The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfeed for twelve months. As Heather Turgeon tells us, three out of four new mothers in the US start to breastfeed, but by six months, almost 80 percent have stopped. Statistics vary by state (in Oregon 60 percent of moms are still breastfeeding at six months while in Louisiana the six month number is 20 percent), but the bottom line is while some breastfeeding is happening, the AAP’s year-long recommendation is too long.
It would seem that after the initial period of is-that-baby-latched, following through with breastfeeding baby to the second half of the first year wouldn’t be so hard. And yet, it was hard for me, and clearly I wasn’t alone. Why is that?
Turgeon suggests that continued breastfeeding is stymied by a lack of support for breastfeeding moms. From the get-go women need to feel that not only do they have a place to go for help but it’s normal to seek out lactation help. More to the point, women need to know that they’re not alone when they’re nursing. Turgeon writes: “…nursing has become too much of an individual practice, and there isn’t enough community and social support around new moms.” This sentiment is echoed over on The Stir, the seven reasons you won’t succeed in breastfeeding for a full year come down to lack of support both by friends and family and the culture at large.
The message that some breastfeeding is good for babies is surely getting through. (Three out of four women start breastfeeding newborns!) But I suspect that getting the majority of breasfeeding moms to continue to nurse for more than six months would mean women would get more than support. For a majority of new mothers across the country to breastfeed for close to a year, cultural attitudes toward mothers, children and parenting would have to shift.
I’m not talking about a shift like the fetishizing of motherhood for political purposes or as part of a celebrity’s life cycle. I’m talking about a shift in basic attitudes to paid maternity leave; a change in how women’s body’s are perceived postpartum (e.g., no more stories about how celebrity X “bounced back” to her pre-baby weight in a mere three months); and a shift in how women with very small children are treated in public. I don’t mean how people treat women breastfeeding in public, I mean just how people treat women with babies. Imagine getting on an airplane with a baby and not being greeted by groans? That’s what I’m talking about.
Those kinds of changes might seem like an impossible dream, but bit by bit, they can happen. Don’t you think?