This month I attended two breastfeeding related events. I was left wondering how families learn about breastfeeding. The first event was a film viewing and discussion of “The Milky Way”. The second was a ‘Meet the Doulas’ night at Om Births in Watertown.
For two decades plus, I taught childbirth education and breastfeeding and was an active birth doula. It was, and continues to be, important to me that parents understand
1. how the body works and
2. how to advocate for their choices.
So I was disheartened, while watching “The Milky Way”, to hear the confusion and misinformation mothers received in their early postpartum days at the hospital. It did not surprise me to hear their grief at having no breastfeeding support once they got home.
At the Doula event, I was surprised that every pregnant couple (but one) asked why they should think about breastfeeding support before the baby was born. I’m glad they asked. Learning about how your body breastfeeds is one aspect. Figuring out fact from ‘factoid’ is another.
Birth practices and hospital policies can cause confusion. For example, some hospitals promote frequent skin-to-skin contact for mother and baby during their postpartum stay. Other hospitals discourage it. Which is most helpful and which is most safe? These hospital policies and staff education can influence early breastfeeding. Parents need to know about these different approaches. I wonder if the women (who spoke in the film) knew about this?
Here’s something to consider: A hospital that is certified as Baby Friendly has met specific criteria to promote and protect breastfeeding. That includes policies like skin-to-skin after birth, rooming in, local breastfeeding support and IBCLC on staff. It’s proven to improve breastfeeding rates overall, “regardless of demographic factors that are traditionally linked with low breastfeeding rates.“* 452 hospitals in the United States and Puerto Rico are certified Baby Friendly…. which means a lot of hospitals do not have these policies. And they may not have very much support organized, either.
In our culture, parents need to look for and organize breastfeeding resources on their own. Continuing care and guidance isn’t woven into our daily society. That’s why I encourage researching resources ahead of time: a local support group, a person to call when you’re home and you need it. And yup, all insurance plans needs to recognize that every family (regardless of income) need access to qualified support.
It is fortunate to grow up with breastfeeding as the norm. I met two breastfeeding young mothers at the film viewing. They attended with their own mothers who had breastfed them. It turns out my IBCLC colleague had helped one of those grandmothers and then the daughter. Talk about continuity!
When I see young women learning and sharing, I like to think we are reinvigorating that tradition in families. Beyond an individual’s actions, it is a culture that promotes learning. That includes baby friendlier policies, access to IBCLC care and family support included in our daily living.
Among the confusion of classes, policies and marketing, there remains one distinct fact. Your body already knows what to do. Breastfeeding is the same basic biology the world over. Keep this in mind.
When you understand how your body makes milk, how your baby is wired to feed, you’ll see which actions are most helpful. You’ll be less at the whim of puzzling policies and myth-information.
(The photo is my handsome baby brother and my mom.)
*Pediatrics September 2005, VOLUME 116 / ISSUE 3