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Having successfully breastfed two babies from birth into toddlerhood I feel incredibly breast. Oops, I mean, blessed! Research shows that, while formula is an important option for many, breast is truly best for the health of a baby. In fact, breastfeeding is an important component in the Centers for Disease Control’s “Healthy People 2020 Objective for the Nation.“ The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are 6 month olds and then continue breastfeeding “for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother as complementary foods are introduced.” In light of this recommendation and the many benefits of breastfeeding (or exclusively pumping), one may wonder, Why don’t all moms nurse their babies?
What I don’t know from experience I know from watching many of my friends. While “breast is best” nursing can be fraught with struggle. That said, many breastfeeding challenges can be over come with the right help.
The numbers speak to the challenges facing nursing mothers. The CDC’s 2014 Breastfeeding Reportcard shows that in 2014: 79% of infants started breastfeeding, 40.7% of 3 month old babies were exclusively breastfed, by 6 months 49% of babies were breastfed (while only 18.8% were exclusively breastfed at 6 months before starting solids) and by 12 months only 29% of babies were breastfed. What starts as a promising number of infants nursing at birth quickly dwindles and falls short of the AAP’s recommendation of breastfeeding throughout baby’s first year. At first glance, I have a hard time wrapping my head around these numbers. Perhaps it’s because I contribute to a “semi-crunchy” blog or because I work for a cloth diaper company, but it seems like everywhere I look on social media I see moms, companies, and hard-working “lactivists” waving the banner of “breast is best.” If breastfeeding is so good for baby, mom, and even society, why aren’t more moms breastfeeding their babies through the first 12 months?
Then I stop and think beyond my own experience. Given the physical and emotional rigors of newborn care, needing to heal from childbirth, common nursing challenges, potential culture stigmas working against breastfeeding moms, and (for many) needing to return to work only 6 weeks or less after giving birth; it’s no wonder a lot of moms stop or do not even attempt breastfeeding.
What Can We Do?
One thing we all can do is compassionately support all moms.
As my sister said in a post last year, To the Formula Feeding Mom: An Apology, behind every formula feeding mom there is a story. Perhaps this mom tried breastfeeding but didn’t have support to help overcome her nursing challenges. Perhaps she nursed for awhile but after returning to work her supply dried up because her workplace was not conducive or accommodating to her needs as a nursing mother. (See this helpful Kelly Mom article detailing a nursing mothers rights in the workplace.) Perhaps this mom wants to breastfeed but needs to be on medication that is not compatible with nursing.
Motherhood is hard, period. We need to show kindness and not judgment to all moms whether they breastfeed or not.
A quick, but loving, note to formula-feeding moms, who are sick of seeing “breast is best” all over their news feeds: Nursing moms need your compassion as well. I can image it may be tiring and perhaps even annoying to have the breastfeeding banner seemingly waved in your face all the time. And yes, all the pro-breastfeeding cheerleading may feel like a judgement of your personal choice, but please don’t take the defensive. I do not know your story and I am sorry if you’ve felt squashed by all the “breast is best” enthusiasm. That said, try not to roll your eyes because that cheer-leading may be exactly what another struggling mom needs to hear. In the end we are all moms wanting to do what we feel is the best for our kids and our families.
Genuine narratives carry much power. Being honest about our breastfeeding experiences helps pave the way for other moms in our spheres of influence. As first time mom, I can’t tell you how grateful I was to have seen and heard about other moms breastfeeding struggles and victories. These stories, along with support from my family and mom friends, got me through the intense first weeks of nursing a newborn.
Sometimes “being real” means holding our tongues and creating a safe place for struggling moms to share. Often all a mom needs is the opportunity to talk without fear of judgement or receiving advice that she is not ready to process.
As with childbirth, it’s easy for new moms to focus only on the horror stories they’ve heard so remember to share about your positive breastfeeding experiences as well as your struggles. Veteran nursing moms, being real means that we are ready to answer the question, Why did you choose to breastfeed and why is it important to you?
Be the change.
Nursing moms not only need support, they need advocates. They need executives and administrators to evaluate their workplace’s accommodations for nursing mothers and take action if things need improvement. They need moms to fill out surveys about the lactation resources available through their health care provider. They need people in charge of places of play and worship to consider how to make their spaces more welcoming for breastfeeding moms. Breastfeeding moms need everyone in their community to welcome them and their right to nurse when ever and when ever their babies need. Advocating for and helping normalize breastfeeding not only serves nursing mothers but the entire community.
Supporting breastfeeding mothers is something everyone can do. By being compassionate, real, and ready to advocate for nursing moms we can help empower more moms to breastfeed as long as they choose. One mother at a time, one baby at a time we can make a difference.