In the United States, August is considered National Breastfeeding Month (NBM). This year’s theme is Together We Do Great Things. All month long the focus is on supporting, protecting, and encouraging breastfeeding through education and advocacy.
Why is breastfeeding so important that it requires an entire month to highlight? Simple, because it saves lives. An estimated 823,000 children’s lives and 20,000 mothers’ lives could be saved if breastfeeding rates were increased to a universal level according to a 2016 Breastfeeding Series in The Lancet.
Current breastfeeding rates in the US are:
After birth, 84% of women will initiate breastfeeding
At 3 months 47% of infants are exclusively breastfed
By 6 months 26% of infants are exclusively breastfed
At 1 year 35% of infants receive some breastmilk
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months is recommended by The American Academy of Pediatrics, and then breastmilk with complementary foods thereafter.
Currently breastfeeding rates are far from the established breastfeeding goals.
Why is this? There are many barriers to breastfeeding from difficulty initiating breastfeeding, lack of adequate personal/professional support, financial reasons, employment, mental health struggles, and other causes.
What can you do as a parent to set yourself up for a successful breastfeeding experience?
Breastfeeding Prep: Take a breastfeeding class before birth, learn how to hand express, and identify breastfeeding resources eg local lactation consultants, virtual options, and peer support.
Breastfeeding Initiation: talk with your birth team about skin-to-skin after birth and initiate breastfeeding within 1 hour if possible. Request to see a lactation consultant if birthing in a hospital and follow up after discharge. If maternal-infant separation is required initiate pumping/hand expression ASAP.
Breastfeeding Establishment/ Maintenance: Seek out early professional breastfeeding support and engage in ongoing community/peer support. If mother-infant separation is necessary learn how to maintain milk supply by pumping/hand expression and how to appropriately store breastmilk.
I would also like to take this opportunity to pause and remind you that the duration that you breastfeed for does not determine your success. Breastfeeding success is self-defined. However, long you breastfed be proud of that. Not able to breastfeed or planning to formula feed from the start, there are many ways to love and nurture a child. No part of this is intended to encourage guilt; just honest conversations highlighting the need for better breastfeeding support.