World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, is organized by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action and supported by organizations such as UNICEF and the WHO. The overarching goal is to provide advocacy for breastfeeding policy, education about the importance and benefits of breastfeeding, and encouragement for women who choose to breastfeed.
This year World Breastfeeding Week focuses on “working together for the common good.” It’s a nod to the fact that while the decision to breastfeed is a personal one, the ability to do so successfully involves many other factors. Unfortunately, many women committed to exclusive breastfeeding have been thwarted by other societal influences.
Breastfeeding is Not Simply an Individual Choice
Most women have heard ad nauseam that “breast is best.” They probably know that it’s healthy for their baby. They understand there are postpartum health benefits for them. They realize it will save them money. They get that it reduces waste and is environmentally friendly. But thousands of women end up formula feeding. Why is that?
It’s because they don’t have adequate support to bolster their choice. Some live in areas that do not provide protections which allow them to breastfeed in public legally. Insurance may not pay for a visit with a lactation consultant to help them overcome common---but resolvable---challenges in breastfeeding. An employer may not give them adequate breaks or an appropriate private space to pump. Their partner or family members may not even be effectively supportive due to a lackadaisical “I was formula fed, and I turned out fine” attitude of a previous generation.
Image copyright Jenny Silverstone
The decision to breastfeed is easy to make, but exceptionally hard to maintain without adequate support. Especially during the feeding-intensive newborn days or the postpartum transition back to work. Because of this, it’s more critical than ever to advocate for policies that protect a new mother’s right to breastfeed. She needs support in her decision for as long as she wants to nourish her child.
That is the primary goal of World Breastfeeding Week and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action.
Personal Support for Breastfeeding
However, legislation alone won’t guarantee individual success. A woman needs personal support, especially if she’s experiencing difficulty breastfeeding. Thankfully, lactation consultants have become mainstream to help women who have nursing challenges. Unfortunately, not all women have access to them.
If you are struggling with breastfeeding, cannot afford to pay for a visit with a lactation consultant, and need help, here’s how to get it.
1. Check with your insurance. If you live in the United States and have health insurance, there is a good chance you can visit with a lactation consultant free of charge. Under the Affordable Care Act, all insurance plans must provide breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment at no cost to you. That means you should not be charged a co-pay, or pay a deductible. While a few insurance plans are not subject to the ACA, the vast majority are. So if you have any insurance, check there first.
2. Look into WIC. WIC (which stands for Women, Infants, and Children) is a government-sponsored program which provides nutritional support and education to low-income women and their children up to age five. This program will not only help you access breastfeeding support but can also provide you with nutritional supplements and food to ensure you and your children stay healthy. And don’t assume that you don’t meet the income limits---check them out to see if you qualify.
3. Contact La Leche League. La Leche League provides information, advocacy, and facilitates groups to support a woman’s choice to breastfeed. Their website has lots of information and publications, and local groups can also offer in-person support.
4. Ask your local hospital. Many hospitals have free postpartum groups to provide support to women who have birthed there. They are a wealth of information about all things baby---including breastfeeding. If your particular hospital doesn’t have them, call around to other hospitals in your area. Chances are, someone offers a group that can help connect you with other moms and will give you support and advice.
World Breastfeeding Week gives us the opportunity to highlight concerns that plague new mothers year-round. Breastfeeding is not just a personal choice but rather a complex social issue. Spend some time this week advocating for breastfeeding-positive legislation in your area. And if you know a nursing mom personally, tell her you’re proud of her. She needs all the encouragement she can get.
Were you aware of World Breastfeeding Week? What kind of support do you think new mothers need to breastfeed successfully?