While the importance of breastfeeding is well known, many women still confront barriers to feeding their baby this way. During this World Breastfeeding Week (August 1-7), I’d like to share how we can work together as a community to break down some of those barriers.
Scientific studies clearly show that breastfeeding gives babies the healthiest possible start to life, including increased antibodies that help babies fight disease, optimum nutrition to help babies thrive, and healthy family bonding. My goal is to increase awareness about how we, as a society (i.e., healthcare providers, employers, family, and community members), sometimes inadvertently take away the opportunity to breastfeed from women who really want to.
Physical Barriers – It Hurts, or the Baby Won’t Latch Properly
Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, but an ineffective latch can definitely cause pain. A lactation consultant can help mothers learn to position their baby so the nipple is far enough into the baby’s mouth to fit against the baby’s soft palate rather than getting pinched against the hard roof of baby’s mouth. A shallow latch not only hurts, it often causes the baby to suck too hard because the baby is drinking from a narrow source that keeps collapsing (have you ever tried drinking a thick milkshake through a skinny straw?). When the baby doesn’t drink enough milk, the mother stops producing as much, causing frustration for everyone involved.
Sometimes successful breastfeeding is simply a matter of finding a position that works well for a mother and her newborn. For example, sometimes when the mother lies back and puts the baby on top of her, natural instincts kick in that help breastfeeding work. Ideally, the baby’s head should be positioned so the baby is looking up with its chin pushed more deeply into the breast. Adjusting position can help a baby achieve a deeper latch, which is more comfortable for mom and provides baby with good drinking rather than little sips. This will often shorten the feeding time and protect mom’s milk supply. If a mother’s milk supply seems low, there are ways to increase it, including massage techniques. Basically, if breastfeeding isn’t working, get help!
In Mendocino County, new mothers (as well as family members and healthcare providers) can call on lactation specialists for help at 1-855-855-MILK (6455). Additionally, several websites provide well-researched, easy-to-understand information on common breastfeeding problems and solutions. Breaststart.org is a local website with information about how and why to breastfeed. Other good websites include nancymohrbacher.com, kellymom.com, and breastfeedinginc.ca.
Social Barriers – Breastfeeding in the Workplace and Overcoming Family Disapproval
Physical barriers can be difficult to overcome, but social barriers can be even harder. When women are forced to choose between keeping their jobs and breastfeeding, they have to earn a living. Fortunately, we have some wonderfully supportive employers in Mendocino County. (Stay tuned for this month’s announcement about the 2017 Inland Mendocino County Breastfeeding Coalition’s Employer of the Year.) Learn more about our coalition by joining us the fourth Thursday of every month at Public Health in Conference Room 1 at 1120 S. Dora Street in Ukiah, or visit californiabreastfeeding.org/coalition-information/communitycoalitions/members/mendocino.
Another social barrier to breastfeeding can occur within a new mother’s own family. Grandmothers who used formula may question why their daughter or daughter-in-law insists on breastfeeding. Remember, times have changed. We’re all doing the best we can with the information we have on hand. If you’re a new mother who wants to breastfeed, gently but firmly hold your ground. If you’re the grandmother, consider supporting your daughter’s decision. There’s information you may both find useful at breaststart.org/grandparents.pdf. Husbands and partners can support breastfeeding, too—both with encouragement and by taking on more responsibilities around the house.
If you’re a new mother, regardless of whether you breastfeed, remember there’s nothing more important than a healthy bond between you and your baby. Take time to give your baby your undivided attention, and let your baby know just how much you love them.
Tess O’Connell is an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at MCHC Health Centers, a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people of all ages in Lake and Mendocino Counties.