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More Support For Nursing Moms, Less "Breast Is Best" Lip Service

A breastfeeding support poster from 1937

Do we really need more support for breastfeeding? The “Breast Is Best” slogan has thoroughly permeated our culture. Moms who use formula report feeling pressured and guilt-tripped for their choices. Women whose babies can’t nurse often go to extreme lengths to provide breastmilk via exclusive pumping and donated milk. We’ve been inundated with the message that the best food for babies is the stuff our bodies make for them.

Yet breastfeeding rates are still well below what they should be. Clearly, something is missing from all this “support” for nursing mothers.

It’d be great if every child had a year of breastfeeding to get the best nutritional start in life, not to mention the advantages to mother and child of bonding through nursing.  As it is, only 81 percent of new moms initiate breastfeeding, and only 34 percent are still doing it at one year.

As K.J. Dell Antonia says over at Slate today, it’s not moms who need to get the memo. We’ve heard that breastfeeding is best, and most of us want to try it.

What needs to happen is more real support for nursing moms. Not inspirational posters, but more support from hospitals, employers and health care providers. Slate’s piece was prompted by the news that the CDC is is looking to boost the rate of “baby-friendly hospitals”. Here’s what the CDC sees wrong with hospitals:

Among other practices the CDC deems not “baby-friendly,” many hospitals routinely give formula to breastfeeding babies. They don’t encourage “rooming-in” (mothers and babies remaining in a room together 24 hours a day), don’t help women initiate breastfeeding within an hour after birth, and fail to encourage nursing on demand or to teach mothers who are, of necessity, separated from their babies to breastfeed and maintain lactation. Some of those hospitals may even “push” nursing through posters and awareness campaigns. But they don’t actually do much to help women get there.

You’re only in the hospital with your baby for a short time, though. What happens once you leave matters at least as much. To really support breastfeeding, we would need to adopt sensitive, fair family leave policies like most of the developed world. We’d need to guarantee women who return to work access to safe, clean, private places to pump and time to do so. The new Affordable Care Act requiring insurance coverage for breast pumps is a great start, but we need some serious, big policy changes in this country is we’re going to genuinely support breastfeeding for new mothers and infants.

What kind of support would you like to see for nursing mothers?

Photo: trialsanderrors

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