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Suck On It! Why America Needs to be More Breastfeeding Friendly

By HERWriter
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Parenting related image Photo: Getty Images

A variety of recent studies on the practice of breastfeeding have shown similar two-fold conclusions:

1. Breastfeeding an infant has multiple long-lasting health benefits for both mother and child,


2. American families do not do it enough.

According to a report by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 only 44 percent of infants are breastfed for the recommended minimum of six months and only 14 percent are breastfed exclusively (given no supplemental formula). In comparison with many other countries, these rates are extremely low. This is interesting not only because it is widely accepted that breastfeeding has tremendous health benefits for babies (lower rates of obesity and diabetes, better immune systems, fewer visits to the doctor’s office and lower medical costs) and mothers (lower rates of breast and ovarian cancers) but also because 77 percent of mothers initially start out by exclusively breastfeeding their infant. What causes the rates to decline so steeply in six months?

One reason explored by a recent CDC report is the idea that the American public is not comfortable with lactation and therefore does not foster environments that support the healthy practice. A huge reason that women stop breastfeeding is to go back to work after their maternity leave. If her workplace does not allow a new mother the time and safe space to express breast milk, it is probable her natural supply will decrease and supplementation will be necessary. Beginning in 2014, the Affordable Care Act will require that all workplaces supply women with a space that is private and is not in a restroom in which they can pump breast milk or feed a baby. It is hoped that this marvelous policy addition will help to increase the percent of babies who are able to be breastfed through the crucial first six months of life.

Women often site stigma as another large deterrent to breastfeeding. Whether she is at a park, at a grocery store, in her place of worship or in a friend’s home, negative reactions from onlookers can cause a woman to feel ashamed and even violated. Snide comments or rude stares do not permit for the comfort and relaxed nature that is so important to effective nursing. Nor is it conducive to the magical mother and child bonding time that breastfeeding can be. Despite the ubiquity of the act and the anatomy, our culture has yet to accept (and sometimes even demonizes) women who breastfeed in public. Unfortunately, there is no nifty federal policy that can assuage the negative consequences of judgmental onlookers. Perhaps with time, education and an eye toward the more accepting attitude towards breastfeeding in the developing world, women will feel less inhibited and thus, better able to provide their children with the best health possible.

A third reason that women do not breastfeed their babies until they are six months old takes place very early in the newborn’s life -- right in the hospital he/she is born in! Very few hospitals have been certified as “baby-friendly” by UNICEF and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and little has been done to change this in the past few years. However, as part of their mission to improve mother and child health, the CDC has done a review of things hospitals can do to encourage breastfeeding right off the bat.

Visit http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/breastfeeding/ to see a full listing of the CDC’s recommendations, as well as the data supporting their push to make breastfeeding a priority.

And what can you do? Talk to your health care provider about a plan for breastfeeding your child! Ask about the support that is offered to new mothers in the hospital and in your workplace and advocate for your rights as a working mom! Don’t assume that breastfeeding will be easy right away -- keep trying! Every time you feel self-conscious about nursing in public, remember the world of good it is doing for you and your baby! Be supportive of other mothers!

Check out some of the other resources below to learn more:

The Ten Steps To Successful Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding: Promotion and Support

La Leche League International

Reviewed August 12, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment14 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I really hope the 2014 Affordable Care Act actually goes into effect. I've been worried about where I'm going to pump when I go back to school and work. I'm sure I'll be able to find a remote spot at school but it'll be in the library, in the stacks!

August 14, 2011 - 8:54am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I understand your concern, and can tell you that you will be ok!!!
I have been left with no choice but to pump in the BR at work. yuck! Yes, it's noncompliant, but I work at a small family business, and don't want to make enemies with everyone, so I didn't fight this battle. When I first went back, I thought there was no way I would last 6 months, but am happy to report that my son is 14 months, and I am still pumping! :) You will find the spots to make it work. Whenever I travel, I would park the car in a convenient spot, bring the cover and pump. (always bring spare batteries!)

August 20, 2011 - 8:47am
EmpowHER Guest

I'm a breastfeeding mom and have basically stopped caring what people think when I feed in public. I'm always covered up so I don't think people should give me the dirty looks they love to give.

August 13, 2011 - 8:45pm
HERWriter (reply to Anonymous)

Good for you! We watch other people eat in public all day - why should babies be any different??

Thanks so much for sharing,

August 14, 2011 - 6:30am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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