There’s a lot of lip service around the phrase “Breast is Best,” but what are we as a society really doing to help new mothers when it comes to breastfeeding? August is National Breastfeeding Month, a time to promote and educate folks on the benefits and importance of breastfeeding. And while that can be crucial in raising national breastfeeding rates, we also need to look at what kind of support is offered to women once they make the choice to breastfeed.
So, beyond simply touting that Breast is Best, let’s take a look at some very real things that can actually help women succeed at breastfeeding.
1. Support from the start!
Hospitals need to ensure that there is always someone on staff who is properly trained in lactation consulting and can help new moms establish a successful breastfeeding relationship. Also, why not have some breastfeeding swag bags to take home with you? Many hospitals are phasing out formula gift bags in an effort to promote breastfeeding. Why not go one step further and make a breastfeeding gift bag? It can include free, high-quality breast pads, a breast pump and some bottles, and the numbers/information for local La Leche League leaders and lactation consultants.
2. Continue support all the way through.
One reason many women stop nursing their babies is because once they return to work, they rarely have any support when it comes to pumping for their infants. How many companies can you think of that have flexible or supportive systems in place to help mothers who want to ensure their baby still receives breast milk? Let’s get on the case of companies who think offering a private bathroom stall in the bathroom is a perfectly acceptable solution for pumping. Of course, this is not the magic solution for every family, but it would probably be helpful for many women who have the desire to try and make it work.
3. Federally mandated maternity/paternity/family leave.
This is one thing we can do that can make a very real impact on breastfeeding rates. Many women have to go back only weeks, and sometimes even days, after giving birth. That simply isn’t enough time to recover from delivering a baby and establish a successful breastfeeding relationship (or seek help/overcome any number of normal breastfeeding challenges that may pop up). When women have the time and ability to just be with their newborns, it makes the breastfeeding relationship that much easier to maintain and sustain. If her partner also has the ability to be home during the first few weeks, providing support and help when needed? Even better.
4. Milk banks.
While breastfeeding is promoted as the best thing for both the newborn and mom, sometimes it just doesn’t work for whatever reason. It would be wonderful if there was an affordable and accessible milk bank for mothers with little or no supply to get their children breast milk, even if it’s not theirs.
5. Trust women.
There is a lot of heated debate surrounding breast versus formula feeding, and often, these debates turn into vitriolic chastising, which in the end only serves to divide and helps nobody, especially infants. So, remember that women are smart, responsible and capable people: With access to information and true choice, we can actually make the right decisions that work for our families. Trust.