Society’s Knowledge of Breastfeeding

Society's (Lack Of) Knowledge of BreastfeedingSociety’s (Lack Of) Knowledge of Breastfeeding

I continue to be amazed at the lack of knowledge that many women have regarding breastfeeding. As a breastfeeding mother, I have heard numerous questions and comments implying that breastfeeding needs to be supplemented with formula, that it is painful and that the sooner you can be done with it the better. I believe this lack of knowledge is a result of cultural trends for formula feeding in the 70’s. By the early 1970s, over 75% of babies in the United States were fed on formulas, almost entirely commercially produced. With so many mothers opting to feed formula over breast milk, who was able to pass on breastfeeding facts and secrets? Primarily, a mother would pass this on to their daughters and since such widespread popularity of formula was less than 40 years ago, our generation of mothers is suffering.

When The Trends Changed

My mom breastfed two of her three children. She wanted to breastfeed her first baby, but all of her family and even her doctors discouraged her! They told her that it would be too hard for her and that she just needed to feed formula. Reluctantly she listened to their advice and regrets it today. She did what she wanted and breastfed her second two babies and loved every single aspect of it. Looking back she knows that she could have easily handled breastfeeding her first child too. It seems absurd that people, especially doctors, would discourage a mother to breastfeed, but that is the result of such strong cultural trends. My mother’s generation was largely formula fed — people got used to seeing babies bottle fed and hearing repeated arguments for formula feeding and against breastfeeding. So, our mothers were formula fed and encouraged to formula feed their children, therefore many still recommend formula over breastfeeding today.

Since most of our mothers and grandmothers fed formula, they really don’t know very much about breastfeeding at all. They were not taught all of the benefits of breast milk over formula and they certainly don’t know the “secrets” of a good latch which is necessary for successful and pain-free nursing. So, for many mothers, unless we are hungry for knowledge, researching and educating ourselves on breastfeeding we will not learn the breastfeeding truths. And maybe even more detrimental is that mothers today might struggle to find a support team within their own family. Having a new baby, learning the ropes of motherhood and getting the hang of breastfeeding is no easy task. Having a family that can relate and encourage you to stick it out can increase a mother’s chance of continuing to breastfeed during the most difficult first few weeks.

Reasons Women Don’t Breastfeed

I have noticed (and felt myself) among women is a general discomfort or uneasiness at the thought of a baby actually nursing on you. While it is a hard thing to imagine, a big reason we must feel this way is that simply have not been exposed to enough nursing mothers. I believe that if we had seen more images of women nursing (not necessarily bare-breasted) in the media and of course within our our families, we would be more comfortable with the concept. Instead, the media always shows babies being bottle fed and nursing mothers in public are criticized. I myself am not comfortable breastfeeding in public, but I think if a woman chooses to do so (hopefully covering herself with a nursing wrap) then it should be considered acceptable.

Despite what many people think, there are few medical reasons to use infant formula; breastfeeding is suitable for most mothers and babies. Some mothers are unable to breastfeed, and others choose not to breastfeed, or choose to combine breastfeeding with formula-feeding. Their reasons for choosing alternatives to exclusive breastfeeding include:

  • The mother’s health: The mother is infected with HIV or tuberculosis. She is malnourished or has had certain kinds of breast surgery. She is taking any kind of drug that could harm the baby, or drinks unsafe levels of alcohol. The mother is extremely ill.
  • The baby is unable to breastfeed: The child has a birth defect or inborn error of metabolism such as galactosemia that makes breastfeeding difficult or impossible.
  • Labor/Delivery was difficult: Labor and delivery can be long and exhausting (especially with the rise of inductions). Mothers may feel too tired and overwhelmed to try breastfeeding. It feels easier to feed formula and let the baby go to the nursery for undisturbed sleep.
  • Personal preferences and beliefs: The mother may dislike breast-feeding or think it inconvenient. She may feel that breasts are too sexual for a baby, or that bottle-feeding will increase the father’s role in parenting his child.
  • Absence of the mother: The child is adopted, orphaned, or in the sole custody of a man. The mother is separated from her child by being in prison or a mental hospital. The mother has left the child in the care of another person for an extended period of time, such as while traveling or working abroad. The mother has abandoned the child.
  • Food allergies: The mother eats foods that may provoke an allergic reaction in the infant.
  • Financial pressures: Maternity leave is unpaid, insufficient, or lacking. The mother’s employment interferes with breastfeeding.
  • Societal structure: Breastfeeding may be forbidden at the mother’s job, school, place of worship or in other public places, or the mother may feel that breastfeeding in these places or around other people is immodest, unsanitary, or inappropriate.
  • Social pressures: Family members, such as mother’s husband or boyfriend, or friends or other members of society may encourage the use of infant formula. For example, they may believe that breastfeeding will decrease the mother’s energy, health, or attractiveness.
  • Lack of training: The mother is not trained sufficiently to breastfeed without pain and to produce enough milk.
  • Lactation insufficiency: The mother is unable to produce sufficient milk. This only affects around 2 to 5% of women. Alternatively, despite a healthy supply, the woman or her family may incorrectly believe that her breast milk is of low quality or in low supply. These women may choose infant formula either exclusively or as a supplement to breast-feeding.
  • Opposition to other sources of breastmilk:
    • Lack of refrigeration: Expressed breast milk requires refrigeration if not immediately consumed.
    • Lack of wet nurses: Wet nursing is illegal and stigmatized in some countries, and may not be available. It may also be socially unsupported, expensive, or health screening of wet nurses may not be available. The mother, her doctor, or family may not know that wet nursing is possible, or may believe that nursing by a relative or paid wet-nurse is unhygienic.
    • Lack of milk banks: Human-milk banks may not be available, as few exist, and many countries cannot provide the necessary screening for diseases and refrigeration.

A Time For Change

There are ways around some of the above mentioned reasons for not breastfeeding and could be solved with an increase of knowledge. It is my hope that breastfeeding is on a huge rise and that our society can turn into one that knows the true facts of breastfeeding. It is up to our generation to become educated by taking classes, reading books and turning to breastfeeding organizations. Breastfeeding has such unbelievable benefits for babies and mothers that it should not be neglected or underrated. Sadly, many untruths of breastfeeding have actually become “common (false) knowledge” and it is time to clear up the facts.

Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother can give to her baby (and herself) and it is up to us to change our society to one that embraces it!

Recommended Reading

To learn more about breastfeeding and proper techniques, we recommend Dr. Jack Newman’s book, The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers.

Teen Internet Use on the Rise

Teen Internet Use on the Rise

The 2010 Pew Research study reveals some staggering facts about teen internet use. While we know teens will be spending much of their free time online, it is important to keep tabs on your children and make sure that their internet use is monitored and safe. Knowing some of the facts about teen internet use, may help you understand what is typical and what to look for. Internet use is a great place to build and establish trust and responsibility with your teen by setting boundaries and teaching your teen to set her own as well. This is an area where she can show you that she can be trusted and that she will not abuse her time online.

According to the Pew Research Study:

  • there was a 20 percent increase in teen (ages 12-17 years) internet use from 2000 to 2009.
  • Seventy three percent of teens went online in 2000 versus 93 percent (20 percent increase) in 2009;
  • Nearly 73 percent of teens go online for social networking reasons, compared to just 55 percent of teens who did so three years ago;
  • Sixty-two percent of teens use the internet for news and politics;
  • Seventeen percent go online to gather information on topics that may be too “uncomfortable” to broach with a parent or guardian, such as issues relating to drug use and sexual health;
  • Thirty one percent of teens get health, dieting or physical fitness information from the internet and;
  • Only 14 percent of teens blog, compared to 28 percent three years ago.