Despite compelling evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding, less than one-half of the nearly four million babies born each year in the United States are exclusively breastfed, most for less than three months (Spangler, 2005). Faced with societal norms, legal uncertainties, and incorrect information, some women choose the option of not breastfeeding. Many women are not even aware that breastfeeding is a natural, mutually beneficial way to feed an infant!
Breastfeeding is not only the most natural way to provide nutrition for your baby it is also the most complete way. There are many benefits for both mother and baby.
Benefits for baby.
Breast milk is the most complete form of nutrition for infants. A mother's milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein that is needed for a baby's growth and development (National Women?s Health Information Center, 2005). Usually, breast milk is digested more easily than formula, which means that breastfed babies gain less unnecessary weight. There are theories suggesting that breastfeeding may prevent adult obesity because children who are breastfed learn to trust their body's signals regarding how much and when they eat.
Furthermore, breast milk aids in the development of a newborn's immune system, prevents diarrhea, maximizes a child's physical and intellectual potential, promotes the recovery of a sick child, and breastfeeding helps to bond mother and baby (Linkages Project, 2004).
Benefits for mom
In addition to the many benefits for baby, breastfeeding also benefits mothers. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of postpartum hemorrhage, the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and of anemia (Linkages Project, 2004). Baby's suckling causes a release of the hormone oxytocin which, in turn, signals the breasts to release milk to the baby (this is known as 'let-down', or the milk ejection reflex) and also produces uterine contractions that help the uterus get back to its pre-pregnancy state (this is how breastfeeding reduces the risk of hemorrhage). Breastfeeding also uses 500 calories per day, which makes it easier for nursing moms to lose pregnancy weight.
There are also other benefits with breastfeeding. It is very cost-effective because it is free and it is environmentally friendly as there is less trash and plastic waste involved compared to formula cans and bottle supplies (Linkages Project, 2004). Health care costs are typically lower for breastfed children as they are not as sick as often due to their strong immune system. This also results in a more productive workforce because the mothers of these children miss less work.
Knowing these benefits, why do some mothers choose not to breastfeed? Some women are uncomfortable with breastfeeding due to societal norms, intimidated, or just simply ignorant to all of the benefits and the beauty that come with breastfeeding.
Society and Breastfeeding
Biology determines babies' needs, but cultural expectations and personal situations influence how parents respond to that need. When babies' biological needs and existing cultural norms are at odds with each other, parents sometimes make decisions that do not optimize growth and development, and can even be harmful (Spangler, 2005). In our society there is more emphasis placed upon the sexual aspect of a woman's breasts than the functional aspects. Some pregnant women do not have the desire to breastfeed because of the sexual connotations with breasts; it is not actually because they believe that formula will provide better nourishment for their babies. Formula feeding has become a sign of modernity, freedom, sophistication, and affluence (Spangler, 2005).
Due to the breasts being viewed as sexual objects, many people are uncomfortable with breastfeeding in public. Some people believe that it is indecent and that a woman should not bare her breasts for the sake of feeding her child. It is a shame that society is more accepting of a half-naked woman on the cover of a magazine than of a woman providing the best possible nourishment for her child!
Is Breastfeeding in Public Legal?
Breastfeeding in public is legal. Many states are enacting legislature to provide breastfeeding mothers with more rights. In 1998, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney introduced The Right to Breastfeed Act (H.R. 1478) to protect a woman's right to breastfeed on federal property where she and her child have the right to be. The bill was signed into law on September 28, 1999, by President Bill Clinton as part of the Treasury Postal Appropriations bill (Spangler, 2005). Furthermore, the Breastfeeding Promotion Employers Tax Incentive Act (H.R. 1163) gives tax credits to employers who install nursing mothers' stations in the workplace (Gilbert, 2004). Breastfeeding mothers in California, Idaho, Iowa, and Oregon can legally claim automatic exemption from jury duty!
Still, some people do not make breastfeeding mothers comfortable about nursing in public. There have been many incidents reported where women were asked to go to the bathroom to nurse their baby. Imagine eating your lunch in a smelly bathroom stall!
Some people argue that breastfeeding in public should be done in a tasteful, discreet way. What is wrong with a baby eating? There are certainly no problems with a baby drinking from a bottle, so why is there a double standard when it comes to natural parenting? Plus, crying babies attract far more attention than nursing babies.
Dispelling the Myths
It has been reported that 25-50 percent of women believe that their milk supply will not be adequate for their baby's needs. However, only 1-2 percent is truly unable to produce enough milk. Many people believe that the size or shape of your breasts affects the milk supply, but that simply isn't true.
Breastfeeding does not influence your child's sexual orientation, cause dental problems, or an unusual dependency as your infant becomes a child. You can breastfeed after a caesarian section, if you are post-menopausal, or if you have adopted a baby. Breastfeeding does not take more time than bottle-feeding, especially during night feedings! Breast milk does not lose its nutritional value after a certain timeframe, and it is certainly possible and nutritional to breastfeed a baby for longer than the recommended period of one year.
Pain is a common myth with breastfeeding. During the first week or two following the birth of your baby (or the beginning of the breastfeeding relationship) some pain and discomfort is common. However, pain beyond this point is an indicator of problems such as a breast infection called mastitis.
Some people believe that you cannot get pregnant while breastfeeding, but studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding on demand is only an effective form of birth control during the first six months. Chances for pregnancy increase when the baby begins taking solids, sleeping through the night, and when the mother begins menstruating again. However, breastfeeding should not be used as the only form of birth control when another child is not wanted immediately.
Many mothers do not plan to breastfeed their babies because they don't think it can be done once they return to work. This can be done! A working mother may have the option of arranging her lunch around the baby's schedule, or she can pump during a break. Using the more sophisticated pumps on the market, it is possible to pump 8-10 ounces in 15 minutes!
A major concern regarding breastfeeding is being tied down to the baby at all times. While it is true that breastfed babies are dependent upon their mothers for nourishment, a mother can enjoy the freedom of leaving the house by breastfeeding her baby in a public place or pumping her milk into bottles.
Breastfeeding a natural, mutually beneficial, cost-effective way to feed an infant, but it is not widely popular in Western culture. Many women choose not to breastfeed because cultural norms make them feel insecure about nursing in public, if at all. Furthermore, many myths about breastfeeding may make a woman feel uncomfortable and unsure of her abilities. Many breastfeeding advocates believe that arming the public with accurate information about the benefits of breastfeeding will increase awareness, acceptance, and will encourage more women to do what is best for their babies.