The word “breastfeeding” brings such strong emotions for many people. When people ask about my career, I get a variety of responses. Some people act as if I just told them I work in an illicit industry and end the conversation immediately. But many people are extremely supportive. I have heard the comment, “I wish you were around when I had my babies!” over and over again. My response is always, “I wish I’d had me also!” More than once, in the context of our conversation, tears will come to a mother’s eyes as she tells me how hard she tried, but couldn’t meet her breastfeeding goals. For some parents, even 5, 10, or 20 years after raising an infant, the pain, anxiety, desperation, or feelings of failure related to breastfeeding still tug on their consciences.
We have a common idea in our society that parents who don’t meet their breastfeeding goals just don’t try hard enough. Yet, in my experience, this is rarely (if ever) the case. We do a great job of preaching the benefits of breastfeeding, yet we set parents up for failure. “Booby traps,” as some people call them, may include…
- People who sexualize breastfeeding and don’t believe it should occur in public
- Birth practices that deter early breastfeeding
- A significant lack of breastfeeding education among health care professionals
- Insurance companies who refuse to cover lactation support, regardless of the potential for breastfeeding to save more than $13 billion dollars per year in health care costs in the United States
- An overabundance of myths and misconceptions regarding breastfeeding in books, the media, online, our culture, etc.
- Limited or absent paid maternity/paternity leave
- Little clinical research regarding the causes of low milk supply or the hormonal issues related to it
- Limited access to International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs); in Michigan, there are 2.97 IBCLCs for every 1,000 live births
- People identifying themselves as “lactation consultants” who have very little training or education
- Parents who have never seen breastfeeding or known anyone who successfully breastfed
- Child care practices that deter breastfeeding
- Widespread parenting practices and literature that discourage breastfeeding (sleeping through the night, emphasis on independence at an early age, scheduled feedings, infants sleeping alone, etc.)
- Formula companies who spread misinformation and are among the most powerful lobbying industries in the world
- Not valuing the, often exhausting, and challenging job of parenting, especially in the first year
- Extended families who are geographically spread out and not able to provide practical support
- The belief that parents need to do everything themselves and should be ashamed to accept or seek support from the community
- Ignorance of the need to prepare for birth and breastfeeding, even among the most educated new parents in our society
Place the blame for breastfeeding failure where it belongs. Parents don’t fail at breastfeeding. Our society and health care system fail in providing parents with the tools they need to do it.