Sunday, September 20, 2009

Breastfeeding: Sticking with it

Back in January 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the Healthy People 2010, which involves over 450 health objectives for our nation. Here were the objectives set for the area of breastfeeding at that time:
  • Increase the proportion of mothers who breastfeed in the early postpartum period from 64% to 75%.
  • Increase the proportion of mothers who breastfeed at six months from 29% to 50%.
  • Increase the proportion of mothers who breastfeed at one year from 16% to 25%.

Fast forward to September 2009. How are we doing? Well, based on the most recent data, U.S. mothers are not quite hitting these targets. Of those surveyed:
  • 70.9% of mothers breastfed in the early postpartum period.
  • 36.4% breastfed for six months.
  • 17.7% breastfed for one year.

At least we're heading in the right direction, but we're not quite there yet. So, what's the problem? Knowing doesn't equal doing! Many women may know about the benefits of breastfeeding over formula feeding, as we can see by breastfeeding initiation rates (approaching the goal of 75%!). However, it does not mean that mothers have the knowledge, tools, and {most of all} the support to stick with the decision. While it was easy for me to choose to breastfeed initially, once my first child had arrived and I actually started breastfeeding, there were times that I seriously felt like giving up. Thankfully, I had (and have) a few tricks up my sleeve to keep me from doing just that, and that's what I'd like to talk about -- the strategies that worked for me and for other moms I've known.

  • Arm yourself with information about the challenges and solutions before baby arrives. I did a lot to accomplish this as I was strongly committed to my decision to breastfeed, and I believe that getting a head start in gaining the knowledge and skills needed for a positive breastfeeding experience before starting the process was priceless!
  • Attend a lactation education class (or classes) offered through a hospital or birthing center. My husband and I both attended a lactation education class taught by a Registered Nurse and Certified Lactation Consultant. The class was an excellent investment of our time. Not only did I learn a lot about the how-to's associated with breastfeeding, but it also allowed my husband to be a HUGE support during the process by learning about everything along with me. When I ran into a challenge, he'd recall something he learned in the class and helped me through it.
  • Talk to family members, friends, and others who have breastfed or are currently breastfeeding. After having my first child, I remember referring to my sister for many of my questions as she was breastfeeding her son at the time (7 months older than my daughter). She had a lot of practical tips and tools to offer, and she played a major role in helping me stay on track during that first few weeks. I also joined online groups of pregnant and nursing moms for additional support. I can't even begin to tell you how valuable that online connection was! Sources I've liked are and La Leche League.
  • Obtain professional guidance from a Certified Lactation Consultant or Certified Lactation Educator. Fortunately, I have a colleague and friend who is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and Registered Dietitian, and I was able to refer to her several times throughout the experience with my first child and prior to having my second child for knowledge and guidance. If your hospital or birthing center offers access to a lactation consultant or educator, I suggest that you take advantage of their expertise. Thankfully, the hospital in which I delivered my children had lactation consultants available on a daily basis to provide one-on-one help with breastfeeding during my stay. I believe that this truly enhanced my early post-partum breastfeeding experience.
  • Read, read, read! One great source of information before getting started was the book, The Nursing Mother's Companion. This super tool covered a wide range of information from proper latch-on to bra-fitting. You may also want to bone up on nutrition for lactation. I'd recommend Expect the Best: Your Guide to Healthy Eating Before, During, and After Pregnancy by Registered Dietitian Elizabeth Ward.
  • Find a hospital, birthing center, and pediatrician who support breastfeeding. When searching for a pediatrician, I made it a priority to find one that encouraged my decision to breastfeed, and believe me, it was a tremendous help through that first year. You can also search for a hospital or birth center that has implemented the UNICEF/WHO Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative.
  • If you plan on returning to work after having your baby, make sure to inform your employer of your decision to breastfeed. Make arrangements regarding the timing and location needed for pumping and storage of breastmilk.
  • Join a support group for nursing moms. You can find local support groups through the La Leche League or you may want to ask your hospital or birthing center, your pediatrician or OB, or a lactation consultant/educator to recommend one.
  • Invest in essential tools. You may need to seek advice from family, friends, peers, or lactation professionals on what tools might be "necessary". Do you need nursing tops or bras? A nursing pillow? A nursing cover? Nursing pads? A breast pump, storage containers, and bottles?
  • Remember your reason. It's always good to remind yourself about why you chose to breastfeed your child in the first place. Doing this can often get you through the tough times. Based on my experience and that of other mothers I know, there may be some tough spots through the process, especially at first, but armed with the right knowledge, skills, and support, you really will get through it and the experience will be positive and rewarding.

Well, this ends the four part blog series on breastfeeding. I hope that it has enhanced or solidified your knowledge about breastfeeding as the optimal source of nutrition for infants, and I also hope that it has helped you consider ways in which you can commit to your decision to breastfeed and/or serve as a source of support for someone else in your life who is or will be breastfeeding her child. The experience is valuable in so many ways, and you and your child are worth it!


Samantha said...[Reply to comment]

Michelle, I have LOVED these posts!

Nice work sharing the info... even after nearly 16 months of bfing Noah, it's nice to have a few refreshers and reminders as I start this all over with Ellie!

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