The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long-since touted the benefits of breastfeeding, even issuing official recommendations that, whenever possible, babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life. As such, hospitals across the country have been encouraged to step up their game in the last few years when it comes to providing new mothers with breastfeeding support after giving birth.
But what happens in the days and months that follow, when the daily grind of breastfeeding, or the return to work, or the lack of support from friends and family might discourage a breastfeeding mom from sticking with it as long as she’d hoped?
Earlier this month, the AAP published evidence-based recommendations for “breastfeeding-friendly” pediatric practices nationwide, to improve breastfeeding support by both educating staff and making enhancements to the office environments that will benefit both mother and baby.
In total, the 10-page report produced 19 strategies for making pediatric offices more breastfeeding-friendly, from providing a lactation room with supplies for both breastfeeding employees and patients’ moms to staffing a trained lactation consultant to be on-hand at all times.
As a former breastfeeding mama myself, I have to say I’m pretty thrilled to see new strides are being made to support moms on their breastfeeding journey. Nursing is hard (for most of us, anyway), and while pediatricians do so much to care for our children, they also treat parents too, albeit indirectly. After all, in those first few weeks after giving birth, they’re the medical professionals we see the most.
After my son was born, my OB/GYN follow-up appointment was scheduled for six weeks postpartum, whereas my son’s pediatrician visit was just four days post-delivery. This outing was my first attempt at both leaving the house with my newborn and publicly breastfeeding — neither of which came naturally. I was so overwhelmed by all of it; how could I possibly wait six weeks to talk to my own physician? So, as soon as my son’s doctor walked into the exam room, I became the patient, blurting out all my breastfeeding-related questions.
That breastfeeding conversation continued at my son’s 2-week appointment and beyond. He struggled to latch and wasn’t getting enough nutrients; so it was my pediatrician who calmed me, told me it was okay, and fed my baby formula right then and there. He needed the nourishment, and despite my desire to exclusively breastfeed, part of me was relieved he was just getting fed.
It’s certainly true that “fed is best.” But looking back now, in light of the AAP’s new recommendations, I do wonder if I would have had better success with breastfeeding had my pediatrician’s office only been better equipped to offer the knowledge and support breastfeeding moms need most when they’re struggling.
Of course, I realize that pediatricians already have a long list of patient protocols to be responsible for — from vaccinations to development analysis to diverse illness treatments. But I do hope that these hardworking experts accept the AAP’s new recommendations to increase breastfeeding support. Because ultimately, they can prescribe much-needed doses of motivation and encouragement to vulnerable mamas just like I was.
Of the 19 strategies outlined in their new recommendations, there was only suggestion that gave me slight pause: The one calling for pediatricians to cut back on offering free formula and other formula marketing materials that may influence mothers to opt for formula over breast milk.
I became an exclusive breast-pumper myself, but always appreciated — as did my wallet — receiving the formula freebies I needed for supplementing. So while I’m all for increasing breastfeeding support, I also hope that formula-feeding or supplementing moms don’t feel left out of the discussion in the process. After all, breast isn’t always best for some mamas — and they deserve support, too.