Previously, I had the general idea from my own breastfeeding experience that when I made the commitment to exclusively provide breastmilk for my daughter for at least the first year of her life between a combination of breastfeeding for six months and strictly pumping for 7 months, I began to strongly get the feeling from society overall that my choice was something “out of the norm.”
It seemed to me what I knew was ideal for my infant’s health by breastfeeding was something the majority of other new mothers were not doing. This made me feel as if I was the “odd mother out”, and as if formula feeding shortly after childbirth was not only the more convenient thing to do, but what was overall more accepted by society.
When we were having all sorts of challenges with breastfeeding, I was pressured to give my baby formula versus breast milk by physicians and other health professionals as well as by close friends and family members. I received the strong message from society that formula feeding your baby shortly after childbirth was considered by many to be equally beneficial to infants’ overall health as breastfeeding was.
This caused me to want to know the reasons why this unfortunate reality was the case. I learned that when multiple patents of formula first came out in the 1970’s, their were major investment dollars put towards advertising and marketing campaigns put forth to the general public, creating the false notion that formula was equally as beneficial as breast milk was. Generations from this period on who were raising children became and still continue to be staunch believers of the false notion that formula-feeding infants is the optimal feeding method.
Despite clear recommendations to new mothers from the American Academy of Pediatrics for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for at least the first year of an infant’s life, presently the U.S.’s exclusive breastfeeding rates (measured at infants’ age of six months) have declined to an unimpressive 12% and decline more each year. These declining numbers have dropped so far that exclusive breastfeeding rates in the U.S. are extremely low.
Volk’s evidence suggests is that as the U.S.’s breastfeeding rates decline, infant mortality will increase. This is a major problem and will continue to detrimentally effect our overall nation’s health, throwing another large rock into the pile of our already existing health crisis.
Despite breastfeeding’s multitude of health benefits, why else are so many new mothers giving up so quickly on breastfeeding? I myself, did almost give up on breastfeeding that first year of my infant’s life more times than I can count. Wasn’t breastfeeding supposed to be easy? It seemed like common knowledge that once we as humans had a human baby, upon the birth of that baby, shouldn’t breastfeeding come naturally without the need to troubleshoot so much?
The reality was, that at least for me, learning to breastfeed was not an easy task at all, and I had to overcome many obstacles to get through that first year of exclusively breastfeeding/providing breast milk for my child. The article by Volk on explaining how breastfeeding is not an automatic thing, helped me understand the logic behind why the skill of breastfeeding is not at all an easy task for not just me, but most women. Most women trying to breastfeed for the first time feel isolated in their efforts and are unaware of the fact that many other mothers are experiencing the same struggles as them, and I greatly believe this is the first reason why most new mothers prematurely give up on the idea of breastfeeding.
Volk’s theoretical descriptions helped me to understand more in-depth how our evolutionary changes have contributed to the U.S.’s declining breastfeeding rates. In the past, breastfeeding was more successful because humans interacted more with each other face to face and learned how to breastfeed by watching other women breastfeed in groups where they connected more with one another and learned from each other in person. It is not as much that way anymore in today’s day and age due to advanced technology and the accessibility of computers and cell phones.
Today, people have more of a tendency to individually seek out information from the internet allowing people the option of not needing to interact as much in person. New mothers often think they can solve an intimate problem such as breastfeeding because it entails a private part of their body (their breasts) and additionally most women believe when it comes to feeding their child, they should not have to seek out an expert’s advice (or are unaware that breastfeeding experts even exist) or face to face support and by searching for the answer from the internet.
However, our nation’s declining breastfeeding rates prove otherwise and women ultimately are often giving up breastfeeding before realizing that skilled professionals can provide support and help them to learn to have the strength and motivation to continue trying. Volk’s evidence suggests that since human breastfeeding is not automatic, the face to face help of a lactation consultant, support group or other health professional is crucial in learning to breastfeed successfully.
Because many of today’s physicians that treat new mothers are not formally educated on the numerous lifelong benefits breastfeeding, their support on recommending that their patients breastfeed is lacking, causing many new mothers not to realize how important breastfeeding truly is. The insufficient amount of breastfeeding knowledge on the part of today’s physicians and health professionals only adds to problem of the continuing decline in U.S. breastfeeding rates. As a breastfeeding educator, I hope to create more of an awareness about the importance of breastfeeding with other health professionals as well as provide individual and group breastfeeding support to new mothers to help work towards making positive change.
Berger, K.S. (2014). Invitation to The Lifespan 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Worth, 110
Miller, P.M & Commons, M.L. (2010). The Benefits of Attachment Parenting for Infants and Children: A Behavioral Developmental View. Behavioral Developmental Bulletin, Vol. 10. Cambridge: Harvard Medical School Press. 1-14
Volk, A.A. (2009). Human Breastfeeding is Not Automatic: Why That’s So and What it Means For Human Evolution. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology . 305-314
Witters-Green, R. (2003). Increasing Breastfeeding Rates in Working Mothers. Families Systems & Health, Vol. 21, No. 4, 415-433