Reading this study, I couldn’t help but feel a little vindicated. I’ve always felt like a big fat failure at breastfeeding – despite all my best efforts, I didn’t make it very long. And I put a lot of that blame on the misinformation swirling around the maternity ward where I gave birth to my daughter.
A new study says hospitals are largely to blame for the failure of breastfeeding moms in America. And that includes hospitals where attempts are being made to encourage breastfeeding.
The study by the Boston University School of Public Health looked at data on some fifteen hundred women in the nation who had recently given birth. At least seventy percent of first-time moms said they wanted to breastfeed exclusively. Good news, right? Except by the time the babies were a week old, only HALF of the women were exclusively breastfeeding.
Guilty as charged.
Which is why even this article about the study made me angry. One of the chief problems I’ve found with many maternity wards (not all, but many) is the lack of breastfeeding education for members of the staff. And the same misinformation peddled in hospitals that hurts breastfeeding rates is being pushed out in articles like this one: ie. “some new mothers really are too exhausted to breast feed right away, or
they can’t produce enough breast milk for their baby’s nutritional
No. No. No. No.
I heard this in the hospital after my daughter was born, and I bought it hook, line and sinker. It’s one of the main reasons I exhausted myself in the first two weeks of my daughter’s life, attempting to breastfeed every two hours, attempting to pump every other hour to increase my milk production because the nurses at the hospital had me convinced I wasn’t producing enough. Yes, that meant I was up every hour on the hour for two solid weeks – I was literally tethered to the breast pump.
The problem? Most women DON’T produce milk in the first few days of their child’s life. We produce colostrum, the incredibly rich and incredibly thin liquid that’s a sort of pre-milk. And that’s all the baby needs. As breastfeeding expert Laura Keegan said in a recent piece I wrote about the most common hurdles for new moms right here on Babble, “If you are pumping, be aware that pumping small amounts is not
an indicator of a low milk supply.”
Colustrum is in every breastfeeding book out there, so why don’t nurses working on maternity wards know about it? Although I don’t agree that formula is poison, I will say that convincing a mother she isn’t making enough . . . so she needs to supplement . . . is poisoning her mind. Her body CAN’T make more, and she’s being told she’s a failure. Yet, her body is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do.
What else is wrong with the above statment? The idea that moms are too exhausted immediately following birth to breastfeed. Yes, we’re tired. But after that first feed, so is the baby. In fact, while nurses at my hospital practically tanned the hides of my husband and myself for not waking our daughter every two hours to eat, newborn babies are exhausted too. They just went through the same labor Mom went through. And so sleeping for a few hours is one hundred percent normal. Babies will not starve if they suckle only a few times at the very beginning. And Mom, by the way, may be exhausted. I was. But I’ve yet to see a mother who isn’t on drugs from a C-section or already showing severe signs of postpartum depression who isn’t itching to get her hands on that baby in the first twenty-four hours.
So sticking a bottle in the baby’s mouth to let his mother sleep is wrong; she should have the chance to make that decision. But so is harping on a breastfeeding mother every few moments – pushing her to breastfeed now, when the baby is sleeping and she could be getting the sleep she missed when you woke her in the middle of the night for a feeding.
There is a movement that’s gaining speed in American hospitals, sponsored by UNICEF, that can make all the difference. Baby Friendly Hospitals require all staff – be it the nurses, the doctors, whoever – have up-to-date breastfeeding education. They make lactation consultants available to every mother and allow babies to room-in with their mothers, so she can determine when the baby’s hungry and when she wants to attempt feedings.
It takes effort to become Baby Friendly, but if breast is best is ever going to really take hold, misinformation has to stop at the beginning – the place where the baby is born. When you’re losing the mothers (like me) who walk in the door with the very best of intentions, the women who already know breast is best and WANT to make it work, you have to step back and realize the machine is broken. It’s time to fix it.
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