I recently read an editorial in The New York Times entitled “Overselling Breast Feeding”. It was written by Courtney Jung who is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. It was quite interesting to me as she stated “the moral fervor surrounding breast feeding continues unabated, with a steady stream of advocacy and education campaigns”. The WHO (World Health Organization) developed “ten steps to successful breast feeding” in hopes of increasing breast feeding initiation and duration around the world. Hospitals have been designated “Baby-Friendly” (aren’t they all supposed to be?) if they adhere to these steps as well. But the United States has done well with breast feeding rates as 79% of mothers initiate breast feeding.
Most, if not all of the new mothers I make rounds on are proponents of breast feeding. They have read the books, gone to classes and are determined to be successful at breast feeding. But, in my experience over the last several years, I have actually seen more and more new mothers becoming over-wrought and wary of breast feeding fueled by the “rules” that they are being required to follow. With that being said, having someone “tell you that you must breast feed your baby in the first hour after birth”, and that “your baby must remain in your room 24 hours a day“, and that they “may not have a pacifier”, “and should “breast feed on demand” is actually anxiety promoting and leaves many a new mother exhausted and tearful within a day or two of having a baby.
While breast feeding is “natural” it also requires some practice and the only practice is really “on the job” training. Some babies just latch on quickly and are pros immediately, but not all babies will become proficient at breast feeding in the first day or two. The mothers are told to “let the baby nurse on demand” and some mothers have had their babies at the breast for hours on end and are exhausted, with sore and bleeding nipples. I have walked in to too many hospital rooms with a mother in tears and a fretful baby, and a “helpless” new father. Some feel as if “they are failures” as mothers before they even are discharged, and at the same time are having serious doubts about continuing to breast feed. They are sure that their baby will catch serious illnesses and have a lower IQ if they don’t breast feed, but how can they maintain this constant breast feeding and no sleep and never put a pacifier in their baby’s mouth??? Is there only one way to be successful at breast feeding?
I loved breast feeding but it was a long time ago and we were instructed by caring nurses “to just go home and put the baby to the breast every 2-3 hours”. While that may not have been the best education has the pendulum swung too far? Will giving the baby one bottle when a mother is having postpartum anxiety and sleeplessness really harm the baby? Should a mother have to sign an order allowing her baby to have a pacifier?? While guidelines for breast feeding are helpful should they be so rigid that a mother “gives up” on breast-feeding because she can’t follow 10 steps in the first 24-48 hours?
The New York Times article was quite interesting and I had to agree with many of the author’s points. Supporting a woman’s choice to breast feed is admirable and “policy changes promoting maternity leave, and flexibility” are definitely needed to encourage women to continue to breast feed. But as she states “is all of this breast feeding advocacy crossing the line?” A mother should choose to breast feed because she wants to, and that does not mean if her baby does not breast feed in the first hour that she will never bond with her baby or be successful at breast feeding. Some woman are unable to breast feed for a multitude of reasons and that decision should not label her as a “bad mother”. Again, breast feeding, like a woman’s breast, is not “one size fits all”.