Now before anyone gets offended… yes, I realize there are people who truly, for medical reasons, cannot breast feed. My heart aches for those mommies and babies. But I also believe that many women would be able to breastfeed successfully if they had more information and support. As my friend Caroline put it, “It seems like so many women give up on breastfeeding before they even give it a chance!”
I have tremendous respect for Caroline, because breastfeeding did not come easy for her. She overcame many obstacles… sore nipples, improper latch, you name it… but she stuck with it, and with the information and support from La Leche League she was able to successfully nurse her son until he weaned himself at 17 months.
But Caroline is definitely an exception. Most mothers give up all too quickly if their first attempts at breastfeeding are unsuccessful. According to the article “Case closed: Breast is best,” and written by Peggy O’Mara and published in the May/ June 2009 issue of Mothering magazine, data collected by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) shows that “while74.2 percent of US mothers initiated breastfeeding in 2005, only 11.9 percent were exclusively breastfeeding at six months.” Keep in mind that six months of exclusive breastfeeding is the absolute minimum length of time recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and according to O’Mara it is also the recommendation of the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Blueprint For Action on Breastfeeding in Europe, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, and the International Pediatric Association, to name a few! According to O’Mara, “Data from 86 countries indicate that the US is among only ten countries with breastfeeding initiation rates lower than 85 percent; 70 of the 86 countries have breastfeeding initiation rates at or over 90 percent.” Is it just me or are those statistics alarming?
Much of the valuable information in O’Mara’s article was written to refute some of misinformation in the article “The Case Against Breast-Feeding,” written by Hanna Rosin and published in the April 2009 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. In her article, Rosin made such bold, ignorant statements as “all the talk about the benefits of breastfeeding is just ‘magical thinking’” and that we have a “national obsession with breast milk as a liquid vaccine.” In response, Peggy cited “Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries,” an extensive and thorough study published in 2007. According to the medical literature reviewed in this study, children who have been breastfed have reduced risks of contracting the following:
- Acute otitis media (middle ear infection)
- Nonspecific gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, resulting in diarrhea)
- Severe infections of the lower respiratory tract (such as RSV)
- Atopic dermatitis (a type of eczema)
- Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- Childhood leukemia
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
And babies aren’t the only ones who benefit from breastfeeding. The study also found that women who breastfed have reduced risks of the following:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Postpartum depression
Is that to say that no woman who has breastfed has experienced postpartum depression or no child who has breastfed has ever gotten an ear infection? Definitely not!! But if you could reduce all those risks, while at the same time saving yourself a small fortune in the cost of formula, why wouldn’t you?
Some people argue that it’s too inconvenient and time-consuming. It’s true that formula keeps babies full longer, and that it’s socially acceptable to bottle feed at anytime in any place. However, I found that there was nothing more convenient than having prepared liquid nutrition available at any time that didn’t take up any extra room in my diaper bag. By wearing my baby in a baby wrap while I was out grocery shopping or at home vacuuming and doing laundry, I was able to nurse hands free, and discreetly!
(Here’s a picture of my toddler having breakfast as we were waiting to march in a parade with our local chapter of MOMS Club International.)
Now that I’m nursing a toddler, I’m often asked how long I intend to breastfeed. My views on the subject are in accordance with what WHO, UNICEF, and (of course, my favorite doctor) Dr. Sears, recommend: As long as it is mutually enjoyable.
Ideally, I would like to let my daughter wean herself, as the research I have done indicates that is the best option for her emotional stability and security. I’m sure the majority of the people out there think I’m a weirdo for nursing a toddler, but for good or bad, I tend not to worry too much about what other people think! It was comforting though, to read this article by Diane Wiessinger at http://www.normalfed.com/ which states:
Again, my goal in writing this is not to make mothers feel guilty if they truly cannot breastfeed, but to encourage mothers to sincerely try to breastfeed for as long as possible. If I can help at least one mother to make it to that critical 6 month mark, it will be worth the chance that I may offend someone by what I have written.IF YOUR CHILD WEANS WHEN SHE IS READY, you can feel confident that you have met your baby's physical and emotional needs in the most normal, healthy way. In cultures where there is no pressure to wean, children tend to nurse for at least two years. The World Health Organization and UNICEF strongly encourage breastfeeding through toddlerhood: "Breastmilk is an important source of energy and protein, and helps to protect against disease during the child's second year of life." Our biology seems geared to a weaning age of between 2 1/2 and 7 years, and it just makes sense to build our children's bones from the milk that was designed for them. Your milk provides antibodies and other protective substances for as long as you continue nursing, and families of nursing toddlers often find that their medical bills are lower than their neighbors' for years to come. Research indicates that the longer a child nurses, the higher his intelligence. Mothers who nurse long-term have a still lower risk of developing breast cancer. Children who were nursed long-term tend to be very secure, and are less likely to suck their thumbs or carry a blanket. Nursing can help ease both of you through the tears, tantrums, and tumbles that come with early childhood, and helps ensure that any illnesses are milder and easier to deal with. It's an all-purpose mothering tool you won't want to be without! Don't worry that your child will nurse forever. All children stop on their own, no matter what you do, and there are more nursing toddlers around than you might guess.
I would suggest that every new mom attend a few La Leche League meetings before giving birth, so that she can be better prepared when first attempting to breastfeed. It is important to have a basic idea of how to make sure your baby is attached properly (to minimize nipple soreness and maximize milk flow) and how to know that your baby is getting enough milk (so you don’t let well-meaning doctors freak you out when the tell you the exact number of ounces of milk a baby should be consuming and how many hours apart feedings should be). Also, should you need assistance once your baby is born, La Leche League has trained lactation consultants available by phone 24 hours a day, at no cost.
So this World Breastfeeding Week, I’m going to be “loud and proud” in my support of breastfeeding and I encourage you to as well! Don't go hide in a dirty bathroom stall to feed your baby... the only way our society is going to become more comfortable with and supportive of breastfeeding is if we stop hiding it. (Not that I'm saying you need to actually expose your breast for the whole world to see... there are discreet ways to nurse in public.) Let's not be ashamed of using our breasts for their intended purpose. Let's do our part, not just to raise awareness of breastfeeding, but to help breastfeeding become the "norm" in our society!