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Knowing the benefits of breastfeeding and being able to stick with it for months are two different things.
The Centers for Disease Control says around 75% of new moms try breastfeeding at the beginning, but only 13% of Michigan moms are still breastfeeding without using formula six months after their babies are born.
What's going on here?
A story about mixed breastfeeding messages
Dieisha Fluellen is a 25-year-old mother of three from Detroit. Last year she told State of Opportunity reporter Jennifer Guerra she knows a lot of people around her feel strange about breastfeeding. “Most people around my age and younger they feel like it’s nasty," Fluellen said, "like I guess they associate it with sexual, 'no, that’s what your man’s supposed to do,' or something."
Fluellen said the bonding time, nutrients and other benefits of breastfeeding have made her stick with it anyway. She breastfed each of her children for at least 18 months.
Fluellen went to a breastfeeding support group for Medicaid patients at St. Johns Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit to vent, laugh and talk through breastfeeding and parenting questions.
Dr. Paula Schrek runs the clinic. She says she holds “a hard line” on breastfeeding because she really wants to push it as the best choice. Shreck also talks about formula feeding as a “risk.”
There is no scientific basis for the idea that children fed formula are going to suffer. All women should research the benefits of breastfeeding and then make an informed decision. But some women, especially low-income women and African-American women, are getting mixed messages.
Friends or family might downplay the importance of breastfeeding. And, breastfeeding support organizations might overplay the benefits of nursing. There are many things important to a child's health and well-being. How children are fed as infants is only one of these things.
Does everyone agree breastfeeding is so important? Where to get good information:
Flint mother of three Jody Whitcomb said when she had her first child at 18, neither her family or her doctors pressed her to breastfeed. The same was true when she had her second child about a year later. But with her third child, she knew she wanted to try it. She did her own research, and was convinced. She is still breastfeeding her 10-month-old daughter.
Not everyone agrees breastfeeding is important, but those who don't believe it are likely wrong. Stacks and stacks of research show breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for babies. Many scientists disagree on exactly what the other benefits of breastfeeding are; how it affects things like IQ, asthma, obesity, even cancer. But, that doesn't mean these scientists question the idea of breastfeeding.
If you're ready to look into breastfeeding:
- Do your own research on breastfeeding like mom Jodi Whitcomb. The United States Office of Women’s Health is good place to start.
- Kiddada Green runs the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association in Detroit. She has a blog where she writes about the benefits of breastfeeding and how new moms can find resources.
- Gayathri Akella is a WIC coordinator in Washtenaw County, and runs the office’s breastfeeding program. She thinks it’s important to talk about the benefits of feeding a baby breast milk and nursing as two different things. Akella says benefits of actually nursing a baby at the breast are important. Two she mentioned in our conversation were bonding between a mother and baby, and a mother building confidence in her ability to feed and take care of her baby.
Support for breastfeeding moms
If so many women know the benefits of breastfeeding and so few are sticking with it six months later, there must be something other than a lack of information getting in the way.
WIC coordinator Gayathri Akella says women who don’t have support breastfeeding are more likely to quit. They might worry their babies aren't getting enough to eat or the moms might have trouble with pain while they're nursing.
So where can women find support for figuring out how to breastfeed easily?
- Other moms: There are lots of breastfeeding support groups all over the state that can be found on Facebook. If you have a hard time finding one, The Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association has offered to help women outside Detroit find one they can trust. Just leave them a Facebook message.
- Doctors and nurses: Your doctor or your child’s doctor may be resources to help you with challenges like a lactation consultant or a visiting nurse.
- WIC offices: WIC has made a big effort in the last few years to support nursing moms. There are lots of trained breastfeeding consultants at WIC offices, and there are also peer counselors, and other moms who have nursed their babies, in many WIC offices. WIC makes breast pumps available to moms who need them.
What happens when life gets in the way?
Kiddada Green from the Black Mothers Breastfeeding Association says of course breastfeeding is going to be easier for moms with flexible schedules and when work or school supports nursing moms. But even for women without these things, there are resources:
- Green reminds moms The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) now includes protection for moms who want to breastfeed once they’ve returned to work. The law says women must have a clean, private place to pump and at least two breaks a day.
- Green also says she tells moms whose workplaces make it difficult to pump should try to get the most out of nighttime feedings, or to pump and store milk when not at work.
- If you feel like you aren’t being treated fairly at work because you are pregnant or nursing, you can check out this American Civil Liberties Union know your rights post or contact them.
Last, it's important to share your story. If you weren’t able to breastfeed as long as you wanted to, let breastfeeding support organizations know.
Groups that promote breastfeeding need a better understanding of why moms stop so they can design better programs and support. Share your story with us and we'll post them in a follow-up infowire post.