Barriers to Breastfeeding
Overcoming the Cultural Obstacles to Breastfeeding
The U.S. government has a dream: By 2010, 75 percent of all new mothers will initiate breastfeeding. And while the numbers are improving, cultural and other influences conspire to keep us from reaching that goal. Here are tips to help you overcome the hurdles.
1. Get an early education. Experts advise that pregnant women learn about breastfeeding before the baby is born, rather than afterward, when the situation is more urgent. "At La Leche, we have monthly meetings for nursing mothers and babies, but we strongly recommend that women attend support groups while they're pregnant," says Katy Lebbing, an international board-certified lactation consultant and manager of the Center for Breastfeeding Information at La Leche League International in Schaumberg, Ill. Contact your hospital or local La Leche office for their support-group schedule (visit llli.org) to find the office nearest you); and visit the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative website at babyfriendlyusa.org, which lists the hospitals that go the extra mile in helping new moms breastfeed successfully.
Also be sure to enroll in a breastfeeding class--not only will it teach you about the unbelievable benefits of mother's milk, but it will also give you solid, proven tips to help you succeed. Contact La Leche League or your nearest hospital to find a class near you.
2. Get spousal support. While Lebbing says most men are supportive of their wives' decision to breastfeed, some are not. At La Leche meetings, women often discuss their spouses' resistance to breastfeeding, and they learn what has worked for other new moms. Usually, says Lebbing, it's the obvious "little gems" that can convince a reluctant husband: Savings of a few hundred dollars per month (formula and bottles add up!); fewer doctor and hospital visits for breastfed babies (more savings!); and a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer for mom. "In addition to the cost savings of breastfeeding over formula, we tell them that their children will be stronger, better athletes," Lebbing says. "That usually convinces them."
Lebbing also encourages women to share information about breastfeeding with their spouses. "Not a lot of men read about breastfeeding," she says. "We tell women to share the info they read with their husbands, and that's usually pretty effective."
3. Don't be too concerned about others. Breastfeeding is a health issue--not a cultural one. You and your baby both benefit physically and emotionally from nursing, so why should you have any qualms about breastfeeding in the mall, at a park or in the supermarket? Breastfeeding is a healthy choice, and if other people are embarrassed or uncomfortable by your needing to feed your baby, don't apologize. "Don't ask, 'Do you mind if I nurse?'" Lebbing advises. "We don't apologize for wearing a bike helmet or not smoking, do we?"
What you can do is explain that your baby needs to eat, and then be discreet as you breastfeed (see #4). Also accept that some people are going to be embarrassed or have reservations no matter what you say or do.