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Suck On It! Why America Needs to be More Breastfeeding Friendly

By HERWriter
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Parenting related image Photo: Getty Images

A variety of recent studies on the practice of breastfeeding have shown similar two-fold conclusions:

1. Breastfeeding an infant has multiple long-lasting health benefits for both mother and child,


2. American families do not do it enough.

According to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 only 44 percent of infants are breastfed for the recommended minimum of six months and only 14 percent are breastfed exclusively (given no supplemental formula). In comparison with many other countries, these rates are extremely low. This is interesting not only because it is widely accepted that breastfeeding has tremendous health benefits for babies (lower rates of obesity and diabetes, better immune systems, fewer visits to the doctor’s office and lower medical costs) and mothers (lower rates of breast and ovarian cancers) but also because 77 percent of mothers initially start out by exclusively breastfeeding their infant. What causes the rates to decline so steeply in six months?

One reason explored by a recent CDC report is the idea that the American public is not comfortable with lactation and therefore does not foster environments that support the healthy practice. A huge reason that women stop breastfeeding is to go back to work after their maternity leave. If her workplace does not allow a new mother the time and safe space to express breast milk, it is probable her natural supply will decrease and supplementation will be necessary. Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will require that all workplaces supply women with a space that is private and is not in a restroom in which they can pump breast milk or feed a baby. It is hoped that this marvelous policy addition will help to increase the percent of babies who are able to be breastfed through the crucial first six months of life.

Women often site stigma as another large deterrent to breastfeeding. Whether she is at a park, at a grocery store, in her place of worship or in a friend’s home, negative reactions from onlookers can cause a woman to feel ashamed and even violated. Snide comments or rude stares do not permit for the comfort and relaxed nature that is so important to effective nursing. Nor is it conducive to the magical mother and child bonding time that breastfeeding can be. Despite the ubiquity of the act and the anatomy, our culture has yet to accept (and sometimes even demonizes) women who breastfeed in public. Unfortunately, there is no nifty federal policy that can assuage the negative consequences of judgmental onlookers. Perhaps with time, education and an eye toward the more accepting attitude towards breastfeeding in the developing world, women will feel less inhibited and thus, better able to provide their children with the best health possible.

A third reason that women do not breastfeed their babies until they are six months old takes place very early in the newborn’s life -- right in the hospital he/she is born in! Very few hospitals have been certified as “baby-friendly” by UNICEF and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and little has been done to change this in the past few years. However, as part of their mission to improve mother and child health, the CDC has done a review of things hospitals can do to encourage breastfeeding right off the bat.

Visit http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/breastfeeding/ to see a full listing of the CDC’s recommendations, as well as the data supporting their push to make breastfeeding a priority.

And what can you do? Talk to your health care provider about a plan for breastfeeding your child! Ask about the support that is offered to new mothers in the hospital and in your workplace and advocate for your rights as a working mom! Don’t assume that breastfeeding will be easy right away -- keep trying! Every time you feel self-conscious about nursing in public, remember the world of good it is doing for you and your baby! Be supportive of other mothers!

Check out some of the other resources below to learn more:

The Ten Steps To Successful Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding: Promotion and Support

La Leche League International

Reviewed August 12, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment14 Comments

I couldn't agree more with the author!

May 12, 2014 - 5:49pm

I'd like to know how the 2014 bill is going to help people like me. I do home health care. I provide in home care on 24 and 12 hour shifts. The client is a smoker and is MRSA positive. How is the gov going to make it so I can safely pump and store my milk? The gov "smoking" ban in the workplace is a crock. It doesn't protect health care workers like myself. I've called and written my states health depts. and nothing is done. So, if this provision for bf mothers is made, just how will this work? Because the govt can't make a homeowner build a new private space onto their home.

yes, I could quit my job, but as a single parent living in a small town there isn't many jobs to go around. As a doula/LPN/caregiver I've been told I'm overqualified for the jobs in my area. (I tried getting a 2 nd job).

Rant over. I'm just tired of all the loopholes with the govt.

March 13, 2012 - 11:02pm
EmpowHER Guest

I was fortunate enough to exclusively nurse for my daughters first 6 months and she now eats a very balanced diet and is still nursing (15 mo.) BUT I have many friends who sincerely wanted to nurse but lacked support and weren't getting good information. I know two women who were told by 2 different doctors to stop nursing because they weren't producing enough! They weren't told to supplement with formula, that eating hydrogenated oils lowers your milkfat content and can diminish your milk supply, or that eating often (especially greens/veggies) is necessary. They were just told to stop trying! Another problem I see is that so many mommas are too worried about losing baby weight to eat the extra calories necessary for nursing. This just shouldn't be. You WILL lose more weight and be a healthier momma of a healthier baby if you can breastfeed successfully. Not all women can. I understand that. But as women, we need to stop focusing on things like weight and the nasty glances this article talks about and encourage each other toward better health.

We need to make sure that women are getting the info they need. We don't necessarily learn - like past generations - from our own mothers because many of our moms didn't nurse. Women must be encouraged and supported to succeed in nursing.

August 30, 2011 - 7:36am

Breast feeding is the single most important thing a Mom can do to keep her child healthy. Maybe women who love to see breastfeeding Moms should take a moment to tell them so. "What a beautiful sight! Thanks for making my day..."
By the way if you have breast feeding difficulties homeopathic remedies can really help.

August 23, 2011 - 1:44pm
HERWriter Blogger

Great article! I have breastfed all 3 of my kids and it's not easy but I'm glad I did.

August 21, 2011 - 5:42pm
EmpowHER Guest

You overlooked the one solution that will encourage mothers to nurse their babies for longer. Stay home! It's not just the milk that's good for babies, it's their mom's physical presence! Moms need to put the welfare of their children ahead of their careers.

August 15, 2011 - 2:45pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Unfortunately, it is not this simple. My son is 14 months and is with my Mother while I am at work. I am on the verge of tears 3 days a week leaving him. We live a very simple life, but would have no home without 2 sources of income. It has nothing to do with career, and everything to do with just surviving. You should thank God that you are able to be home with your children, instead of teaching them to pass judgement on others. Boo.

August 20, 2011 - 8:43am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I agree with you - this topic is OFTEN over-simplified. I'm now a stay-home mom and I love it, but a year ago our circumstances were different and I HAD to work. It was so hard to leave my daughter every day...and moms who had what I wanted and then sat judging me did not make that easier. i think a mom should be home, but not all women think like me. and many woman want to be home with their kids and can't. I think a mom at home is best, but a mom at work isn't wrong or bad or selfish. In fact, in our case it was just the opposite. I was daily laying down what I really wanted so that my husband to finish his masters degree - which is now better for our whole family. We are a team and it is give and take.

August 30, 2011 - 7:47am
EmpowHER Guest

I stopped caring what other people would think very early on. I despised the smell of the powdered formula we were supplementing our daughter with and fought my husband on at least one occasion to nurse my daughter when she needed it while we were out. I've nursed her during the picnic luncheon for my 10-year college reunion (held on campus in the middle of the day), on commuter trains on our way to New York, at the park, in the middle of meetings and even during a rehearsal for a choir I participated in last autumn. Sometimes I use a cover, sometimes I don't bother because she pushes it off anyway. I've become skilled enough that I can latch her without anybody noticing what I'm doing and I very rarely flash (if I do, it's accidental or due to a curious baby de-latching to look around at her surroundings.)

I have never once noticed a dirty look, and I don't really live in a 100% pro-breastfeeding area. However, I kind of project a "don't you DARE mess with me" vibe, and I'm too involved with my baby to notice the rest of the world.

It'll be really nice when the 2014 code goes into effect, but I think it should be a lot more explicit - like providing a non-restroom place to pump in each building if the corporate center is a multi-building campus. (I will pump in my car for the next child if our campus doesn't create a moms' room in my building because trying to find an open office with a locking door and no windows is too stressful.)

August 15, 2011 - 6:02am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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