Who’s breastfeeding? Who’s Not? and how you can be successful….
One sunny Saturday afternoon last winter, a man, a woman and their newborn were at a New York City cafe for brunch. During the meal, new mom brought the baby to her breast, arranged a scarf around her and began to nurse. No biggie, right? Not necessarily; the new mom was Beyonce, who’s not only one of the most recognizable women in the world, but also African-American, the demographic least likely to breastfeed, publicly or otherwise.
What might seem like a tempest in a C-cup is actually a pretty good reflection of how divided moms are when it comes to thee seemingly simple act of nourishing a baby. On one hand, breastfeeding is more in the spotlight than ever, Beyonce, Angelina and Gwen Stefan have done it-and openly. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CSC) urge all mothers to do it. Heck, the IRS is even paying people to do it, announcing tax breaks for breast pumps last year. But there are still plenty of moms-one of every four-who start their babies on formula and never look back. “We can celebrate the fact that breastfeeding rates have been rising since 1990, but our work isn’t done”. “Seventy-five percent of women start breastfeeding in the hospital, but only 44 percent are still doing it six months later. And there are racial disparities-74 percent of Hispanic and Asian moms breastfeed for at least some period of time, but just over half of black mothers do. We’re obviously not giving all women the support they need.”
- A better start. How has such a personal choice become such a public issue? First, medical experts today roundly agree that babies are best served by breast milk, and breast milk only, for their first six months of life.
Nursing by the numbers
The AAP recommends that babies continue to drink breast milk once they start solids, until at least 12 months, and the WHO goes even further, urging moms to provide their infants breast milk along with other foods until their kids are 2. “The longer you can breastfeed, the better”. “The immune system benefits alone, particularly in the first year, are enormous.” Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, gastrointestinal illnesses and pneumonia early in life, and obesity-related issues like a type 2 diabetes later. They’re also more protected against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) - possibly because breastfeeding babies eat more frequently than formula-fed ones, making moms more aware of their sleeping rhythms. Breastfeeding moms benefit too: They’re less likely to develop diabetes and breast and ovarian cancer, and-bonus!-tend to peel off pregnancy pounds sooner. “It’s something your body is built to do, and that the vast majority of women can do”. That attitudes has become standard in many circles, especially in the Pacific North-west and New England-”places where there tends to be a lot of breastfeeding support, such as lactation consultants and laws to protect public breastfeeding”.
That was truly the case for Lauren Hartman, 27, of Portland, Oregon, a state where more than 9 of 10 women breastfeed. When she gave birth to her first child, Fern, last winter, Hartman’s milk came in late and her supply was low. She credits her eventual success to the encouragement from her midwife, lactation consultants and a local moms group she met with weekly. “If not for them, I’m sure I would have given up,” says Hartman. Four months later, she was still nursing Fern-at home, at restaurants, even walking through the aisles of a grocery store. “Around here everyone just assumes you breastfeed,” she says. “If you formula-feed, it’s almost as if you’re an outcast.”
- Booby traps. “There are lots of ‘booby traps’ that prevent women from breastfeeding”. While some women don’t want to nurse and a small percentage aren’t able to, many women throw in the burp towel simply because they lack support. Here, we break down the most common breastfeeding pitfalls-and ways to over them:
BREASTFEEDING BURNS UP TO 500 CALORIES PER DAY
1. Lack of info.
Women aren’t getting the message that breast is best. A 2007 study by North Carolina researchers of women receiving assistance from Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the federal supporting low-income mothers, found that just 36 percent of moms in this group even knew that breastfeeding helps protect against infant diarrhea. Not surprisingly, babies who are born into the WIC program-roughly half of all U.S. infants-are less likely to be breastfed. The fact that not all hospital have lactation consultants available for daily rounds certainly isn’t helping bridge the information gap. “Research shows that when you don’t start breast-feeding in the hospital, you aren’t likely to start better”.
What you can do: Learn breastfeeding basics before the hungry babe arrives. Many WIC branches have lactation consultants who pay complimentary visits to new moms in the hospital-call yours to see if you’re eligible. When shopping hospitals, call around to see which ones have lactation consultants visiting with new moms daily.
2. It’s hard work:
Some women try to breastfeed and really, truly can’t-this includes the 5 percent of moms who have a low milk supply, often due to glandular problems (prior breast surgery could be a factor). For these mothers, we focus on celebrating and protecting a healthy baby because that’s what counts. But plenty of moms mistakenly think they can’t make enough milk-when in fact their baby just needs help latching more effectively or is going through a growth spurt. Still more women quit because breastfeeding can, well, suck at times. “Some babies are born with latching problems or special needs”. “If they don’t nurse well, it can be a vicious cycle: They take less milk, you make less milk. Nipples get store. Babies get fussy. Sometimes it seems easier just to go ahead and wean.”
What you can do: Some WIC-affiliated lactation consultants make free house calls for latching problems or pain. If you can, spring for a sessions with an International Board-Certified lactation Consultant-they can charge between $20 and $200 per sessions, but some insurance plans cover the cost.
3. And it’s hard at work.
While breast milk may be free-saving upward of $1,200 a year in formula costs-breastfeeding isn’t, especially for working women. “For some moms, breastfeeding isn’t a ‘choice’ at all”. The Family and Medical Leave Act ensures 12 weeks of job protection for new mothers in workplaces of 50 people or more, but no promise of paid leave. To support their families, many moms leave their babies with a caregiver a week or two after birth. Pumping is easier courtesy of 2010 legislation that requires companies to provide women with a clean, quiet place to breastfeed, but the law doesn’t cover small workplace or require employers to pay women during pumping breaks. That may help explain why just 15 percent of women meet the AAP ideal of exclusive breastfeeding through six months-and less than 45 percent are doing it at all by their baby’s half-birthday.
What you can do: Talk to your boss and human resources rep about your breastfeeding plans in your second trimester. Try to negotiate as much paid leave as possible-you may want to tack on vacation days. Push for the creation of a clean, private space to pump milk, if there isn’t one (the ladies’ room, by law, doesn’t count). If you’re a wage earner, see if you can come in early or stay late at work to make up for pumping breaks.
4. It’s completely foreign to me:
Breastfeeding role models can be scare. Even for those who have the time and space to be breastfeed, nursing-with its promise of occasional discomfort and ill-timed nip slips- can sometimes be a tough sell. “Most mothers today were born at a time when formula feeding was the norm”. “Women often turn to their mothers for guidance, and if there’s no experience there, there may be no support.” This is often true for African-American moms, who are more likely than women of other races to use formula even when they have higher incomes and educational degrees, factors usually associated with breastfeeding. “There’s a cultural bias against breastfeeding that traces back to the time when black women served as wet nurses for their masters” which uses social media and on-site hospital visits to reach moms. “Many women still associate bottle feeding with something the elite do; if you nurse the child, you must be poor.”
What you can do: Make breast friend. The La Leche links nursing moms through local support, and Breastfeeding USA connects women with “breastfeeding counselors,” experienced mothers who’ve gone through a four-to-six-month training program ton provide phone, e-mail or in-person support.”Breastfeeding can be isolating”. “But the more you surround yourself with others moms who are doing it too, the more you’ll understand your experiences are normal.”
Wanna mix it up? : Many moms clearly find their happy place in an approach that combines breast and formula-feeding: Nearly one-quarter-up from 16 percent in 2000-are still feeding their babies some milk by their first birthdays. If you go to the combo route:
- Try to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first few weeks, until your milk supply is established and your baby has learned to latch effectively. Otherwise, he may become accustomed to the ease of feeding from an artificial nipple and resist nursing altogether.
- If you are away from your baby for most of the day, try to fit in a pumping session. “If you don’t empty your breasts at least once during a typical workday, your supply may dwindle very quickly”.
- Take care when combining formula and breast milk, since bacteria multiply more quickly in formula. While a partially consumed bottle of expressed milk can be served to a baby at his next feeding, a mixture with any amount of unfinished formula should be tossed.