Disconnect Between Breastfeeding Wishes and Reality
It’s not a common story. New mothers almost always wish to breastfeed their newborns. However, at the first signs of difficulty, it is often ‘easier,’ i.e. more convenient for the hospital staff, to switch to formula early on. Hospital neonatal wards contribute to this switching, if, for instance, the infant loses some body weight in the first three days. Early formula delivered from a bottle can cause ‘nipple confusion’ and further exacerbate the infant’s problems in latching on.
When infants go home their mothers can often have no alternative but to pump and bottle feed from then on, or face an uphill struggle to ‘unconfuse’ and revert to breastfeeding as is the mother’s wish. New figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that these types of cases are all too common. In fact, only around 1 in 3 new mothers actually achieve their breastfeeding goals. From a population of 1500 new mothers, 85% of them planned or wished to breastfeed only for a minimum of three months.
The survey followed them monthly through the first year and found that only 32% managed to achieve this aim. Breastfeeding exclusively is the best possible start in life for children and the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization strongly recommend that women breastfeed for six months, if at all possible. It would seem that American women are falling well short of this global goal.
There are many complex social and physiological causes underlying the disconnect between what women say they want to do and what they actually do. One of these causes is undoubtedly a less than the wholeheartedly supportive natal unit in the hospital. 15% of the mothers surveyed said that their newborns had already been given some formula supplements with their own breast milk while in hospital. This is very often associated with nipple confusion and subsequent breastfeeding problems. Mothers who start breastfeeding from hour 1 are more likely to achieve their feeding goals.
The same is true for second time mothers and for mothers whose babies are not given formula too early. There is also an element of lifestyle factors in all of this. Since overweight, especially obese mothers, mothers who smoke and mother who had a longer than envisioned exclusive feeding time, all were much less likely to succeed in getting to their breastfeeding goals.
The researchers from the CDC concluded that there needs to be a radical overhaul of hospital practice. Hospitals need to implement many more baby on breast milk friendly practices such as exclusively using breast milk in contrast to formula. Clearly, this study was not funded by Big Pharma.
[box type="note"]The aim of this radical overhaul of hospital practice is to help new mothers in every way possible to attain their breastfeeding goals. This must mean making breast milk the default position and encouraging, whenever problems occur, mothers to persist in the face of adversity. It will benefit them and their children in terms of lifelong health.[/box]