Breastfeeding is often intuitive and straightforward and many women begin breastfeeding easily and effortlessly. Yet a high percentage of women end breastfeeding without ever really knowing why it didn’t work out.
It’s not fair to say women fail at breastfeeding. It’s more accurate to say they are sabotaged and never have a chance to succeed. I’ve been helping mothers breastfeed for nearly 20 years and it can be heart wrenching work. If breastfeeding is so wonderful, so instinctive, so natural, then why are so many women not meeting their breastfeeding goals?
Even though about 80% of women in the United States leave the hospital breastfeeding, there is a huge drop off between 2 weeks and 2 months resulting in about 84% of babies receiving some or all formula feed by 6 months of age.
The United States Healthy People 2020 sets targets for breastfeeding. The targets for the year 2020 are: 82% of babies “ever breastfed”, 75% at 6 months, and 34% at 1 year.
What's keeping moms from doing what's best for their babies?
All kinds of people in the US are working to increase breastfeeding rates and we are making progress. Change is happening through three channels:
- Protection - legal and medical protection for women and babies who breastfeed. This includes laws that protect breastfeeding in public, pumping breaks at work, maternity leave along with education and policy statements for health care practitioners to follow.
- Promotion - cultural and medical promotion of breastfeeding as the normal way to raise a baby. This includes women nursing in public, publishing research, creating public service ads, doctors encouraging women to breastfeed, World Breastfeeding Month, and using images of breastfeeding babies in healthcare settings.
- Support - cultural and medical support. This includes breastfeeding support groups, doctors referring women to helpful lactation resources, training more lactation consultants, and making breastfeeding information and supplies available through government programs like Center for Disease Control, National Institute for Health, Food and Drug Administration, WIC and Medicaid.
The 2011 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding identified seven barriers to breastfeeding and I’ve identified three more. What has happened it there has been a huge shift in promoting breastfeeding without a corresponding increase in protection and support. As a result, women get overwhelmed and stop breastfeeding.
We know that supporting women through support groups, accurate information and family education works and good breastfeeding support puts all these pieces together.