The Medical Community Is Failing Breastfeeding Moms – How To Find The Support You Need

by , 08/02/13

lactation problems, breastfeeding problems, breast is best, breast milk, breastfeeding hospital, breastfeeding skills, breastfeeding support, formula or breast milk
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Before my son was born I figured breastfeeding would be a snap. Honestly, how hard could it be? One, attach baby. Two, baby nurses. The end. Ha. When my son was a newborn he was a lazy eater. He’d get latched on, then just lay there, I guess waiting for breast milk to magically pour into his mouth. Considering I managed to get him latched on, you’d think the nurses or hospital staff could have helped me get him to actually nurse. But no. When the hospital staff saw my son wouldn’t eat, they jumped right to, “You’ll have to give him formula.” I begged for a lactation consultant, but the hospital had just one on duty, and, “She was busy.” When I refused formula they actually threatened me, “You’re not leaving the hospital until we know you’re giving him formula.” In the end I was lucky because when my midwife stopped by to check on me, she had a simple plan, “Place your pinky finger ever so slightly in the outer part of his inner ear.” This trick stimulated my son’s sucking reflex and we were golden. The hospital, by the way, still sent me packing with a huge bag of formula cans, which I discarded.

Unfortunately, a recent CNN article shows that not only was my experience typical, but actually far better than what many new moms experience when it comes to breastfeeding. The CNN piece paints a depressing picture, with numerous examples of how the medical community has been failing new mamas for years when it comes to helping them achieve breastfeeding success. More and more hospitals are banning formula, yet mothers are still left mostly to their own devices when it comes to learning how to breastfeed and how to deal with breastfeeding problems. That’s unacceptable. Keep reading to learn more and to be directed to some helpful resources.

lactation problems, breastfeeding problems, breast is best, breast milk, breastfeeding hospital, breastfeeding skills, breastfeeding support, formula or breast milk

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

The Bad News

The CNN article notes that when women have trouble breastfeeding, they’re often given a lactation consultant who says, “Just try harder,” in spite of plenty of research showing that many mothers have actual physical issues that make breastfeeding tough. On the flip side, moms may get a doctor who advises them to go the bottle and formula route — although it’s well documented that the health benefits of breast milk over formula are incredibly significant for both mothers and babies. With help and proper treatment, even mothers with physical problems have the chance to breastfeed successfully, but the medical community isn’t super interested in helping breastfeeding moms achieve this goal.

Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB who treats breastfeeding problems, tells CNN, “We just give women a pat on the head and tell them their kids will be fine if they don’t breastfeed. Can you imagine if we did that to men with erectile dysfunction (ED)?”

Stuebe further points out that most doctors are well versed in treating ED and insurance covers Viagra, but lactation dysfunction doesn’t even exist as a diagnosis let alone as something doctors can bill insurance for.

Worst of all, studies show that most mothers DO want to breastfeed, if they could only get the support they need to do so. In fact, the 2012 CDC Breastfeeding Report Card shows that a full 74.6% of all mothers in the U.S. try to breastfeed their baby, yet by the 3 month mark, only 36.0% of babies are being breastfed exclusively and the number drops to 16.3% for six month old babies. When half of all breastfeeding moms quit breastfeeding before the six month mark, that’s some major proof that we’re massively failing moms and babies in this country. As CNN wisely notes, ”Until doctors and nurses are properly trained to help, women will experience all of the pressure to breastfeed, with none of the support to figure out how.”

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2 Responses to “The Medical Community Is Failing Breastfeeding Moms – How To Find The Support You Need”

  1. jill says:

    Great article Jennifer – thanks for writing it. I think the biggest problem that new moms face today with breastfeeding is a general lack of support and lack of understanding from the culture around them. Back in the day (like100+ years ago), most girls grew up in large families, watching their mothers breastfeed their younger siblings, and then when they became mothers themselves, they had grandmothers, aunts and sisters to turn to for help and advice. These days, in the 21st century developed world, we all live far from our extended family, and most of us grew up without breastfeeding role models. Add to this the fact that most doctors (OBs & pediatricians both) know very little about breastfeeding, and you can see why so many women have problems. It is really important for medical professionals to bone up and become more educated, and also for women to read up, prepare themselves and seek support when there are difficulties – because there often are. Once you get past the initial hurdle of the first 3-4 months, breastfeeding usually gets pretty easy, but you need to get there first.

  2. Jennifer Chait says:

    The culture deal is a great point. As a kid, I remember watching my mom and all my mom’s friends breastfeed and in turn, me and my little girlfriends would pretend to do the same with our dolls. When I read your comment I realized this is something I rarely (if ever) see anymore.

    I also think peers can make a difference. Many of the most successful breastfeeders I’ve met seem to gather in a large group, hang out, then judge the other moms who aren’t breastfeeding (well enough, long enough, or how they think women should be nursing, like they’ll judge pumpers). It’s hard when you don’t get medical support and then on top of that your own peers act snotty to you. If other women could decide to quit judging and start helping, I think it would go a long way towards positive change.

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