I got the chance to lead a meeting of my local breastfeeding support group today and it was awesome. We always have a topic and I chose "Breastfeeding Advocacy." The group was super and the conversation flowed really well with moms from all different backgrounds sharing their personal experience with nursing as well as their views. There were 10 or so moms at the group and we were all coming from differing places. A couple of the moms are brand new with babies 3 months old or less (including Ava and Amanda), a few are nursing older infants, and some of us are nursing our toddlers.
Our conversation ranged from birth, to nutrition, to sleep, to weaning, and touched lots of topics in between. What always shocks me is how much bad-- no, APPALLING-- advice is being given to new mothers regarding breastfeeding. Some bits of advice is more excusable than others, like the well-meaning grandmother telling a new mother that she had fed her own babies rice cereal in a bottle at two months to help them sleep. Now, this advice flies in the face of the American Academy of Pediatrics advice on starting solids, but I can give Grandma the benefit of the doubt because she raised her children many years ago and there is no reason why she would have kept up on the latest medical recommendations for infant nutrition.
The APPALLING part comes in when I hear mother after mother talking about the horrific advice she was given by the DOCTOR. I am beginning to think that pediatricians as a group are the saddest lot of professionals out there. Here is an example of some of the advice given to a handful of mothers at our group today: "Do not feed your baby any more frequently than every three hours."
"Your baby is growing fast and you will have to start him on cereal at 4 months to keep up with his growth."
"Your baby has breastmilk jaundice. Give him formula."
Each one of these golden nuggets of advice fly in the face of sound breastfeeding management and have the potential to destroy a mother's breastfeeding relationship with her baby. My own personal EX-doctor advised me at her one month check up to begin giving Violet formula because I was going back to work and needed to "get her used to the taste of it." Thanks Dr. Fortner--great advice, but no thanks to you we were able to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months despite my work schedule. That probably wouldn't have happened if I'd listened to the doctor. She never did have to "get used to" the taste of formula.
I left that meeting more convinced than ever that there IS a need for breastfeeding advocacy in my community. Help with breastfeeding certainly isn't coming from the top down, so I guess it needs to move from the bottom up. I think the part of the situation that makes me the angriest is that moms are bombarded with the message that nursing is the best (like the recent Pediatrics study that was featured in the New York Times and a hundred other media outlets highlighting the $13 billion dollar price tag in the US from our failure to breastfeed) and then we not prepared in any way, shape, or form to actually do it. I have dear friends who wanted to nurse and couldn't, not because of any failure on their part, but because they were not supported by the medical community to get through the difficult first weeks of motherhood and nursing. My sister-in-law, Aly, was a pro-breastfeeder with her second son Charlie, but still laments her less-than-ideal start with her first boy Jack.
And Aly is right when she says, "Guilt Be Gone." I would suggest, however, that the feeling of guilt be replaced with a feeling of anger and a desire for change. Anger at the way our country's medical establishment sabotages breastfeeding and a desire to make ours the LAST generation of American women who "can't breastfeed" their babies. If you want to, you should be able to, plain and simple. But you cannot do it alone. My hope is that when Violet becomes a mom, she won't even understand why women of my generation had such trouble with nursing.
Finally, I want to share one more link from The Huffington Post that I think any mother who wasn't able to meet her personal breastfeeding goals should read. It was written by Dr. Melissa Bartick and is titled Peaceful Revolution: Motherhood and the $13 Billion Guilt. She says it so well, I only hope women out there are listening! We deserve more!