Did you catch the Breastfeeding Flash Mob on Higuera Street last week? Have you heard about the new world record set: most babies nursed at once (biglatchon.org)?
August boasts both National Breastfeeding Month and the 20th World Breastfeeding Week. Since the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action first promoted a “Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative” 20 years ago, widespread awareness of the importance of breastfeeding and efforts by hospitals to adopt breastfeeding supportive policies have grown. However, more work remains. Locally, health-care professionals, volunteers, and moms are striving to achieve the shared goal of helping mothers achieve optimal breastfeeding experiences. Maybe you can help, too?
Santa Barbara County moms are near the top of the statistical heap with 95.6 percent leaving the hospital breastfeeding. Yet still, many moms find it difficult to continue to breastfeed exclusively or at all in the months that follow birth. In California, only 53 percent of moms are still breastfeeding at all at six months (only 17 percent exclusively), and less than 30 percent are breastfeeding at all at 12 months.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises breastfeeding should ideally continue through the baby’s first year of life, if not the second. Exclusive breastfeeding is considered ideal, but is statistically rare. It appears that while we might be very aware of the importance and value of continued breastfeeding, and willing as a medical community and as new parents to give it a great start, meeting that one-year goal is proving very difficult.
What can we as parents, and we as a community, do to increase the likelihood that breastfeeding can be successful?
Acceptance: Acceptance of breastfeeding for the benefits it offers both mother and child means accepting moms nursing babies. As new parents, this might mean adjusting to seemingly countless nursing sessions in the early weeks, both day and night. It will eventually even out to every two to three hours, but to start out, you both need the practice.
Acceptance by friends and family might mean keeping visits brief so mom and baby can focus on recovery and breastfeeding, or accepting mom and baby as virtually inseparable at the start. Family might need to accept that for now all feedings are mom’s territory: Introducing bottles too early can cause confusion.
Acceptance from the community might be supportive nods and friendly faces when mom settles in to nurse—right there—in the restaurant. Dinner for all! Acceptance is more than just tolerance. When the larger community helps make it easier for moms and babies to nurse, then we will have true acceptance.
Support: Supporting breastfeeding means appropriate support well beyond the days in the hospital.
Support in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding means recognizing that there might be a problem and seeking appropriate help. If there is pain during nursing, seek help. If you are concerned the baby isn’t nursing often enough or eliminating enough (pee and poo), seek help. If something just doesn’t seem right, appearance changes, or something is bugging you, seek help. There are many resources in the area (free and affordable), and they love to help—they really do, so don’t hesitate to call. In all likelihood, you are facing a simple problem many moms have dealt with, and with some guidance and commitment, you can overcome it. But not getting help can allow small issues to grow, so seek help early and often.
Support from family and friends is easy: Whatever helps mom breastfeed, that’s what you do. Bringing in meals, offering encouragement, giving her quiet space, encouraging her to seek further help from lactation consultants, or helping her get out of the house to a mother’s group like La Leche League might be in order.
As a community, offering support can be tricky. Mothers often swap birth stories with abandon but tend to not share much about nursing challenges or successes. Finding opportunities to connect with other moms and share with each other can be very helpful in creating a community that supports breastfeeding. Several local groups meet regularly (see the resources list). If you had wonderful or challenging experiences with breastfeeding, you can be a positive resource—please share!
Commitment: Commitment to breastfeeding means sticking with it, even when it is really hard. Let’s not pretend it’s otherwise. Although breastfeeding is entirely natural, it is not necessarily easy. There can be soreness to start, obstacles or inconveniences, and more than once you may look around for an easier option. The shame is that so many give up as it should be getting easier. You rarely find moms of 3- or 6-month-olds troubled by the same issues moms of newborns face. Once you get through those first six to eight weeks, it’s practically effortless!
Returning to work is one of the largest challenges many moms face in maintaining breastfeeding. Combining work with breastfeeding and inevitably pumping is a true challenge and requires additional commitment.
Commitment from family and friends can mean encouraging mom even when she’s losing faith. It can mean picking up the slack a little longer until mom is getting more sleep. It can mean a financial investment in more office visits with an IBCLC lactation consultant.
As a community, a commitment to breastfeeding would be everything. It would be more flexible work options for families with new babies. It would be insurance coverage for lactation support. It would be … well, for now, how about we all give breastfeeding more than just our awareness? How about we try to put a little action to our support?
Christine Silva is a La Leche League Leader living in Arroyo Grande with her husband and four children. Contact her at email@example.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.