult, time consuming, and sometimes subtly discouraged by employers. Breastfeeding is hard and painful, the above roadblocks certainly do nothing to help.

Another major issue is the stigma surrounding breastfeeding. Mother’s are told “breast is best”, yet when they attempt to breastfeed in public, they are sometimes shamed, asked to leave, or to “feed in the bathroom”. It’s difficult enough breastfeeding a small infant without having to worry about using a cover or accidentally offending someone. On the flip side, mother’s who formula feed can feel guilty for not breastfeeding or have to deal with the comments of others on how “breast is best”. And thus, the “breastfeeding vs. formula” war continues. It is okay to choose formula without having to justify the reasons for it. As long as baby is fed and healthy, why should it matter?

For more resources on breastfeeding, check out your local La Leche League chapter. As mother’s, we should be encouraging each other, sharing stories, and most importantly, leaving the judgement behind.

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