The article published today by the British Medical Journal addresses important issues concerning the challenges many parents face in the early days of breastfeeding. Scientific evidence shows that exclusive breastfeeding for six months has many advantages for both a baby and mother. Breastmilk gives babies all the nutrients they need for at least the first six months of life. It is a living substance and adapts to fit the needs of each baby and it complements and boosts the immune system for as long as it is offered. If a baby has solids before he can digest them properly, at around six months, it can cause tummy problems and the nutrients will not be fully utilised. First foods are often low in iron and so are simply replacing the perfect food for babies with ones with fewer nutrients.
However, we live in a society in which breastfeeding is often perceived as difficult and although women “try” to breastfeed and think breast is best, formula is often seen as the norm. The report highlights the fact that some women do not get accurate breastfeeding information or enough support in the early days, and that when difficulties arise giving a bottle is often seen as the solution. LLL agrees that many women are often not prepared for the reality of the early days of breastfeeding and mothering. Many new mothers have never seen anyone breastfeed and are worried about how breastfeeding will fit into their lives. Women who attend groups run by breastfeeding support organisations get the chance to see other women breastfeed and talk about what life with a new baby is like, and often feel better prepared when difficulties arise.
The decision to breastfeed needs to be made by parents based on good information and once that decision is made, and for exclusive breastfeeding for six months to become the norm, women need good support afterwards. Six months can seem a very long time to a new mother and setting smaller goals along the way can be helpful. Sadly, many women decide to stop breastfeeding because of early difficulties, before they experience the benefits of breastfeeding and the pleasure it can be to exclusively nurse a child. For breastfeeding to become the norm in our society we need to have information on breastfeeding presented in schools as the normal way to feed a baby, accurate information about the realities of parenting and support and acceptance of breastfeeding in public spaces. In an ideal society women would not feel pressurised to breastfeed but would make a positive decision to do so, and feel supported in their choice. Although that may not yet be a reality for all women it is important to aim for it to become so.
Written by Anna Burbidge, on behalf of La Leche League GB March 14 2012