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

breastfeeding, newborns, natural parenting


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sarap... sarapunkinpie88

We can listen, and not give advice unless asked.

If asked your stance on feeding an infant, just say 'I think nursing is wonderful, it has a lot of hidden benefits for mother and child.' and leave it at that. Don't be a bfing Nazi.

If a woman does ask about breastfeeding, start by saying everyone's experience is different. Stress the importance of making sure you have a good support system already in place before birth. Tell them to be sure to call the hospital, and ask about their policies for breastfeeding, and if there are certified IBCLCs available for help, not just volunteers. make sure to let them know a good pediatrician that supports nursing full term.

Lastly, understand that you catch more flies with honey, and that new moms/ soon to be moms are terrified. Be understanding. Sometimes the best thing you can do is shut your mouth and listen to them...

nonmember avatar Anon

I agree there is room for improvement, but you should realize how far we've come over the past several decades. When my mom had her kids, she was actively advised to NOT breastfeed, but she did it anyway. I guarantee there were no lactation consultants in hospitals then. Same with skin-to-skin contact and all the other things you mention. We are moving in the right direction. The movement could be faster, but don't just blame the hospitals and formula companies. Women need to get educated and stop blaming everyone else for their choices. Share with friends when you've had issues that you've overcome and how. The whole "nurse-in" idea is misguided. If a woman wants to nurse and finds it difficult, knowing that other women don't apparently have that problem (and will probably look down on those who do) does not help. Nurse-ins also make nursing moms seem a bit crazy. And finally, I wish people would stop acting like formula-fed kids are a lower species. Again, it makes you look crazy. Knowing that most kids got their sustenance that way, do you really think their moms are going to buy (or appreciate) the "FF kids are sick, stupid and violent" BS? Rethink the strategy, because the present one isnt' working.

Anast... Anastazia975

I could not agree with you more! We as mother's are supposed to be in this together, and yet we demean each other at each and every turn. I feel very sorry for us, we have missed the point entirely. As for breast feeding, I tried. I pumped, I consulted lactation specialists. I had tests done. I ate fenugreek until it came out of my pores. I spent money on overly priced cookies. And then I had to come to terms that the DD chest I was always so proud of(I had it in my head I'd be the ultimate breastfeeding mama) is really only for looks. It was a humbling experience, that in the end I am grateful for. I don't judge women with a bottle. I don't think twice anymore about it. I found other support and other ways to bond with my babies. And, I grew up. Got over it, and realised feeding does not a mommy make.

miche... micheledo

It is such a sensitive issue - it really is about ME and how well am I able to care for my baby.  The fact is that we are designed to nurse our children, to nourish them and meet all their needs in the infant stage.  Let's face it - to fail at what we are designed to do, or to just choose not to do what we are made to do - that has to cause enough guilt on a mom.  And then it must make you so much more sensitive to any comments, even when said in the nicest possible way.

I don't know what the answer is.  I think no matter how nicely it is stated, moms will still be offended or respond in anger.  It IS a personal subject, but maybe the answer is to focus on our child's needs.  Be willing to listen to the mom offering advice - maybe, just maybe, she has a different suggestion that would work for you.  Or maybe you can learn something new that might have worked for you in the past.  It's too late now, but you can pass that information on to another woman.

And those handing out advice.  Listen to the non-nursing mom.  Listen to her struggles.  Offer sympathy and compassion.  And maybe she is one of the few that COULDN'T nurse.  Maybe do something about bringing more attention to that issue. 

Honestly, I don't know how things will change - but it needs to.  Phooey - if that military mom could ship milk back to the States for her child, I think any mom (well, just about) should be able to do it! :)

Billie Jo Evans

I think it's hilarious how people who formula feed ALWAYS  bash these articles. THEY'RE NOT MEANT FOR PEOPLE WHO ARE AGAINST BREASTFEEDING! GET OVER YOURSELVES! People like that are the exact reason why MOST women don't want to breastfeed. Very pitiful.

nonmember avatar Anon

Billie Jo, I'm trying to understand your comment. Who in the comments above is against breastfeeding? How would any of the comments above make a woman not want to breastfeed? (Not participate in a public nurse-in, maybe - is that a prerequisite to breastfeeding?) So if I say that my FF kids are not stupid, that is the excuse someone is going to give for not wanting to BF? FYI, my kids were adopted and they were in foster care from birth until age 9mos / 12mos. I would have loved to BF for many reasons. I wish more people would BF. But my kids are not lower creatures due to being FF; indeed, they are above the norms in most areas (NOT because of what they ate in their 1st year). You sound like a person who thinks FF and BF moms cannot and should not coexist.

Anast... Anastazia975

Um, Billie Jo, who bashed? Who said anything negative about the article? I think you might have an anger issue? Maybe you need a hug? I don't know. But, I havent read anything on here as of yet that is negative, besides your unwarrented anger moment. Which my kiddo's normally rectify with a nap.Have a good day!

navyma23 navyma23

All I can say is I'm super happy my Navy hospital is becoming a breastfeeding friendly hospital. They don't give water/sugar water, they do not supply pacifiers, they encourage skin to skin contact IMMEDIATELY after birth and during they hospital stay, and they have a super small nursery so that baby and mom room in constantly, they provide pumps in room if needed, and they have awesome hospital staff. I'm very happy to be giving birth there. I think its sad that women feel they need to FF instead of BF, after millions of studies done out there that show breast is best, they just don't even try. I had a friend who didn't want to BF because she thought it was weird, and felt uncomfortable. She ended up giving it a try and loves it. Her daughter is about 6 months old now and she is still BF. She wishes she would've tried with her older children, but is very happy with her situation now.

navyma23 navyma23

 I wasn't given any kind of help when I was a young mother and having my first child. I tried to BF, but ended up FF. I regret that everyday. But I was never offered any kind of help, nor did I even know that there was help out there for me. I am currently pregnant with my 3rd child and I am excited about being given another chance to BF longer than 2 months. My ultimate goal is 1 yr.  I wish I had more info when I was struggling. I think that people need to understand more that breast were made for feeding your babies, not overly sexualized. I've never incurred any mean BF nazis, but it seems to be a problem. Hospitals, formula companies, and government need to quit pushing formula on mothers who haven't had the chance to even breathe from all the constant pushing of formula down their throats. And mothers need to research all the information they can about breastfeeding. 

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