((This is an essay I wrote for English class last semester. I figured I'd post it. Yes, I really named it that. And guess what, I got an A on it!! I was pretty excited since it was my first major college paper.))
When we think of babies, we think of bottles. Why is this? The latest science tells us that breastfeeding is the healthiest way to nourish infants, yet most babies are still fed formula. Society is much more accepting of a mother giving her baby a bottle in public, on television, or in a book. Breastfeeding is generally viewed as obscene. This is ridiculous. Society needs to make it a priority to normalize and promote breastfeeding by lessening the marketing of baby formula, promoting breastfeeding in the media, and educating medical professionals about breastfeeding.
When I myself was pregnant, and imagined having a baby, I vaguely pictured myself giving her a bottle of milk. As I did more research to prepare myself for motherhood, I realized I did not want this image to become reality. The more I learned about breastfeeding, and the more I thought about it, the more I made it my personal goal to breastfeed my child. I began to wonder why more mothers didn't make this choice.
Leading health associations all acknowledge the importance of breastfeeding. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states in a breastfeeding data report card that "Improving the health of mothers and their children is a primary goal of [the CDC]. Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding, with its many known benefits for infants, children, and mothers, is a key strategy toward this goal." The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study stating that 720 infant deaths could be prevented by breastfeeding each year within the United States (Pryor and Pryor 5). The World Health Organization strongly suggests exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months of age, and continued breastfeeding until at least 2 years, then as long as mutually desired (Meek and Tippins 3). We all look to these major organizations for reliable health information, so why don't we follow their guidelines on infant nutrition?
The reason is that while most people know that "breast is best," they generally believe that baby formula is a close second, due to misinformation spread by large formula companies. American Academy of Pediatrics New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding points out many benefits to breastfeeding that many mothers are not aware of: A breastfeeding baby has a decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), digestion problems, pneumonia, ear infections, urinary tract infection, and many other infections; a child who was breastfed has the lifelong benefit of a decreased chance of allergies, obesity, breast cancer (Meek and Tippins 7). Also explained in American Academy of Pediatrics New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding, there are benefits for the breastfeeding mother as well, including reducing postpartum bleeding, aiding in returning the uterus to it's normal size after birth, and a decreased chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer (Meek and Tippins 10). Then there is the unmeasurable benefit of the emotional aspect of breastfeeding. The quiet bonding time I had with my baby while nursing her was priceless.
In addition to the misinformation about baby formula, there is a general lack of information about breastfeeding. A mother can choose to research breastfeeding on her own, but this effort is often thwarted at every turn during pregnancy, after birth, and through the first year of the baby's life. Formula companies have many clever ways to advertise their product, through television, billboards, the internet, the doctor's office, and the hospitals where women give birth. I remember, when I was pregnant, I started receiving formula coupons in the mail, and even seeing formula advertisements on my Facebook! My health insurance also sent me formula information, samples, and coupons, even though it would be in their best interest to promote breastfeeding to me. This soliciting can be caused by many things, including buying something at a baby supplies store, using a pregnancy related word in my Facebook profile, or going to a prenatal appointment. Basically, a mother will be bombarded by formula on multiple levels, and given no information about breastfeeding unless she seeks it out herself. It is rare to be offered any information or support regarding breastfeeding at prenatal appointments or at the pediatrician once the baby has been born. I myself was never given any encouragement to breastfeed except for being visited by a lactation consultant in the hospital when my daughter was 1 day old. However, the consultant did not give me any advice, check if my newborn had a proper latch, or anything to that effect. She simply asked me if I was doing alright with breastfeeding. After telling her that I thought I was slowly getting the hang of it, she was satisfied and left. I hardly call that sufficient support!
Many mothers, even mothers that have tried to educate themselves and have decided to breastfeed, are coerced into giving their newborn formula before they ever leave the hospital after giving birth. The hospital has many reasons to suggest or insist on supplementation. Some of the very common reasons are infant jaundice, the fact that the mother's milk has not come in yet, the baby being too drowsy to latch onto the breast, and the mother being too tired to hold the baby. According to The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers, jaundice is a common problem in newborns, and as long as the baby is breastfeeding well, the condition will quickly resolve (Newman and Pitman 133, 136). The idea that a mother's milk sometimes does not come in for several days and her baby will subsequently starve during this time is a serious misconception. It is normal for a mother's milk to "come in" approximately 3 days after birth, however, before this time her baby can breastfeed and receive a substance called colostrum. The Essential Guide to Breastfeeding describes colostrum as "the perfect first food for your baby" (Neifert 47). As for mother and baby being too tired to participate in breastfeeding, they both can be prevented and remedied. Giving pain relievers that cause drowsiness during labor can make it harder for the breastfeeding relationship to be initiated, and mothers are not warned of this when they are offered these drugs. If baby is too drowsy to latch on and breastfeed, milk can be expressed and given to him just as easily as formula could be. If mother is too weak or exhausted to hold her baby, someone else can hold the baby to the mother's chest and help him to latch, or again, milk can be expressed and given to the baby in another way. In conclusion, the solution to this high rate of breastfeeding failure and formula feeding in the first few days of a baby's life is that hospital staff need to be more educated in helping mother and baby learn to breastfeed as soon as possible after birth.
If the mother and baby get their breastfeeding relationship off to a good start after birth, soon there is another instance where it may be damaged. When it is time for the baby's first checkup, his pediatrician may instill doubt in his mother's mind on whether breastfeeding is going well. The doctor weighs the baby, and if he has not regained his birth weight, the doctor is likely to suggest a supplemental formula feeding after each breastfeeding session. There is rarely any good reason for this, or any proof that formula will help a baby gain weight faster than breastmilk. The best thing a pediatrician can do is to ask if the mother has any problems with breastfeeding, help her or refer her to someone who can help, and encourage to keep it up because it is what's best for her baby's health. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen, as it didn't for me. When I brought my daughter to her first doctor appointment, the doctor told me that her weight gain was most likely fine, but I should supplement just in case. I tried to refuse, but she was very insistent, hinting that I would be a negligent parent if I did not comply. She assured me that it was "just in case and couldn't hurt" but she was wrong. Supplementing caused my daughter to be full for longer since formula is harder to digest than breastmilk. This caused her to want to breastfeed less, which in turn caused my supply to lower. This became a vicious cycle that thankfully I was able to break, but it put our family through unnecessary stress.
Although there are instances where mothers can not breastfeed their children, these cases are very rare. Where there are special circumstances such as adopting a baby, having a baby with a disability, or the mother having an illness, sometimes all that is needed to breastfeed is extra knowledge and support. This is not to say that baby formula is completely unnecessary. If it was used correctly and only when needed, it would be a purely helpful product. If a mother can not be with her baby for any reason after she delivers him, he would of course need a substitute food, and that's where baby formula comes in. There are also some cases when it would be medically beneficial to avoid breastfeeding, such as the baby having a lactose intolerance, or the mother having a disease that can be spread through breastfeeding, for example, AIDS. In these cases, formula would be a preferable choice to the mother's breastmilk. Alternatively, if some laws and regulations were changed, women could share breastmilk with those mothers who can't breastfeed themselves. This way, their babies could still get breastmilk, which is the best substance for a baby to eat. This idea is rejected by the government and society, but I feel that if I couldn't breastfeed, I would be grateful to receive another mother's donated breastmilk for my baby to eat instead of formula. If this idea is reconsidered, the need for formula would be virtually nonexistent. The only real concern with this concept is that the mothers who donate milk could be in bad health and therefore not be producing high quality breastmilk. This problem could be easily resolved by a medical exam of all who donate.
As time goes on and babies get older, mothers who did successfully establish breastfeeding often wean prematurely. The main reasons for this are they don't have enough milk to satisfy their baby as he grows, they must go back to work, lack of support, and the general pressure of society's nonacceptance of breastfeeding. The truth is, there are many ways to increase supply of breastmilk. A baby will instinctively nurse more, and since breastmilk production follows the rule of supply and demand, this alone will usually create a sufficient milk supply. If this turns out to not be enough, there are different things lactating mothers can consume to increase milk production, such as a simple bowl of oatmeal every day. In a situation where a mother is returning to work, it is usually assumed that she must wean her child, but this is untrue. She has a few different alternative choices, such as pumping milk during breaks at work and breastfeeding when she gets home, or breastfeeding part time and only giving formula during the work day. Likely the most prominent reason for premature weaning is lack of support. Renee Schoenberg, mother of three breastfed children, and a certified lactation consultant, stresses the importance of support. "I was very involved with La Leche League [the largest breastfeeding support organization in the world] and the mother-to-mother advice, encouragement, and support I received allowed me to breastfeed all of my children without any supplementation [until they began eating solid food]" (Schoenberg). It is important for breastfeeding mothers to communicate with other breastfeeding mothers, so they see other people in their same situation succeeding, and therefore giving them the courage to persevere also. Since breastfeeding is very rarely seen in the media or in public, it is necessary for a mother to join a support group to see mothers breastfeeding. This is important because if something is hidden and never seen, it will not be considered normal. No one wants to continue to do something that they must hide because they don't feel it's normal.
I wish I had not been given free formula during pregnancy and when my daughter was under a year old. I wish my doctors had appreciated the importance of breastfeeding and helped me to keep it a priority. I wish that I did not see formula ads everywhere I went. I wish I would see promotion of breastfeeding, anywhere and everywhere. I hope that in the future, all of these wishes will be fulfilled for all mothers, and breastfeeding rates will rise. Society, worldwide, would benefit immensely from breastfeeding being supported, encouraged, and most importantly, considered normal. I have made my small contribution by breastfeeding my daughter in public countless times, announcing to everyone that this is the normal way to feed our babies!
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La Leche League® International. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Fortieth Anniversary Edition. New York: Plume, 1997. Print.
Meek, Joan Younger and Sherill Tippins. American Academy of Pediatrics New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding. New York: Bantam, 2002. Print.
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Newman, Jack and Teresa Pitman. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers: The Most Comprehensive Problem-Solving Guide to Breastfeeding from the Foremost Expert in North America. New York: Three Rivers, 2006. Print.
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Schoenberg, Renee D. Personal Interview. 17 Mar. 2011.
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