World Breastfeeding Week and Learning from History

This week is World Breastfeeding Week. Since 1992 the benefits of breastfeeding, for women and their infants, have been promoted during the first week of August. I admit that I was fortunate. My mother breastfed all of her babies, even though formula feeding had become popular by the 1950s. So, I was on track to breastfeed my babies, too.

In the June 12, 2016 issue of the Wall Street Journal, an obituary for one of the founding members of the La Leche League appeared. Here is a quote from Mary White’s obituary.

In the 1950s, breastfeeding was widely considered backward and unsanitary. Around 80% of U.S. mothers chose formula instead, according to the league. Views gradually changed as researchers piled up evidence of the health benefits of natural feeding. As of 2012, about 80% of mothers were at least attempting to breastfeed, according to the latest government     survey results.

I am thankful that my mother persisted in breastfeeding, even though she was discouraged in doing so by hospital staff. I am thankful for Mary White, and the six other women that joined her, in forming the La Leche League.

The women pressed forward, learning and supporting each other. They were persistent when the medical field did not realize the benefits of breast milk. Eventually Mary White helped write The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

Mother Rose Nursing Her Child

As a nurse I can attest to the challenge it has been to recover from the trend of offering formula to infants.   Marketing and financial gain is    involved.

In the years 1929 to 1932, formula companies were limited to advertising their product to doctors. A doctor needed to have a medical reason to substitute formula for breastfeeding.    After 1932 advertising to          consumers was permitted. The market grew and breastfeeding declined.

Before long formula companies were stocking hospitals with gift packs containing sample formula. According to an article in the American     Journal of Diseases in Children(1991) the U.S. formula industry had      developed into a $1.6 billion market.   According to data collected by the  Centers for Disease Control only 33.5% of babies born in 2007 were      exclusively breast-fed for the first three months of life.

We have had to relearn trust in a woman’s body. We are still learning about the negative effects on breastfeeding caused by interventions in childbirth.  Epidural anesthesia and cesarean section may have an         impact.

Breastfeeding
engraving courtesy of wellcome images via creative commons

Women need support and guidance in the days following birth. Here are some guidelines for successful breastfeeding:

  1. Placing the baby skin to skin with mom in the first hour after birth is helpful in getting breastfeeding off to a good start.
  2. Feeding the infant on demand (8 to 12 times in a 24 hour period) builds a mom’s milk supply.
  3. Positioning the baby tummy to tummy with mom, facing the breast, allows the baby to achieve a good latch on the breast.
  4. Good nutrition, plenty of oral fluids and adequate rest support a woman’s milk supply.
  5. Encouragement and support from family members enhances a woman’s efforts.
  6. When difficulties arise a lactation consultant can help.

Medical practice can never be static. It is both a science and an art. In health care, our medical system needs to assess current practice, change where necessary and continue to do research. Economic gain should never be the driving force of medical advice.

Photo by Carin Araujo: courtesy of free images.com
Photo by Carin Araujo: courtesy of free images.com

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