World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated every year from the first till the seventh of August. This year’s theme “Close to Mothers” is important because support is one of the most crucial factors for the success or failure of long-term breastfeeding.
My kid is just over a year old and I’ve never shared my personal experience before, so I might as well do today.
Of around 8 women who gave birth in the same hospital around the same time, I was the only one who was breastfeeding exclusively*. I know it is not statistically significant but it is nonetheless something to think about because the hospital I gave birth in practiced rooming-in, encouraged breastfeeding initiation within an hour of birth, educated mothers on breastfeeding benefits, and did not allow distribution of free formula samples. Plus, a nurse was always present to help mothers with breastfeeding techniques and to work with them if there was a problem with latching on. So for me, if mothers weren’t breastfeeding exclusively or at all in this hospital setting, the probability of them nursing their babies for longer is meager. I know some women cannot breastfeed for medical reasons (drugs that pass through the milk and can affect the baby and other conditions), but if a woman can, by all means she should**, and everyone must be supportive, emotionally and physically.
In fact, a study done in 2006 on a sample of mothers in Lebanon concluded that initiation rates of breastfeeding are very high but rates of exclusive breastfeeding are low and duration of breastfeeding is short. Another study showed that breastfeeding intention was positively correlated with older maternal age, higher education, more breastfeeding experience, and hearing about breastfeeding benefits from family members, the baby’s father, and lactation consultants. Both studies come to show the importance of support for long-term success of breastfeeding.
I breastfed my baby exclusively for six months. I then started introducing solids and my husband offered the bottle when I was away. By seven and a half months, she weaned off the breast. I am a non-working mother and I’ll be the first to admit that if it hadn’t been for my husband and parents, I would have been extremely exhausted and even more worn out. So support is very important especially the first few weeks when rest is needed to establish a good feeding routine. Indeed, experts believe that frequent feedings in the early weeks are extremely important for developing strong milk supply in the long-term (2).
I mentioned earlier that all mothers in the hospital were invited to attend a small presentation on breastfeeding. Within the group, the concern raised was the insufficient milk supply. One second-time mother went even to say: ”Let’s be honest, mother’s milk won’t be enough eventually so might as well start supplementing with the bottle!” Eventually, yes, it won’t be enough but why doom something to fail from the start? Actually, the percentage of mothers having insufficient milk supply is really low, and here’s a thorough article on natural ways of increasing it in case it is.
Why mothers choose (or are forced) not to breastfeed exclusively or at all?
- Insufficient milk supply or fear of insufficient milk supply
- Not enough spousal/ familial support
- Not enough workplace support (no place to pump or store milk)
- Fear of sagging breasts
- Medical reasons
- The baby is not latching on and unavailability of professional lactation consultants
- Marketing and availability of infant formula. Formula is promoted as having equal nutrition as breast-milk which, of course, is not true. Even though the World Health Organization (WHO) has set guidelines for prevention of infant-formula marketing, only 37 of 199 countries abide (6).
What can we all do?
The below posters from the World Health Organization set headlines for all we can do to help mother and child get off to a healthy start.
If you are a new or expectant mother, surround yourself with positive people who will help and support you through this challenging period. If you find your family unresponsive to your needs, don’t be scared to ask and tell them what they can do to help and of course don’t be afraid to reach out to lactation experts and support groups(2,3,4).
*The head nurse came into my room and congratulated me (yes, quite the weird situation), but this alerted me to the fact that exclusive breastfeeding is becoming so rare (in Lebanon) it needed celebration.
**I am not judging or condemning personal choices. This post is just a celebration of World Breastfeeding Week and a reminder to all of us to provide support. It is about time as a society to stop promoting formula and to stop making women feel uncomfortable if they choose to breastfeed in public.
Support, Resources, and References
- La Leche League International http://www.llli.org/nb/nbjulaug05p142.html
- La Leche League Lebanon https://www.facebook.com/groups/LLLofLebanon/
- Images to download http://www.who.int/mediacentre/events/meetings/2013/world_breastfeeding_week/en/