This article, on breastfeeding as a public health issue as opposed to a mere lifestyle choice heralds what I hope will be a new era for breastfeeding in North America.
It is a top priority for me, when working with clients, to remember that their choices are not my choices and their births are not my births. What that means for me is that I always support each client 100%, regardless of whether her choices are the same as the ones I would make for myself or not. I don’t share my personal choices, unless I am explicitly asked and I work hard to provide balanced information on all options so that they can make truly informed decisions.
When it comes to breastfeeding though, I can’t work that way. Given the negative health implications of formula feeding and the vast benefits of breastfeeding, choosing not to breastfeed (unless there is a condition or ailment that prohibits or limits it) is simply not an ethical choice.
I recognize that there is a lot of stigma placed on moms who breastfeed in public and on moms who continue to breastfeed beyond six months and that that stigma is detrimental to efforts to continue with breastfeeding. I also recognize that many women are not given the tools and knowledge to breastfeed successfully early on or when they encounter difficulties and that many give up because they are frustrated or in pain and they don’t know that there is help out there that can alleviate or eliminate the problems that they are facing. To my way of thinking, women who abandon their breastfeeding plans because of stigma or social pressure, or because of obstacles that they encounter and that go un-addressed by their caregivers, loved ones and community are not choosing not to breastfeed, they are being forced to abandon breastfeeding. For these women, the onus is on all of us – birth professionals, healthcare workers, partners, parents, friends, co-workers, employers, siblings, community members – to encourage them, support them, legitimize their struggles, stand up for them and respect them, so that they can do what is best for them and for their babies, wherever and whenever they need to.
Breastmilk is not one of two options to be considered, it is the only suitable food for newborns. (For moms who can’t breastfeed because of medical issues that affect their breasts or the safety of their milk, or for male same-sex couples who adopt, there are ways to get donated breastmilk from moms who have surplus – check out Human Milk for Human Babies on facebook to find moms with milk to donate in your region, ask your caregivers about breastmilk banks – even if there isn’t one near you, the more people that ask, the more pressure there is on the system to create them, or go online and check out craigslist and other listing sites to find moms who have milk to donate). As the American Academy of Pediatrics is now officially recognizing, breastfeeding is not a lifestyle choice, it is a public health issue. That means that we, the public, need to make it a priority, we need to do everything we possibly can to make it easy and desireable for moms to breastfeed wherever, whenever and however their baby needs to eat or be soothed.