According to a new study published this week in the online version of the journal Pediatrics, 900 babies (as well as about $13 billion) could be saved every year in the United States if 90 percent of women breastfed their babies for the first six months of life. That’s right’the life and health of your child could be resting on your decision to breastfeed or not. No pressure.
This certainly isn’t the first study touting the benefits of breastfeeding. Apart from the health benefits associated with breast milk, past studies have shown that exclusive breastfeeding can help babies end up smarter, reduce their chances of being obese later in life, and make them happier than babies who are fed formula. But in the midst of all this information and pressure to breastfeed, I can’t help but wonder’what happens when you just can’t do it?
Now for a confession: I do not have children. As such, I have not yet been faced with the decision of breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding a child. I have never experienced the heartache that comes along with not being able to breastfeed successfully. I have been spared the frustration of not being able to nourish a child in what seems like the most natural, basic way. But for many women across Canada, that pain and frustration is very real. They have shared their stories on mom blogs and message boards’stories of feeling helpless and feeling judged by other moms.
But along with this latest study comes a message from the study’s author, Dr. Melissa Bartick: stop blaming mothers. "People shouldn’t blame mothers because they are often not supported well, even from the moment their babies are born," said Bartick in a news release, adding that a lack of social and cultural support are also factors contributing to poor breastfeeding rates.
Breastfeeding statistics in Canada are not much better. Despite government initiatives like the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program and organizations like La Leche League Canada, a 2009 news release on the Health Canada website reported that although 90 percent of women in Canada start out breastfeeding their newborns, by six months, that number drops to 54 percent.
Whether the reasons are biological or social, the fact remains that women are not breastfeeding at an optimal rate, both in the U.S. and in Canada. And so the question must be asked: What can we do to provide better support for new moms to ensure better health for the next generation?