August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and the first seven days (August 1-7) kick it off with World Breastfeeding Week. Organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) focus this month on promoting the many benefits of breastfeeding. Pregnancy support clinics, maternal health professionals, and women’s health advocates around the world contribute by offering breastfeeding guidance for parents.
If you care or have concerns about breastfeeding, read on.
Learn more on the Fempower Health Podcast episode: Jada Shapiro from Boober on Breastfeeding
World Breastfeeding Week 2022 for Community Support and Education
This year’s theme for 2022 Breastfeeding Week is focused on sustainable breastfeeding resources in healthcare and public communities, as well as improving education for all who wish to breastfeed.
There have been plenty of inconsistencies in breastfeeding expectations and advice throughout history. For example, in ancient Greece, breast milk was revered and believed to hold spiritual significance. In the 18th century, women mixed flour into broth or animal milk and used it as a breast milk substitute. By the 20th century, only about 42% of new moms in the U.S. were breastfeeding their babies until medical researchers realized the physical and developmental importance of breast milk. In the 1960s, natural breast milk became the ideal form of nutrition for babies in their first six months of life.
Why all the confusion and controversy around a basic mammalian function? There are many social, economic, and cultural reasons why breastfeeding raises strong opinions.
Since breastfeeding affects so many women, parents, and communities differently, let’s look at some of the common challenges of breastfeeding and what we can do to empower parents.
Common Breastfeeding Difficulties
Breastfeeding is a natural and healthy method of giving babies the nutrition they need. This doesn’t mean that all mothers can breastfeed— or that they have to nurse directly. Even though it’s the most beneficial option for the baby, there are pros and cons of breastfeeding that can dictate a woman’s decision or ability to nurse.
Lack of Education About Nursing
If someone is uninformed or doesn’t know where to go for help, breastfeeding can be challenging. Some new parents never learned:
Basic guidance on how to nurse safely
How to effectively manage milk production, from first colostrum to full-flow milk
Physical expectations and discomforts of nursing
Where to ask questions about breastfeeding concerns
What other options are available (and how to not feel guilty about using baby formula when necessary)
When to seek help for lack of milk or insufficient milk production
Breastfeeding Awareness Month exists so fewer women feel stuck with these issues.
Unsupportive Hospital Care
After delivery, some babies and mothers latch by instinct. But many mothers have to learn, which requires practice and often a little guidance.
Not all hospital care is sufficient to help new moms learn to breastfeed. Each woman is different, from postpartum knowledge to milk production to even the intensity of labor. And all babies are different: some latch easily; others struggle to orient themselves to mother’s milk.
All these factors contribute to breastfeeding challenges, and unless a medical provider or midwife has the resources to help a new mom, she might be left unsupported to figure it out on her own.
Breastfeeding can be uncomfortable at times. But when it hurts, it’s normal for a mother to get overwhelmed or discouraged. Different breastfeeding positions can help, as well as craniosacral therapy if necessary. This is why proper education is so important!
This isn’t as common, but sometimes the placenta doesn’t get fully released from the womb and it delays hormonal shifts that cause a mother’s milk production.
Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT)
Although a limited flow of milk can often be resolved with nursing guidance, a small number of women have something called insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) disorder. This means the breast tissue didn’t develop adequately during the woman’s early life development, and therefore the breastfeeding glands won’t produce enough milk for the baby. This is nothing to be ashamed of. If you notice you can’t produce enough milk, talk to your doctor or doula.
Some medications can interfere with lactation, especially ones that cause a change in hormonal balances. Seek advice from a healthcare professional and always take medication as instructed.
Blood Loss During Labor
If a woman loses too much blood during labor, her body may stop milk production to put energy toward recovery and survival.
Cesarean procedures or “belly births” don’t kickstart the postpartum hormones that result from vaginal labor, so it can take extra effort to get the flow of milk going. Today, there’s more understanding of how to help moms breastfeeding after a C-section, and careful instruction is crucial.
Parents don’t get to see their babies very often in NICU. On top of added stress that comes with a newborn in the NICU, a lack of routine nursing can slow or stop milk production.
Some Women Don’t Want to Breastfeed
For reasons other people may not agree with or understand, some mothers decide not to nurse. As long as the parent has the correct information, support, and access to sufficiently feed her baby, it’s not anyone’s job to try to change her mind.
Breastfeeding Support for All
The purpose of Breastfeeding Awareness is to make parents more informed and able to breastfeed for as long as they want. It’s also to help mothers find nutritional support for their baby during critical early development. Even more, it’s to help the world understand the challenges, solutions, and importance of breastfeeding.
Fortunately, today there are a lot of resources for breastfeeding parents. From an online breastfeeding class to milk donors to cross nursing, the taboo conversations and practices about breastfeeding are becoming normalized in ways that work for every breastfeeding parent.
Lactation consultants certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) can help parents through their breastfeeding challenges to provide milk in ways that work for them and their babies.
Similarly, organizations like Boober empower mothers with the home care, breastfeeding guidance, and postpartum support that new moms need but often lack from basic hospital care.
Celebration Weeks for Breastfeeding Awareness Month 2022
For the rest of August in the U.S., National Breastfeeding Month will focus on:
Week 1: World Breastfeeding Week
Week 2: Indigenous Milk Medicine Week
Week 3: Asian American & Pacific Islander Breastfeeding Week
Week 4: Black Breastfeeding Week
How will you be spreading awareness for Breastfeeding Awareness Month? Share this with a friend or family member who may find it useful, and explore more resources from Fempower Health.
Listen to more Fempower Health episodes about Pregnancy, Postpartum, and Motherhood here.