Society has whipped us into such a frenzy over breastfeeding that the results of a new study should come as no surprise, and yet, I'm surprised and disappointed just how stressed out women are about breastfeeding.
I appreciate the study and the drive to offer more support for women for breastfeeding, but something about the way the whole thing is framed on Today Moms doesn't sit right with me. More on that in a second. First, let's get to the results of the study.
Researchers surveyed 532 first-time mothers-to-be from one medical center about their plans for breastfeeding, then interviewed them when their baby was just born and when it was 3, 7, 14, 30 and 60 days old. The results, as reported by Today:
During those interviews, women raised 49 unique breastfeeding concerns, a total of 4,179 times. The most common ones included general difficulty with infant feeding at the breast - such as an infant being fussy or refusing to breastfeed - nipple or breast pain and not producing enough milk. Between 20 and 50 percent of mothers stopped breastfeeding altogether or added formula to the mix sooner than they had planned to do when they were pregnant. Of the 354 women who were planning to exclusively breastfeed for at least two months, for example, 166 started giving their babies formula between one and two months. And of 406 women who had planned to at least partially breastfeed for two months, 86 stopped before then.
The take away: during a baby's first two months of life almost every mom worries so much about breastfeeding they consider switching to formula. Specifically, 92% of new moms are stressed about whether their newborn is latching properly and whether or not they're making enough milk for the baby.
Dr. Lori Feldman-Winter, a pediatrician at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J., isn't surprised by the results of the study, but tells Reuters health she's alarmed that women are apparently not finding breastfeeding support even though nursing is so highly promoted in hospitals.
"My sense is in my gut that the ability for moms to find adequate breastfeeding support in the community is very variable and in many communities non-existent…We're going to have many women really wanting to breastfeed and encountering difficulties."
Related: Extreme breastfeeding! 21 photos of women nursing in outrageous places
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding until a baby is six months old but, as Todayreports, just 16 percent of infants are breastfed for that long. The study's senior author, Laurie A. Nommsen-Rivers, from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center says that with adequate support, 95% of all breastfeeding problems are reversible. "It's a shame that those early problems can be the difference between a baby only getting breast milk for a few days and going on to have a positive breastfeeding relationship for a year or longer."
Nommsen-Rivers recommends women take time during their pregnancy to find both friends and professionals they can turn to if they find breastfeeding challenging.
Here's what doesn't sit right with me: the implication that women are quitting breastfeeding because they're uneducated about its benefits and that most women really want to breastfeed, they just don't know how to navigate through the problems that arise or they don't have the proper family or community support.
That's a huge disservice to women who just don't want to breastfeed, for WHATEVER reason. Maybe it's uncomfortable, maybe they feel weird about it, maybe they're so stressed and tired and freaked out by new motherhood they just don't want to. It doesn't matter. We don't need another group of professionals insinuating that our decisions were based in ignorance and that if only we had the proper support we could breastfeed forever.
Newsflash: I'm well aware that breastfeeding is better (health-wise) than formula but I don't want to breastfeed for six months. I don't know if I even want to breastfeed for three months. Does that make me any less of a mother than the woman who's nursing toddlers? Nope. I was all set to get into the reasons why I don't want to breastfeed but I don't even need to. The simple point of the matter is that the act of breastfeeding doesn't make one woman a better mother than the next. We all love our children madly, we're all doing the best we can while balancing what's in everybody's best interest and if breastfeeding isn't in mom's best interest - for whatever reason - that's A-OK. She doesn't need your little "breast is best" guilt trip because inflicting a mother with that kind of stigma is just as bad as you think her decision is not to breastfeed.
Personally, breastfeeding stresses me out and I'm not talking about problems with latching or producing enough milk. Yes, being the only one who can nourish your child is beautiful. Also, being the only one who can nourish your child is really demanding and stressful. With my first two children I breastfed for as long as I could, which turned out to be two months and three months respectively. Ultimately it became overwhelming for me even though I am well-educated and had so much family and friend support, but it felt like peer pressure. Quitting breastfeeding, rather choosing sanity over breastfeeding, was me being the best mom I could possibly be.
So do we really need another study telling us we're falling short if we make choices that we feel make us better mothers in the long run? Nope.
-By Monica Bielanko
For 25 powerful photos of women giving birth, visit Babble!