Save the Children released a report this past Sunday highlighting the barriers women face in their decision to breastfeed. Rather than supporting a moms desire to breastfeed, moms in developing countries instead experience roadblocks. Did you know that breastfeeding is critical to preventing malnutrition and saving children’s lives in the developing world? Breastfeeding immediately after birth could help save 830,000 newborn babies from dying a year, and exclusive breastfeeding for six months could save even more babies and children. To me it is staggering that Save the Children’s report has identified legislative barriers, aggressive marketing tactics, and cultural myths that prevent those first bonding moments of breastfeeding between mother and child. As someone who has breastfed both of my children, I feel lucky, honored and above all blessed to have had the support and health to do so.
Save the Children identified the ‘Power Hour’, that initial breastfeeding moment when babies suckle the colostrum as a lifesaving consumption of a Superfood. The colostrum jump starts a baby’s immune system – and why if mom is healthy and able to, would you not want to provide this for your baby?
On the heels of President Obama’s State of the Union address pledge to help to save children around the world from preventable deaths, Save the Children’s new report investigates what is keeping more women from breastfeeding immediately after birth or continuing for six months.
– Save the Children, Superfood for Babies press release
Everyone’s breastfeeding experience is different. But we should all have the same access to information and assistance from skilled doctors and nurses. Vulnerable children need you to be their voice and tell the Secretary of State, John Kerry to demand renewal of the 1,000 Days Call to Action! You can do your part and sign the petition now. I’ve written before about my experiences breastfeeding both my 5 year old Mr P and 15 month old Little Miss. Both were 3.5 weeks early, so their were challenges in finding our breastfeeding groove. With my first born, I cried and cried over pumping and pumping only to get a few ounces, I had strangers massaging my breast, and lost a whole lotta sleep pumping systematically around the clock to help my milk come in – all in an effort to support the fact that I wanted to breastfeed. That was five years ago in New Zealand, where partnerships are formed in pregnancy with midwives. I had a fantastic midwife. She told me one simple thing that turned everything for me, “Your baby was early, your body is not as ready as it could be. If you want to breastfeed, you can. Just give yourself a break.” She reminded me that I had done the “hard” work, I was able to give my baby the much needed colostrum, the rest would come. With those words, I relaxed and my milk did come in fully in 3 day time. I ended up breastfeeding beyond the recommended 6 months. Never did I think I wold breastfeed for 13 months but I did. My wee dude thrived – til this day he still has never had an ear infection, and overall he has god health. Even my husband is quick to point out to people who poo poo breastfeeding that between my history of eczema and my husband’s history of asthma our kiddos needed all the help they can get! My experiences breastfeeding have made a believer out of my husband – he gets the importance of breastfeeding for setting your children up for a healthful life.
My experience was vastly different delivering my baby girl here in NYC in 2011, just a mere 4 months after arriving here from New Zealand. The body is a large muscle and it retained the “how-to” for breastfeeding (muscle memory) and my milk came in immediately, I was thrilled! My baby girl was happy healthy and most of all content. My mama instincts had kicked in with this my second baby, and I felt certain she was getting all the nutrition she need. Our doctor on the other hand that I’d only met the day after Isla was born, felt that she may have been better off on formula to gain weight faster. I felt a little bullied, and I started to question my instincts. Unfortunately, their were some serious consequences to not trusting my instincts. Since then, I have come across other mothers in the US who have felt pressured, unsure and uninformed with their decisions around child rearing. It is my wish that moms have the right to choose and are supported in their informed decisions.
The issue affects us in the US as well as in developing countries.
Community and Cultural Barriers to Breastfeeding
- Many cultures discard the colostrum. In India this often relates to religious belief, but also that it is thick, unclean and the removal helped the child suckle more easily. In Afghanistan, people believe it should be discarded because it’s been in the breast for 9-10 months. In Niger, tradition says that colostrum is dangerous for infants and should be thrown away.
- Belief that babies should drink something else before starting breastfeeding – including water, herbal tea, sugared water, animal milk, ghee. These substances actually reduce the appetite an thirst of the baby that are essential to suckle effectively. In India, there’s a belief it helps remove the meconium (dark first stool)
- Many women not empowered to make their own health decisions – in a Sierra Leone survey 47% reported this was the case.
- Only 6.7% of U.S. births occur in designated 154 “Baby-Friendly” facilities that meet international recommendations for supporting breastfeeding, and the U.S. has the weakest levels of maternity legislation in the industrialized world.
Actress Isla Fisher travels with Save the Children to Brazil to see how breastfeeding support is saving lives.
disclosure: I am a part of the Global Team of 200 and Social Good Moms‘ 24-Hour Blogathon spreading the word about Save the Children’s new breastfeeding report, Superfood for Babies. Sign the petition urging Secretary Kerry to help mothers around the world get more support around breastfeeding and lifesaving nutrition for their babies.