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Mandatory Breastfeeding: Yay or Nay?

Some breastfeeding supporters are calling for extreme measures when it comes to the promotion of breastfeeding and the *choice* in infant nutrition. In some cases, many proclaimed supporters feel that mandating breastfeeding would not only benefit the health of the child (and mother) but also our nation as a whole (particularly in terms of health care costs – a savings of $13 billion annually does sounds tempting).

Some push for formula to be treated as a pharmaceutical-like prescription, warranting a doctor’s prescription.

Women giving birth in New York City may have already begun to experience something similar to this due to recent regulations – while NYC mothers are not denied formula if requested, they will receive a mandated discussion from staff on why breast is best and each bottle will be tracked. [*][*]

Some say New York is ahead of its time for embracing such measures. Maybe it is…or maybe the focus should be directed elsewhere. [*]

I, for one, don’t know what to make out of it. Sure, the part of me that wants every baby to be breastfed jumps for joy, but on a certain level, I know the answers to issues like these are not in regulation

High coverage with optimal breastfeeding practices has potentially the single largest impact on child survival of all preventive interventions. [*]

Absolutely, something must be done to get more babies drinking breast milk – but just because breastfeeding is natural, does not mean it is easy.

Sadly, the most recent data from the CDC shows only 16 percent of mothers exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months of their baby’s life (which is the current AAP and WHO recommendations).[*][*][*][*] 

Even with this dismal statistic - it is essential to note that according to research, the large majority of mothers truly desire to breast-feed their babies exclusively for at least three months. Even though only 1 out of 3 of them will meet this goal, these numbers can not be blamed on a mother’s lack of interest or desire. [*]

Most mothers really want to breastfeed their baby, however, there are certain factors that may improve or worsen the odds of them their goals - which speaks to the underlying problem at hand.

One improvement - mothers of infants that don't receive formula in the hospital are 2.5 times more likely to meet their breast-feeding goals. Also, those who initiate breastfeeding shortly after delivery improve these odds as well. So it seems that the hospital environment, support and information do play a critical role in developing a breastfeeding relationship (at least early on).

So the changes requested from ‘Latch on NYC’ regarding revising hospital protocol, marketing and the restrictive use of free formula may be onto something…[*]

However, if you've ever breastfed – from experience, you realize it is not the first few days that are the most difficult. It's those following weeks when the pain appears and the support your partner is not only important but essential.

Once you overcome the hurdles of hospital and home, then comes another: the workplace. The majority of U.S. mothers return to work and have to manage some type of pumping arrangement with their employer (with the majority of states lacking any regulation of nursing mothers rights).

The few obstacles mentioned above does not begin to scratch the surface of breastfeeding obstacles, consider infection (thrush), growth spurts, nursing strike, premature baby, tongue tie, difficult latch, cracked nipples, separation from baby, difficult birth, multiple births, medications, etc….

All of which can face a mother who is wholeheartedly willing to breastfeed to 6 months.

Should breastfeeding be optional?

For me, this is the wrong question to solve the problem of our current breastfeeding rates.

The number of women I know wanting to breastfeed (who happen to come across challenging obstacles in the first few weeks) far out weigh those few who choose never to breastfeed or who purposefully dry up their milk supply to feed their babies formula instead, by choice.

We should place resources into breastfeeding education and support for women (and their partners).

We should absolutely be more aware of formula marketing techniques.

But where I start to get leery is when we start placing those resources toward the small group of women who adamantly do not want to breastfeed.

These women should not be forced via legislative measures. Besides, how the hell can you force someone to breastfeed? Really, what would be the logistics of it?

A Better Way

So what can we do to help support women meet their goals in feeding their baby while not trampling on personal liberties? 

If you truly want more mothers to breastfeed, do something. Attend a breastfeeding support group for new or expecting mothers. Become active in legislation that protects and supports maternal rights (particularly in the work place-for those pumping moms out there). Encourage pregnant friends/family to meet with a lactation consultant prior to giving birth. Learn more about the obstacles and issues at hand and do what you can in your own social network to help.

Media may give the impression that we are losing this war, but that is not the case!

Breastfeeding rates in the U.S. continue to increase.

The increase seen from the most recent data represents the largest annual increase witnessed over the previous decade with rates rising from 44.3% to 47.2% in babies breastfed to 6 months.[*]

The passion among breastfeeding mothers to support fellow moms reaches worldwide. There already exists international code requiring access to education to mothers regarding the advantages of breastfeeding, recognition of breastfeeding rights and the restriction of marketing misbehavior. [*][*][*]

Yes, breast is best – however, if you consider yourself a lactivist I cannot see how supporting a mandatory breastfeeding law helps and supports mothers. The dilemma of our currently bleak breastfeeding statistics goes much deeper then what a compulsory law is capable to handle.

The solution starts with our awareness in our own ability to influence, educate and support new mothers – each and every one of us (the hospital worker, the coworker, the friend, the sister, the neighbor, the stranger).

With each generation we can observe the support and education growing - this isn’t a time to segregate and impose regulation. Now is the time to connect and do your part!

Lactivist (n.)

            A word combination from the word ‘lactation’ and ‘activist’

One who seeks to promote the health benefits of breastfeeding over formula-feeding and to ensure that nursing mothers are not discriminated against

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  1. While I am ALL FOR breastfeeding and encourage mothers to do it by all means possible, I also highly value liberty and the freedom to make our own choices...

  2. The only real issue preventing women is education. Women have no clue how to manage breastfeeding, or know they have legal rights to pumping at work. So babies suffer. Educate women, and destroy this myth about 'not producing enough' and women would make their goal, on top of that destroy the seld centered parenting style going on in this generation. I was bottle fed, and I resent my mother for it. Thanks to her choice i have all sorts of problems on top of a lower IQ, so why choose something worse for your child?


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