Did You Breastfeed?

By now, many of you have probably seen the new report that was released today touting the benefits of breastfeeding. If you haven’t seen it, the headlines are pretty dramatic.

In a nutshell, researchers at Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts found that if more mothers followed breastfeeding recommendations (breastfeeding babies for the first 6 months of life), then 900 infant deaths a year could be prevented. Also, breastfeeding could save the country $13 billion a year in health-care costs. Evidently, babies who are breastfed are generally healthier, a direct health savings. The indirect health savings is that women would miss less work if they didn’t have to stay home with their sick children.

If you are interested in reading the study, it’s in the April 5 journal PEDIATRICS. It says that breastfeeding can help prevent three problems that cause most infant deaths: sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); necrotizing enterocolitis, seen primarily in preterm babies and in which the lining of the intestinal wall dies; and lower respiratory infections such as pneumonia.

Did you breastfeed? I did. All three of my kids. And I did it a little longer than the recommended 6 months. That was almost 20 years ago, and I the support of my husband and my mom. I also had time because I only worked part-time and sometimes not at all during those very early years. I have to say that if I had been working, I probably would not have breast-fed. I can’t imagine how difficult that would have been.

Breastfeeding isn’t easy. I think I was one of those people who assumed it would be a piece of cake because it’s a natural process. Wrong. I was completely unprepared for the soreness, the cracking, the embarrassing leaking and, at times, feeling like a human pacifier. There was also the worry that the baby wasn’t getting enough (often brought up by women of the previous generation who had been told that formula was superior.) And pumping was not that successful for me, so I felt pretty tied to that baby most of the time.

The good part was the closeness I felt with my babies. You can’t prop them up somewhere and let them feed themselves when you’re breastfeeding. I think I have read that the physical bonding and eye contact that nursing mothers have with their infants helps make them smarter and more secure. I can see how that could be true.

Also, another obvious advantage was no smelly formula and no having to warm up bottles in the middle of the night. And, it’s free.

The first thing that occurred to me when I read about this research was that our society is not supportive of breastfeeding. Most women work. Most women don’t have the option of part-time work or working from home, like I did. Most women don’t even have a comfortable place to pump or to breastfeed, even if they could get to their child during the day. It makes me angry to see studies like this coming out, when I know it will be ignored in terms of policy. All it will do is make women feel guilty if they can’t breastfeed. In fact, most of the articles I’ve been reading don’t even address these realities. It’s hidden in the generic “lack of social support” phrase. The articles do point out that hospitals are not very good at educating women about the benefits of breastfeeding. Many don’t give the immediate skin to skin contact that baby and mother need right after birth. I agree that it’s important to educate everyone, not just women, about breastfeeding, so our society can become more supportive of it.

But one of the main problems, besides lack of information, is that going back to work after a few weeks off is not conducive to breastfeeding. Most women can’t afford to take unpaid family leave for six months when their infants are born. Not only can we individually support and educate women about breastfeeding, but we can support legislation that makes breastfeeding a real alternative for women. For many women in the United States, it simply isn’t possible to breastfeed for 6 months.

I’d love to hear from you. If you had some kind of paid leave when your baby was born, would you have stayed home for 6 months? What was your breastfeeding experience? Share it below.

Categories: Editor’s Blog