I like to hope that everyone already knows that breast milk is what babies are born to eat and nothing compares. I've heard some comments over time that are to the contrary, but I'm pretty sure those women know that they're not telling the truth.
So if women know all the reasons to breastfeed, why don't they? Most just have horrible support systems. We need to get more good information out there to those who want it so they don't have their mother-in-law hissing, "You're starving him!" down their necks -- but also so that others can support this woman and help her be confident that just like her body was perfect in supplying nutrition to the baby in her stomach, it continues to be perfect in supplying nutrition for years afterwards as well, and understand that she needs support and encouragement.
But sometimes, it's because there's a real, genuine medical problem that no support in the world can fix. And sometimes that problem isn't with mom, but with the baby.
Believe it or not, when breastfeeding advocates hear someone didn't/couldn't breastfeed and start asking questions about their breastfeeding experience, they're genuinely interested in finding out why. They not only want to see if maybe there's somewhere that you were mislead so they can help you correct bad information someone gave you, but often are trying to educate themselves as well, including learning different personal experiences. In that education, breastfeeding advocates have learned that even the World Health Organization says that breastfeeding isn't possible for certain babies, no ifs, ands, or buts. Here are three reasons.
- Classic galactosemia: There are multiple types of galactosemia, but only classic galactosemia requires that the baby be weaned immediately and put on a very special, galactose-free formula, because they are unable to handle any galactose of any kind, including that in human milk.
- Maple syrup urine disease: This condition is a lifelong problem where the person cannot process protein, and it can build up and cause permanent damage or even death. Babies with this require formulas free of the branched-chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. The strange name is because the urine ends up smelling like maple syrup.
- Phenylketonuria (PKU): Babies with PKU cannot digest the amino acid phenylalanine. This is just like the others, where this is a lifelong problem and a special diet is needed for the child's entire life. In babies with PKU, the formula Lofenalac is the only suitable option. Unlike the others, under careful monitoring, some breastfeeding can sometimes be achieved when a baby has this condition.
All of the above are screened for in almost all newborns in the United States. I think we all know of the PKU heel prick. Most states test the other two at the same time. All of these conditions are also genetic, and you and the baby's father can be screened for them even before pregnancy, if you so choose.
For these babies, specialty formula is a life-saver, and I am insanely glad we have the technology to save the lives of these babies who probably had an automatic death sentence in the past. I do wish there were more regulations and testing required, but that's neither here nor there.
Now, there are also situations where baby can and should be breastfed but additional nutrition may also be necessary, and that's for extremely low-birth weight or extremely premature babies, or babies who need additional glucose, as breast milk alone doesn't raise their glucose level enough (usually born to diabetic mothers).
There are also plenty of other situations with a baby that make it incredibly difficult or may require a different method of delivery (such as a feeding tube), but this addresses only the World Health Organization's specific situations that are acknowledged as reasons why a baby can't be breastfed or reasons why something may be needed in addition. Other situations are unique and generally can be worked through on breast milk alone, even if it's incredibly difficult, which is why they weren't included here.
But remember ... if someone is discussing reasons why women should try to breastfeed, don't say, "What about the PKU babies?" because WE KNOW. We assume that people will be logical and automatically exempt medical conditions like this from discussions. But you know what they say about assuming.
Image via locomomo/Flickr