By Christina Luick
An expecting mother must think about a lot of things before she gives birth. One big thing is whether she will breastfeed her baby.
The World Health Organization’s website explains how breastfeeding is good for both the mother and baby. It protects infants from childhood illnesses and contributes to good health in the future, like being less likely to be overweight or obese and have type-II diabetes. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type-II diabetes and postpartum depression for mothers.
However, some mothers decide to not breastfeed. “I think there’s lots of reasons they don’t, I think a part of the issue that we have in the culture is that we’re making breastfeeding and bottle-feeding considered equal,” said Mary Shaw, lactation consultant at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee. “That it is a choice that you make rather than assuming that moms are going to breastfeed because that’s the way babies are supposed to eat.”
Shaw said as a society we created a view that it was easier to feed milk from a bottle.
“Although there’s some challenges with babies learning how to breastfeed in the early days, once the baby has learned how to breastfeed and moms and babies have figured out the rhythm of how it’s going to fit in their lives, it’s much easier than bottle feeding for the long-term,” Shaw said. “But, like most things that are good in life, they’re not always easy in the beginning.”
Some parents lose patience or get pressure to use a bottle instead. Shaw gets a lot different questions about breastfeeding, but sometimes people don’t ask and make assumptions.
“Our goal is to help them understand early on that those kind of, what seem to be roadblocks, can be easily navigated if they get some help,” Shaw said. Shaw said the American Academy of Pediatrics is asking women to consider breastfeeding for exclusively until the baby is six months old and then to continue it until at least the infant is a year old in addition to solid foods. The average is two years and Shaw would like to see babies being breastfed for a year, but some women stop after three months. “So, there is a lot of variability in that. The longer the baby breastfeeds, the more positive benefits the babies will attain from breastfeeding,” Shaw said. Dalvery Blackwell, cofounder of African American Breastfeeding Network (AABN), said the initiation rate of breastfeeding is 70 percent in the country.
“When they get home and the duration and exclusivity of breastfeeding is when we begin to see some disparities,” Blackwell said.
There is a combination of reasons why women don’t continue to breastfeed. Blackwell mentioned that there was an embarrassment of breastfeeding in public, and some were not receiving support from friends or families. Also, some workplaces don’t provide baby-friendly policies or initiatives to support women in the hospital.
The AABN offers educational sessions for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers where they are matched with community breastfeeding counselor that will offer support and answer questions. The organization also has international board-certified lactation consultants.
“The women are able to talk one-on-one with a lactation consultant if they need to meet with that person for any questions they have or issues that they’re resolving that may be out of the scope of a breastfeeding counselor,” Blackwell said.
She added that the AABN also had educational sessions for fathers lead by Father Peer Advocate, Robert Brox.
As a lactation consultant, one thing Shaw does is helps women find what works for them when they are still breastfeeding and going to work. Most hospitals, including Aurora Sinai Medical Center offers assistance over the phone and can come to the hospital if needed for more assessment.
Women, Infants and Children (WIC) clinics in Milwaukee can also help breastfeeding women. WIC provides supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or non-breastfeeding.
For more information about AABN, visit aabnwork.org.
For more information about breastfeeding, go to who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/en/ or aurorahealthcare.org/services/womens-health-maternity/breastfeeding-postpartum-care.