Did you know that August is National Breastfeeding Month and that this week is World Breastfeeding Week? Breastfeeding has some important health implications for both mom and baby. It also has social, emotional and justice implications as well. For example, because only 13% of employers offer paid leave in the U.S., many women stop breastfeeding sooner than they’d planned.
The surgeon general recommends exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age, but this does not often become a reality. According to an article by Sili Reico on Momsrising.com, “28.8% of mothers did not meet their intention to breastfeed at least 3 months. Odds of not meeting intention to breastfeed at least 3 months were higher among mothers who returned to work full time before 3 months.” And, according to Human Rights Watch, the median duration of breastfeeding doubled for all new mothers who used California’s Paid Family Leave program. The added anxiety of making ends meet does not help foster a healthy breastfeeding relationship.
It is important to address the emotional aspect as breastfeeding as well. While we know some mothers and babies benefit from the bonding of breastfeeding, some mothers suffer from postpartum depression, plus the anxiety and pressure of having to provide for their child. The number one reason women stop breastfeeding is the perception that they aren’t producing enough breastmilk to keep their baby healthy. And while in reality only about 1-5% of women cannot produce enough breastmilk to provide for their baby, we do not have research to take into account the effects of stress and anxiety on milk production.
There are many opinions and studies on the impacts of breastfeeding, but an essential aspect of a healthy breastfeeding experience is for the mom to have the support and tools she needs. Here is a list of resources put together by PHW’s former program, the Breastfeeding Collaborative. It is a good starting point to find resources to support breastfeeding moms. It is also essential that we, as faith communities, affirm and support breastfeeding moms, dispelling any stigmas that may still surround breastfeeding in our communities, and offering them comfortable spaces to breastfeed. Here is a breastfeeding statement your congregation may be interested in adopting.
This month, you may also be interested in tuning in to momsrising.com’s twitter conversations about various breastfeeding topics, Wednesdays at 2 p.m., using the hashtag #WellnessWed. They will also be keeping their website and blog updated this month with real stories of the successes and struggles of breastfeeding. If you know a breastfeeding mom, or a mom struggling to or unable to breastfeed, offer her some encouragement, and consider helping connect her with some of these resources and networks of support so she knows she is not alone.