Barriers to Breastfeeding
Without question, breastfeeding rates are higher among educated, affluent women. And even they face cultural and lifestyle obstacles. What's getting in your way?
Family values?! Why were people offended by the government-sponsored public-service ad shown at left? Why do some men see themselves as competing with their own baby for their wife's breasts? Why is nursing in public such a big deal? The answer to these questions lies in one simple word: sex.
The undeniable purpose of a breast is to nurture our young. Yet in America, the breast is largely seen as a sex object. "There is a tremendous values conflict in the U.S.," says Wanda K. Jones, Ph.D., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health (Women's Health) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "The breast has been taken out of its role."
When Babytalk magazine recently featured a cover photo of a baby nursing at his mother's breast, the editors received thousands of letters from readers, some of them accusing the magazine of "flashing" or being "gross." The government's public-service ad generated similar responses, muddling its very important message. "The ice cream with cherries was seen as too close to sexualization by some people," explains Jones, whose Health and Human Services office funded the ad campaign.
The good news is that we are becoming more of a breastfeeding culture (see "AmericaTakes Back the Breast,"below). But to keep moving in the right direction, we must once again begin to understand what breasts are really for. "Many people in our culture do see the breast primarily as a sexual object," says Katy Lebbing, manager of the Center for Breastfeeding Information at La Leche League. "And unless they've been educated, they'll keep seeing it that way."
So while various and complicated factors influence a woman's decision to breastfeed, the one thing you can do--regardless of your skin color, how much money you make, where you live or whether you went to college--is to educate yourself about the incredible benefits of mother's milk. See "Knowledge Is Power," above, to help you get started.