Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Let's Get Real about Breast Feeding

Okay, so I try not to soapbox about important things on this blog, but I just have to get on this one.

First, I'm going to say the most important thing about breast feeding: It will probably be hard, but YOU CAN DO IT.

I'm not sure how many of you know what I had to go through to breastfeed Finley, but (in short) it took six full months of pumping and bottle feeding, three different types of bottles/nipples, nipple shields, lactation consultants, and TONS of work, practice, and persistence to get it to happen. It sucked. And I know a lot of women aren't willing to do that and can get away without doing it because their babies don't need it like mine did. I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have to.

But after seeing so many NICU babies and knowing the complications and illnesses that can be prevented by using breast milk, I just can't imagine that anyone would choose not to try before their baby is even born. I mean, there are a handful of REAL things that stop women from breastfeeding, and I think most of those women are sad that they and their babies miss out, but it's not like they have a choice.

But then there are women who just don't bother. They don't even try because of fear of failure or of saggy boobs or who knows what. These tend to be the people who get all pissy about "breast is best" articles and try to deny the fact that they've essentially given their child a disadvantage in one of the major parts of the newborn stage: feeding. It's not fun to think you've done that to your kid, but if you didn't even bother to try, well, you have. Don't deny the stats on breastfeeding because of it!

Then there's the group that tries to breastfeed and fails. My heart goes out to these women. It's NOT easy. It certainly doesn't come naturally for most women the way you'd expect. And the education in hospitals is PATHETIC. The consultants I saw even in the NICU were unhelpful. And for most women, unless they can somehow shell out hundreds to see an independent consultant (and it takes that much, especially if you're going more than once as you'll probably need to do), that's all the educated help they get. Two days maybe of help.

This is the real problem. It's such a small percentage of women who actually can't breastfeed because of uncorrectable low milk supply, and yet many women stop for just this reason. There's nobody there to help them through the tough parts, and workplaces are often stuck in the dark ages when it comes to lactating women. Nobody should have to pump in the bathroom (would they ask a man to make his kid a sandwich in a toilet stall?), and adequate break time is essential to a mother-friendly workplace. People need to get over pumping. It's not that weird, and women who do it for their kids are dedicated and working VERY hard.

But back to lactation education. It just needs to be more available. I got lucky because Finley's pediatrician has an IBCLC on staff, and she really got me and Finley breastfeeding and gave me the help and confidence to actually do it—and do it right!

I imagine if this kind of help were available to every woman, we'd have much higher breastfeeding rates and happier moms. So many of us are left to struggle on our own and it's super frustrating. And there are plenty of people out there who say, "Just give up!"

But I'll tell you, if you stick with it, you CAN do it. Statistically, you're not incapable. You WILL make enough milk. It CAN happen. But I think we need some social change. Insurance should pay for lactation counseling—period. Most don't even help with pump rental. We have awesome insurance and still had to pay out of pocket even though Finley was in the NICU and his survival counted on getting breast milk.

I think when you look at the long-term health benefits for children who are breast fed—lowered obesity rates, less likelihood of smoking, fewer episodes of illness during the breastfeeding period—it's clear that any initiative for public health should make helping women breastfeed a number one priority.

In the meantime, if you're struggling, try not to give up yet. If your supply is low, and you can't get baby to help you bring it up by BFing more often, try renting a pump—Medela's are the most comfortable to use. If you can't get a good latch, try a La Leche League meeting. Keeping a lactation consultant on staff at a pediatrician's office isn't uncommon. Ask your pediatrician if they have one. They may be able to bill your insurance for a regular appointment and then you just pay a co-pay.

I don't want to make anyone feel bad about getting frustrated and giving up. You know when enough is enough. But if you've still got energy left in you for breastfeeding, there are resources. And most importantly, you CAN do it.


Sarah McMullin said...

Seconded. So hard sometimes even for someone like me who has perfectly healthy babies and no supply problems, but so so worth it. I did hours and hours of research before Douglas was born, and I credit the countless books and forums with my success.

Shar said...

i agree with this whole-heartedly. i think a major part of the problem as far as insurance companies go is that the formula industry is so big. those companies lose money for every child who breastfeeds. so stupid that health isn't as important to them as money. lamelamelame.
it's such hard work, but so worth it. i've been surprised at how many of my friends just don't want to put the work in. it goes back to us always wanting things to be easy. the most important things in life usually aren't, but they are so worth it.
next time i talk about this on my blog, i'm linking to this. thanks!!