Breast Is Best...

Is it fair to say that the “breast is best” debate is over? Seventy-seven percent of women in America are initiating a breastfeeding relationship with their new babes…the real question for me is why only 16 percent (in FL it’s ten percent) are exclusively breastfeeding at six months postpartum.  Why do the numbers drop so drastically? Why are our long term nursing numbers lagging behind so many other countries? We know breastmilk is best, but why don’t/won’t we stick with it?

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After becoming a Certified Lactation Counselor and seeing clients, I believe I have a better understanding of why this might be. But, before I get into it, I want to take a minute to acknowledge that there ARE women and babies that legitimately cannot sustain a breastfeeding relationship. The observations in this post do not apply to them and I sincerely hope do not offend anyone. All that being said, I believe that unrealistic expectations, lack of evidenced-based information and feelings of inadequacy seriously undermine a successful nursing journey.

Probably NOT how most women breastfeed.

Probably NOT how most women breastfeed.

Unrealistic expectations that breastfeeding is natural (and therefore easy) can leave women baffled and upset when it doesn’t flow easily for them. Not every baby and mother experience that “magical hour," but that doesn’t mean that they are doomed when it comes to nursing.

Misinformation about what is normal and what isn’t, unqualified advice on what herbs and or foods to eat to boost supply (which in most cases is not the issue), what foods to avoid, how much water to drink and so on and so on, can leave a new mama in a mess of stress. Stress on top of sleepless nights and looking after a newborn can make bottles seem more appealing. 

The above reasons, and then some, can lead a woman to feel inadequate and embarrassed. Rather than seeking out support and guidance they may abandon their previous breastfeeding efforts.

How can we fix these issues? Education and support from qualified resources! It seems to me that we are doing a really great job of educating women on their birth choices, but leaving the juicy bits of the postpartum period when baby is here out. We are vegan-paleo-herbalist-yogis that live life in the most pure and healthy ways, yet some of us still struggle to breastfeed. We sit up in the middle of the night, bleary-eyed and holding our crying newborns trolling the internet looking for advice on how to nourish our little ones. Women and their partners should take a prenatal lactation course form a qualified lactation counselor to help manage expectations as well as build a relationship with someone they can comfortably call for help should the need arise after baby is born.

When taking my CLC course, I was shocked to find out how little dedicated time was devoted to breastfeeding for birth professionals and pediatricians during their schooling. I understand that a birth professional’s focus is on birth, but then why not team up with a lactation counselor/consultant to give their patients/clients the best care possible? The immediate days postpartum are very much influenced by birth and therefore still very much in the domain of the woman’s birth team. And let’s face it, every pediatrician’s office should employ a lactation person to help look after their patients' well being. Maybe birthing instructors should team up as well with a lactation professional to enhance their families' experiences? 

With the move to out-of-hospital births, there is an increased need for proper prenatal lactation counseling. I have first hand experience with this, not only from my clients, but as a mama who birthed at home. And every woman, whether birthing at home or in hospital deserves personal and reliable support in the days immediately following birth. Women who need/want to return to work soon after birth benefit greatly from support and guidance on pumping and milk storage during that transition. So, there’s value in continual lactation support beyond those first days as well.

On a personal note, I would like to address a thought some might be having reading this post…I am not trying to sell my services as a CLC. I am trying to point out that perhaps in all our passion to normalize breastfeeding, rights to nurse in public, extended nursing and pumping rights at work (all extremely important issue), we’ve lost sight of how nuanced breastfeeding can be and have lost some mamas and babies along the way. Breastmilk is absolutely the best for our babies, so let’s focus on how we can give every woman and baby the best chance at successfully and comfortably nursing for the first year and beyond through education and proper support!

Kimberly Lupis, C.L.C., is a Certified Lactation Counselor who believes that all women deserve encouragement and support in their breastfeeding journeys. Her own fulfilling experiences nursing her two little ones drives her passion. In between her CLC work and being a mama and wife, she is completing her training to become an herbalist. Her pantry can always be found stocked with an assortment of herbs that nurture her family, friends and interested clients.  Find out more about her at feathermama.com