Sustaining breastfeeding in the US: a control issue?
We still aren’t making the mark.
The overall percentage of moms initiating breastfeeding continues to increase, and in fact appears very close to reaching the Healthy People 2010 target of 75%. However, the rates of “any” sustained breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months (41.7% and 21% respectively) are disappointing, as are persistent racial and geographic disparities.
What will it take to allow breastfeeding to become normative in our society?
Many things, including
- educating future parents – for example, the state of New York has a K-12 breastfeeding curriculum. And parents can educate kids about advertising tactics in general (e.g., the new chocolate formula marketed for toddlers. My own kids refer to formula as “yucky milk” , but this is a whole new ball game.)
- empowering women who do choose to breastfeed – help them succeed, and they will help others, a la bestforbabes.org.
- workplace supports – the elusive paid family leave. And equal pay for moms’ equal work (April 20 is Equal Pay Day – see Momsrising.org.) And short of that, onsite childcare. And short of that, provisions for workplace pumping.
This piece in today’s Huffington Post came up as I was writing this draft between clinical obligations. Just read it! – especially the interview with Dr. Paige Hall Smith, Director of the University of North Carolina Greensboro’s Center for Women’s Health and Wellness and Founder/Co-Director of the annual Breastfeeding & Feminism Symposia (a partnership between UNC Greensboro and UNC Chapel Hill [home of ABM’s own Drs. Miriam Labbok and Alison Stuebe].)
As Dr Smith says,
The problem isn’t breastfeeding. This has to do with increasing the status of women. If we do that, we will increase the rates of breastfeeding.”
“We need to give women control…That’s the bottom line. We must create structures in society that give women more control over their bodies. Women who have control over their lives, body, time and space [and I’m talking about private, public and work space] are more likely to breastfeed than those who don’t have that same kind of control.”
That’s a tall order.
Kimberly Lee, MD, MS, IBCLC, is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Neonatology) at the Medical University of South Carolina.