“Breastfeeding provides a foundation for lifelong health by protecting both mom and baby against many different diseases and illnesses and promoting bonding for mom and baby,” Pinnacle Prevention executive director Adrienne Udarbe says.
Both the mother and child get to reap the benefits of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can relieve stress and enhance a woman’s immune system. In babies, breastfeeding can help fight infection and boost nutrition.
Shell Luttrell of Midwives Rising and the Phoenix Birth Center explains that one of the primary reasons babies are not breastfed is because of challenges and lack of support for the breastfeeding parent.
“Breastfeeding is a visually learned human skill,” she says. “We can read about it, we can listen about it, but we really learn by SEEING it. When we see others breastfeeding their baby, the skill is activated within us. If public breastfeeding was supported and considered normal, difficulties with breastfeeding would be reduced and therefore babies would be breastfed longer.”
Although breastfeeding is a natural part of life, several stigmas still surround the topic. Women are encouraged to breastfeed for one year or longer, as long as it is mutually desired by mom and baby.
Udarbe explains that while we have strong breastfeeding initiation rates in Arizona, we do see our breastfeeding duration rates drop significantly by 6 months. This is directly a reflection of lack of environmental supports that make breastfeeding the norm for moms. There are laws in place that protect breastfeeding in public, but mothers are still shamed for doing so.
“As a society, the best way to reduce stigmas and move towards making breastfeeding the norm for us in the United States is to ensure that maternity care practices in hospitals are breastfeeding friendly, that employers are supporting parental leave, that when mothers return to work they have time and space to nurse or pump for their baby, and ensuring that childcare facilities are breastfeeding friendly,” she says. “This wrap-around support is what positions everyone for success.”
In addition to stigmas, there are also other barriers to breastfeeding.
“Parents in food insecure households who breastfeed at all typically breastfeed their infants half as long as others do,” Luttrell says. “That works out to be about two months. If that could be stretched out to at least six months, they could gain most of the benefits, including financial, of breastfeeding.”
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) has several resources to aid breastfeeding mothers.
“New moms and their partners should be supported as the final decision-makers as to what feeding method is best.” Udarbe says. “We celebrate all moms in whatever their feeding choice is.”
Infant feeding alternatives may include bottle-feeding with expressed or pumped breast milk or with infant formula. Women can work with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) for the best recommendations.
Breastfeeding is natural, beautiful, and deserves to be celebrated. Be sure to support the breastfeeding mothers in your life. Your love and support can normalize breastfeeding and pave the way for future moms.
Click here to learn more about Shell Luttrell and the Phoenix Birth Center. Click here to learn more about Adrienne Udarbe and Pinnacle Prevention.