Breastfeeders Are an Endangered Species

number of infants bfing by monthWow. I mean … wow. According to the Centers for Disease Control, less than 4 percent of hospitals give moms the support they need to start off breastfeeding right. And only 14 percent of women exclusively breastfeed for the 6 months recommended by the World Health Organization. Our breastfeeding map also showed how little most of us nurse our kids.

That is not a lot of breastfeeding. That is not a lot of support. And you can call the CDC a lot of things, but a hippie lactivist fringe operation is most decidedly not one of them. If a relatively conservative government organization thinks breastfeeders are an endangered species, I believe ‘em.


Looking at this report, I seriously can’t believe what I’m reading. Eighty percent of hospitals give babies formula, water, or sugar-water (!!!) as a matter of routine. Only half offer skin-to-skin contact in the first hour after birth. Only one-third allow the baby to stay in your room.

Worst of all, almost 75 percent of hospitals don’t provide at-home breastfeeding support after the moms go home. Remember, back in the olden days (when I was born), moms stayed at the hospital for five days after childbirth, so if they chose to breastfeed, there were nurses all around to help. Not that they did, my mom tells me: “I was the only person in Brooklyn nursing,” she tells me, “and if it hadn’t worked for me, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Contrast that with my experience – I had a Miracle Bra's worth of lactation support. Though Penelope was whisked off the NICU after her birth, a lactation consultant was in my room within a half hour of my arrival there, wheeling in a pump so I could get started and store my colostrum. Few things can make a gal feel more powerless than not being able to hold her premature baby. But here was something powerful I could do: start storing the milk she would soon be able to drink.

At home, I found my supply dropping drastically, both as a function of my being too lazy to get up at 3 a.m. to pump and of my missing a day of pumping because I was hospitalized with preeclampsia after delivery (you heard that right!). There was an LC assigned specifically to the NICU moms, a volunteer with a cart selling breastfeeding support items (like bras, flanges and fenugreek), pumps for me to borrow, and rooms I could go into to pump privately if I didn’t want to do so at my baby’s bedside.

I also had tons of moms around me, friends and neighbors willing to grab my hooter and smoosh it into the baby’s mouth, tuck a finger under my baby’s chin to feel that she was swallowing properly, or send me their leftover Soothies.

The ones who felt like freaks were the ones who formula fed, and they complained all the time about being made to feel bad about not exclusively breastfeeding. And I could see where they were coming from: for every supportive comment, there are just as many stories of scolding, finger-wagging nasties saying you just didn’t work hard enough.

But: Aren’t there those same nasties out there with regard to anything? You get lung cancer, there’s always someone asking, pointedly, if you smoked. You have cupcakes at your kid’s birthday party, and someone asks if you aren’t worried about all that sugar and artificial coloring. You develop diabetes, and suddenly everyone you know is an expert on what is allowed on your plate. Breastfeeding isn’t the sole refuge of the nosy looky-loo judgeybitch. It’s just the one that gets emailed around the most.

I’m depressed by this report. I’m upset that so many women don’t have access to the amazing hospitals in my area. I’m sorrowful for women who are made to feel like freaks for breastfeeding. And I’m pissed that we can’t talk about changing that without the discussion devolving into infighting and name-calling.

The discussion of the report devolved into the same ugly arguments: “La Leche League volunteers were mean to me!” “Boob Nazis are mean!” “I couldn’t breastfeed, and you’re making ME feel bad when you say this!” For crap’s sake, people. Can’t we just agree to help women who want to breastfeed achieve their goal without taking it personally?

Some people might quote Rodney King and say “Can’t we all just get along?” But I prefer to quote Wendy Wasserstein. “I don’t blame any of us. We’re all concerned, intelligent women. It’s just that I feel stranded. And I thought the whole point was that we wouldn’t feel stranded. I thought the point was, we were all in this together.”

So. How can we make meaningful changes in how women are supported as they begin motherhood, together?

Infighting and namecalling in three … two … one …

Image via CDC

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