Originally published at Mothering.com
World Breastfeeding Week is a yearly worldwide celebration of breastfeeding. Beginning August 1st this year, World Breastfeeding Week aims to promote education and support for breastfeeding, to help encourage more mothers to meet their goals.
Why do we need to celebrate breastfeeding? And why do we need a whole week devoted to it? Here’s why you should care.
1. Breastfeeding is a lost art: Breastfeeding probably wouldn’t need to be promoted or celebrated if it wasn’t for the impact of the formula industry on hospitals and parents alike. Breastfeeding has multiple benefits, and formula has documented risks. This is true even though some people struggle with breastfeeding. And it’s not a personal attack — it’s just what the science shows us. Breastfeeding, or milk-sharing, used to be the only way to feed a child. Breastfeeding did not need any special promotion because generations of mothers helped the next, and nursing babies was not the lost art that it was today.
2. Breastfeeding can be hard. The beginning of breastfeeding can be tough without the right support. As a single parent the first few years of my first baby’s life, I didn’t know much about breastfeeding aside from the fact that it was important and I wanted to do it. Because I wasn’t sure exactly how to breastfeed, my baby’s latch was so incredibly painful that I almost gave up entirely, immediately.
But, because I knew I wanted to do it, and because I had read about some of the benefits of breast milk, I didn’t give up. With my family’s history of autoimmune disorders, and the potential for breastfeeding to lower the risk of such issues, being informed about lactation was one of the most important steps I took during my pregnancy.
3. Breastfeeding is an important part of protecting baby’s immature immune system. Breast milk is full of living vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and antibodies. Breast milk substitutes contain synthetic vitamins, which are harder to absorb.
4. Breastfeeding can lower the risk of a deadly disease. Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a serious intestinal disease which is a common cause of death in premature babies. It can be prevented if premature babies receive breast milk instead of formula.
5. Promoting breastfeeding also boosts support for milk-sharing and breast milk donation. The World Health Organization recommends using donor milk or a wet nurse before resorting to formula. There are documented risks that come with formula, and donor milk can offer protection that formula can’t.
6. Breast milk is life-saving. Breastfeeding provides a newborn baby with the most important protection they could possibly receive. Breast milk protects against respiratory diseases and diarrhea — both issues that can be severe for fragile newborns. According to research on the risks of not breastfeeding, “not being breastfed is associated with an increased incidence of infectious morbidity, as well as elevated risks of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome.”
These facts remain true even though a small percentage of women cannot breastfeed. It’s a difficult topic to talk about freely, because we know that not everyone can breastfeed. We know that the number of people who cannot breastfeed for physical reasons is small. Far more common are women who planned or at least tried to breastfeed, but their efforts were derailed, mostly by common “booby traps.”
Did you know that using a pacifier or bottle early on can cause a lower milk supply? Did you know there are various breastfeeding holds which can help prevent pain? Did you know that lip- and tongue-tie can affect breastfeeding success — and not every doctor (or lactation consultant) knows to look for it? Did you know it’s normal for babies to nurse frequently, as long as their diaper output is good? Did you know that not every woman can pump milk, and pumping should not be used to gauge milk supply? Did you know it’s normal for your breasts to “deflate” a few weeks or months into breastfeeding — which does not mean you lost your milk supply? These issues, and so many more, are booby traps which can be beaten with the right support and information.
Sometimes breastfeeding is a breeze, other times it is difficult, and there appears to be an increase in mothers who wanted to breastfeed, but were not able to, for varying reasons. Education is a key component of this, and everyone deserves to have the facts. The sharing of said facts is not meant to be a personal attack on anyone who can’t breastfeed, or chose not to.
When we frame breastfeeding as the important, life-saving issue it is, it should be easy to see why we need to talk about it and promote it as much as possible.
Education is greatly needed, but hospitals are often lacking in baby-friendly initiatives which support breastfeeding success. In fact, hospitals are often guilty of sabotaging breastfeeding in various ways.
If mothers can’t get support and education that is passed down from one generation of mothers to the next, and the medical community often fails to do their part to promote this life-saving act of nurturing, where are mothers supposed to get the information they need to have a successful experience?
From us. From mothers who are dedicated to breastfeeding. From people: doctors, nurses, dads and otherwise. From certified lactation consultants, sisters, and best friends. And, from World Breastfeeding Week, which brings awareness to this important cause.
Image credit: Jason Rufus
What can you do to support breastfeeding? Here are some ideas:
- If you encounter a mother nursing in public, give her a polite smile or nod if you’re comfortable. Otherwise, just look away.
- If you have a friend or family member who has just had a baby, offer to wash their dishes or bring them food, instead of offering to hold the baby and give them a bottle. A mother who plans to breastfeed needs a lot of skin-to-skin contact and practice at nursing those first few days. Having someone else do a bit of housework helps promote that precious breastfeeding practice.
- Encourage your friends and relatives to feel comfortable breastfeeding wherever they want to.
- Promote breastfeeding education. Check out the links within this article, and post them on social media. Engage people in conversation, especially if they are repeating myths about breastfeeding.
- Bring a breastfeeding mother a snack or a glass of water.
- Demand a safe pumping space at your place of employment.
- Don’t ask questions like “Are you sure baby is getting enough milk?” It’s easy to make a new mom second-guess herself, and it can derail breastfeeding efforts.
- Offer to hold the sleeping baby. While it’s important for breastfeeding moms to take advantage of every feeding time, if baby is fed and sleeping or content, give mom a break by holding her wee one for a while.
- Tell a breastfeeding mom that she’s doing a great job. We often face a lot of criticism, and a supportive word can mean the world.
Research shows that more mothers are likely to breastfeed if their friends breastfeed. So don’t be scared, just get informed. Nurse your baby, promote breastfeeding, and help save lives. Happy World Breastfeeding Week!
Image credit: Chris Alban Hansen
Primary image credit: David D