August is National Breastfeeding Month. Thoughts about reducing mom shaming.

By Dena Pepple, R.N. for Lee’s Summit Physicians Group.

Breast FeedingAugust is National Breastfeeding Month. I was asked about a month ago to write a breastfeeding blog because I do a lot of prenatal and newborn education here at LSPG, RTP, and BSP. I thought sure, easy enough as I’ve had extra education on breastfeeding, educate our patients about it daily, and breast fed my own children.  Easy-peasy right? Not so fast… As I pondered what to write, I thought about what I’ve seen and heard from our pregnant moms, successful and unsuccessful breastfeeding moms and even my own experience and realized this might not be an easy task.

The world is very passionate about breast feeding and that’s great, right?

What other food product in the world is as perfect as breast milk? It’s often referred to as “liquid gold.” The AAP, CDC, WHO, and probably thousands of other sources tout its goodness. But if you Google breast feeding vs. formula, read many “mommy blogs” and Facebook sites, or just talk to moms as I do daily, you realize it’s much more complicated. To “decomplicate” it a little bit, I am going to cover three main points.

“BREAST IS BEST”

When I Googled “breast is best”, 177,000,000 items popped up. Wow.

According to the AAP, breastfeeding protects the baby from numerous diseases such as asthma, eczema, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and more. It benefits maternal health by decreasing postpartum bleeding, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and risk of breast and ovarian cancers. It is of course great for the environment as it does not require outside manufacturing (formula) and equipment (bottles, nipples, cleaning supplies, etc.)  Breast feeding is estimated to save up to $4,000 per year due to the price of formula.

The Mayo Clinic Healthy Lifestyle site states “Breast milk is the right balance of nutrients for your baby, it is easier to digest than is commercial formula, and the antibodies in breast milk boost your baby’s immune system.” According to a Missouri Department of Health and Human Services brochure “Breastfeeding is the most important gift you can give to your baby.” Besides being great for our babies, several studies are showing breast milk’s potential benefit in killing cancer cells and use of in stem cell research. Indeed, “breast is best.”

“FED IS BEST”

141,000,000 sites popped up when I Googled “fed is best.” We know in a head to head battle, breast milk is best for baby. However, there are times our baby’s breastfeeding MUST be supplemented either with expressed breast milk, donor milk, or formula.

I teasingly say formula is not the “F” word. Formula, as well as expressed and donor milk make healthy babies too. These supplements are sometimes needed for baby’s weight loss, jaundice issues, and a plethora of other possible issues mom or baby may experience. We don’t have our parents supplement on a whim. It is ALWAYS for the baby’s health, growth and development if we do encourage supplementing. During this time, we will have mom continue breastfeeding on demand, and talk to their lactation consultants.

“HAPPY MOMMA/HEALTHY BABY IS BEST”

I don’t think one can really argue against either idea above. However, I am adding this third baby feeding mantra.

I talk to 5+ pregnant women a week, and 50+ new moms per week, and what I hear can be downright maddening. While buying formula, one mom was asked by a complete stranger, “Why are you buying that poison for your baby?” Another mom was afraid to call the lactation consultant for an issue because she had supplemented formula. Numerous moms say the mommy blogs are “hateful.”

Several pregnant moms have become tearful when I told them they were good moms whether they breast fed or not as I was one of the first people to validate them and not berate them. These examples are a drop in the bucket of “mom shaming” that I see when it comes to how you feed your baby. So, I say, “STOP THE MADNESS!”

Of course, we want our moms to breast feed their babies as much and as long as they can.

The AAP encourages a minimum of 6 months of exclusive breast feeding. But we don’t improve the breastfeeding rate by nagging and berating. This may even make it worse.

When I visit with our pregnant and new moms about breastfeeding, I try to do four things:

  1. Listen: What does mom want? What are her concerns? What has she heard/read?
  2. Educate: As I said above there are literally millions of educational resources for mom. Of course, I do remind moms to be careful where they get their information.  org, the AAP and CDC, and lactation consultants are wonderful resources.
  3. Support: We support our parent’s choice whether breast feeding, formula feeding, or a mixture somewhere in between, as long as it makes/keeps baby healthy. I try to empower our mom’s daily that they are doing a good job and we are here for them. It’s okay to ask for help!
  4. Consider breast feeding in the future: I do remind moms that every pregnancy, baby, and life experience is different, so I encourage them to consider breast feeding, if not this time, maybe next time.

The CDC is a huge proponent of breast feeding.

The tendency toward increased breast feeding in the USA is slowly trending upward.

Their latest statistics from 2015, show that 83% of new moms try breastfeeding. That is great! Unfortunately, the national average for exclusive breastfeeding through 6 months is 25%. Here in Missouri, we’re ahead of the group at 31%. There IS room for improvement.

I have four children (all adults now!) and they all got something different in the breastfeeding arena from nothing to a full twelve months of breast milk. If you were to look at them now, or even at their medical records you would have a hard time guessing who got what. Maybe this is why I am passionate about both breast feeding AND supporting our new moms.

As I look back, I do sometimes wish I had breast fed longer/more, but not at the hands of shaming/nagging/berating. Rather, let’s work on better education, support and empowerment of our new and breastfeeding moms. I believe we can improve our breastfeeding education and support which will lead to increased breastfeeding statistics and healthier babies. If we truly do this, we will be able to bring all three ideas together and say “BREAST/FED/HAPPY MOMMA/HEALTHY BABY” are all BEST!

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