A new, but perhaps not surprising, study published in the journal Pediatrics points directly to lack of support as being the number one cause of a new mother’s failure to follow through with her intentions to breastfeed exclusively.
According to this Time article, a majority of women want to breastfeed their babies exclusively for a minimum of three months, but few actually succeed.
“Previous research has documented that few U.S. mothers meet the guidelines; only about 15% of moms are still exclusively breast-feeding at six months. But experts didn’t know if the low breast-feeding rates resulted from mothers’ lack of interest in breast-feeding or because other factors were making it difficult to persevere.”
Researchers looked to data from the Center for Disease Control to weigh intent to breast feed against actual outcome. In one particular survey two thirds of mothers didn’t breastfeed as long as they originally intended to, whether that goal was set for one or three or six months or more.
Once it was established that the desire was there but the follow through was not, researchers began to focus on why. That led them to where, for the majority us, motherhood starts: hospitals.
“Hospitals play a critical role in jump-starting a successful breast-feeding relationship, and those that are most committed to getting breast-feeding off to a good start — by encouraging babies to remain in their mothers’ hospital rooms where they can nurse on demand, for example, or breaking the tradition of sending new moms home with free formula samples in diaper bags paid for by formula manufacturers — are getting certified as “Baby-Friendly” facilities. But only 4% of hospitals can claim that distinction.”
One defining obstacle, according to this Huffington Post report, was the failure of hospitals to withhold formula supplementation regardless of the mother’s wishes to breastfeed exclusively.
“It’s alarming that 40 percent of healthy babies whose mothers wanted to exclusively breastfeed were nevertheless given formula in the hospital — and it underscores the low quality of care that’s provided in maternity hospitals in the U.S.,” said Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB-GYN and assistant professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina. Stuebe was not associated with the research.
This shocks me as well. And it conjures up visions of maternity nurses flippantly playing God– either taking pity on these seemingly-hungry babies, or simply just wanting to make their jobs easier, which is it, I can not know– even when it goes against the mothers’ intentions.
Formula seems to be a significant form of interference when it comes to breastfeeding outcomes. According to the Time report, moms whose babies didn’t get formula supplementation in the hospital were 2.5 times as likely to achieve their breastfeeding goals.
Other factors at play here include community support, or lack thereof, of public breastfeeding, maternity leave and breastfeeding at work policies, and post-partum lactation support for mothers.
“Women really need a lot of praise in the early baby period, and they’re not given a lot of praise,” said Susan Burger, president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association. “Often in the hospital, it’s, ‘Your baby isn’t eating enough; he’s crying.’ Instead of just staying, ‘Look, you’re trying this and it’s a great thing. Now let’s get the two of you in sync.’”
Aside from that one strident nurse who chastised me for letting my exhausted infant sleep too long, is this possible, between feedings, I had nothing but support in the hospital where I gave birth to both my children. I couldn’t imagine how angry I would be if someone had been slipping a bottle to my kid behind my back.
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