How to Advocate for Breastfeeding Moms

by Virginia B. Hargrove

Breastfeeding MomsWhen you think of breastfeeding support, the first topics that spring to mind might be supply issues, sore nipples or fixing a bad latch.

Women do face those difficulties, but other factors play an equally or more important role in a mother's decision to begin or continue breastfeeding.

These other challenges might include work commitments, family support, medical professionals' knowledge and society's attitudes and perceptions surrounding breastfeeding.

How can we be stronger advocates and help break down societal barriers? How do we create a society where all families and babies can reap the rewards from the health and economic benefits of breastfeeding?

Who Really Supports Breastfeeding Moms?

Ideally, support begins before pregnancy and continues through to weaning. For the advocacy to be effective and successful, it has to extend not only to the home, but the workplace society as well.

The Family Physician Can Help Advocate

Most women decide to nurse their babies or not early in their pregnancies. Regular education at prenatal visits positively affects breastfeeding outcomes better than getting breastfeeding support after the baby arrives or via telephone support.

What can you do? Did your doctor or midwife bring up the topic early in pregnancy with a statement like, "Have you thought of how you'll feed your baby?" If not, you have an opportunity to educate!

Print up information about the potential risks of formula feeding and how breastfeeding benefits moms (and babies). Share it with your healthcare provider and encourage ongoing education for moms-to-be.

Baby-Friendly Hospitals Affect Breastfeeding

Hospital routines can significantly affect breastfeeding either way. If you room with your baby, have help getting started nursing soon after birth and have referrals to support after you're home, breastfeeding success rates soar. If not, moms can be overwhelmed and not consider breastfeeding.

The World Health Organization, in conjunction with the United Nations Children's Fund, has published a hospital breastfeeding policy called the "Baby Friendly Initiative." Participating hospitals implement twelve lactation-friendly steps.

What can you do? If you'll be giving birth at a hospital, you can seek out a baby-friendly one. You can encourage your local hospital to adopt baby-friendly initiatives.

Family Support Matters

A mom-to-be can know that breast milk offers the best nutrition for her baby. She can be well-versed in the health benefits for herself.

Breastfeeding isn't a behavior that most people grow up seeing as part of raising babies. If your partner and family oppose breastfeeding, you could face a challenge. Do what is going to be best for you and the baby.

What can you do? Expand your circle of friends to include those who support breastfeeding. Tell and show your family the benefits of nursing your baby. Don't stop with the health advantages. Share how much money you can save and how convenient breastfeeding can be. Push for community programs that educate fathers and grandparents about breastfeeding.

Support Breastfeeding in the Workplace

If you worked outside the home pre- and post-pregnancy, going back to work can be a bittersweet and daunting task. You may not have sufficient support for breastfeeding in your workplace. If you don't, it's important to make sure your needs are met.

Many employers offer a sufficient break time and a comfortable, private place to pump your breast milk. Some offer "baby at work" programs, where you can bring your nursing babe with you. Unfortunately, some moms find themselves trying to pump milk in a closet or toilet stall without frequent enough breaks to maintain milk supply.

What can you do? You can seek out and help educate employers within your area. You can provide data that includes the direct costs for moms who breastfeed versus those who formula feed. You can also work with your employer during your pregnancy and have everything set to go once you return to work.

Formula Ads Adversely Affect Breastfeeding

Everywhere you look, formula is pushed on new moms (but not on!). You see it online shopping for maternity clothes. The ads entice moms to enter a drawing to win a year's worth of formula. When you give birth, you'll receive a sponsored bag full of formula samples and coupons. Cruise the web for breastfeeding advice and you'll find formula company ads that pretend to be all about breastfeeding.

What can you do? If you can, give birth in a baby-friendly hospital. Push nationally for compliance with the WHO International Code of Marketing Breast Milk Substitutes. Support businesses and companies that uphold WHO compliance (like!).

Encouraging Your Community to Support Breastfeeding

Positive peer pressure and breastfeeding role models promote breastfeeding at a personal and societal level. When you see another mom nursing her baby, your comfort level goes up. If the predominant public image that appears in magazines, on TV and in movies highlights breastfeeding, then it becomes the norm and those who chose to nurse face less discrimination.

What can you do? You can breastfeed in public if you're a nursing mom. You can smile at and encourage other moms when they're breastfeeding. You can support breastfeeding dolls, clothing and books.

What are other issues facing breastfeeding mothers? What do you think individuals can do about it? We'd love to hear your ideas!