World Breastfeeding Week just drew to a close. What? There’s a World Breastfeeding Week? Well, yes there is. It’s coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) and began about 15 years ago.
WABA’s core partners are the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), International Lactation Consultant Association (ILCA), La Leche League International (LLLI), and Wellstart International.
This year, in addition to encouraging women to breastfeed, WABA focussed on raising awareness of the links between breastfeeding and Sustainable Development Goals along the following themes:
2)Health, well0being and survival
3)Environment and climate change
4)Work productivity, empowerment, social protection, and
5)Sustainable partnerships and rule of law
That sounds lofty and idealistic, but in the US, there’s a huge gap between our lofty breastfeeding goals and our actual practice. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding babies nothing but breast milk for the first 6 months of life. When moms arrive at the hospital to give birth, the majority say they are planning to follow this guideline. Three months later, 43.3% are exclusively breastfeeding and 29.3% are supplementing with formula. By 6 months according to the CDC, the percentage of exclusively breastfed babies has dropped to 21.9% and 35.4% of nursing mothers have supplemented with formula.*
Rates of Rates of breastfeeding declined in the US between 1911 and 1972 when only 22% of women initiated breastfeeding. While the rates have increased since 1972, they remain low in spite of the known health benefits to both infant and mother. So it seems that our tortured relationship with healthy food in this country literally begins at birth and for many of the same reasons adults cite as impediments to healthy habits – convenience, lack of social support, confusing messages from the medical community, and advertising that reassures us a product is healthy (the closest to breast milk).
When it comes to convenience, I feel like we often think of things in a topsy turvy manner. What could be more convenient than always having milk ready and at the right temperature when a baby gets hungry? It becomes inconvenient when women feel they must go back to work quickly to support their families or believe that they’ll get behind in their careers if they take off a few years to raise children. While this is sometimes the reality, other times it isn’t, but the belief has become so ingrained that we rarely challenge it.
We don’t always run the numbers to see if our jobs really cost more than they bring in, especially if we have more than one child in day care. We appear to forget that added trips to the doctor for either baby or mother who has missed out on the health benefits of breastfeeding take time out of our schedule.
Nor is there much social support for breastfeeding in public places in many communities in the US. You may have seen the recent video of a man telling a breastfeeding mother in Target how disgusting she is. This type of experience has been reported by 25% of breastfeeding moms.
This seems kinda crazy to me considering the number of reality TV stars who run around with half of their boobs showing all the time. Is it the addition of a baby that makes seeing a breast disgusting? I guess that could make sense. Babies are kinda gross sometimes.
Almost 20% of US babies receive supplementary formula within the first two days following birth. That means it’s often being fed while mom and baby are still in the hospital. When you combine this with the formula samples and ads that are often sent home with the mothers, it can appear like a medical endorsement of formula. Studies show that leaving the hospital with formula samples reduces the duration of breastfeeding.
While it’s easy to brush all of this off as insignificant as long as our life expectancy remains the same, the rise in chronic diseases is making our lengthy lives of lower quality. Perhaps someday soon, we’ll recognize that quality can be as valuable as quantity. We’ll see that we don’t have to rush to accumulate, achieve, or hit some arbitrary target to bring value to our lives, our communities, and the world.
In the meantime, I wish you the courage and perseverance to give yourself and your children the best nutritional support available even when it’s not as easy, convenient or well-supported as you believe it should be.
*Based on most recent CDC statistics available (2012) https://nccd.cdc.gov/NPAO_DTM/
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”