Before my son was born I figured breastfeeding would be a snap. Honestly, how hard could it be? One, attach baby. Two, baby nurses. The end. Ha. When my son was a newborn he was a lazy eater. He’d get latched on, then just lay there, I guess waiting for breast milk to magically pour into his mouth. Considering I managed to get him latched on, you’d think the nurses or hospital staff could have helped me get him to actually nurse. But no. When the hospital staff saw my son wouldn’t eat, they jumped right to, “You’ll have to give him formula.” I begged for a lactation consultant, but the hospital had just one on duty, and, “She was busy.” When I refused formula they actually threatened me, “You’re not leaving the hospital until we know you’re giving him formula.” In the end I was lucky because when my midwife stopped by to check on me, she had a simple plan, “Place your pinky finger ever so slightly in the outer part of his inner ear.” This trick stimulated my son’s sucking reflex and we were golden. The hospital, by the way, still sent me packing with a huge bag of formula cans, which I discarded.
Unfortunately, a recent CNN article shows that not only was my experience typical, but actually far better than what many new moms experience when it comes to breastfeeding. The CNN piece paints a depressing picture, with numerous examples of how the medical community has been failing new mamas for years when it comes to helping them achieve breastfeeding success. More and more hospitals are banning formula, yet mothers are still left mostly to their own devices when it comes to learning how to breastfeed and how to deal with breastfeeding problems. That’s unacceptable. Keep reading to learn more and to be directed to some helpful resources.
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The Bad News
The CNN article notes that when women have trouble breastfeeding, they’re often given a lactation consultant who says, “Just try harder,” in spite of plenty of research showing that many mothers have actual physical issues that make breastfeeding tough. On the flip side, moms may get a doctor who advises them to go the bottle and formula route — although it’s well documented that the health benefits of breast milk over formula are incredibly significant for both mothers and babies. With help and proper treatment, even mothers with physical problems have the chance to breastfeed successfully, but the medical community isn’t super interested in helping breastfeeding moms achieve this goal.
Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB who treats breastfeeding problems, tells CNN, “We just give women a pat on the head and tell them their kids will be fine if they don’t breastfeed. Can you imagine if we did that to men with erectile dysfunction (ED)?”
Stuebe further points out that most doctors are well versed in treating ED and insurance covers Viagra, but lactation dysfunction doesn’t even exist as a diagnosis let alone as something doctors can bill insurance for.
Worst of all, studies show that most mothers DO want to breastfeed, if they could only get the support they need to do so. In fact, the 2012 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card shows that a full 74.6% of all mothers in the U.S. try to breastfeed their baby, yet by the 3 month mark, only 36.0% of babies are being breastfed exclusively and the number drops to 16.3% for six month old babies. When half of all breastfeeding moms quit breastfeeding before the six month mark, that’s some major proof that we’re massively failing moms and babies in this country. As CNN wisely notes, “Until doctors and nurses are properly trained to help, women will experience all of the pressure to breastfeed, with none of the support to figure out how.”
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The Good News
Thankfully, there’s good news to be read in the CNN piece. Stuebe, the doctor quoted above, is part of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM), an organization that has already developed 25 protocols to guide physicians in treating breastfeeding problems. This organization has also successfully lobbied to get breastfeeding issues on the exams for the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Additionally, CNN notes that the “Affordable Health Care Act advises that health insurance companies should provide “comprehensive lactation support and counseling, by a trained provider during pregnancy and/or in the postpartum period, and costs for renting breastfeeding equipment.” These are small but significant steps for breastfeeding moms, babies and advocates. If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, you’re not alone. Though it can be hard to find, with a little research you can get the support you need to perhaps breastfeed successfully. First of all, make sure to talk to your doctor if you’re having problems and demand the help you deserve. You also might want to consider a midwife, as moms with midwives are more likely to be able to successfully breastfeed. See the links below for help and further resources.
- Get over breastfeeding resentment
- Find a breastfeeding-friendly hospital or birth center
- How dads can promote breastfeeding success
- Common breastfeeding problems and how to solve them
- 5 things all moms should know about pumping
- 5 ways to get breastfeeding off to a good start
- Finding professional breastfeeding help
- The Lactation Consultant Directory
- Breastfeeding help via LLLI
- Finding breastfeeding support
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