ProMoM Inc. - Promoting the awareness and acceptance of breastfeeding.

The 3 Minute Activist


This week's letter is in regards to Julia Glass' article, "The Truth About Breast-feeding: If Breast-feeding
is so Good for Babies, Why is it so Hard for Mothers?

To the Editor:

I was disappointed in Julia Glass' article, "The Truth About Breast-feeding: If Breast-feeding is so Good for Babies, Why is it so Hard for Mothers?" While I applaud her discussions of the obstacles faced by nursing mothers seeking help from ill-informed medical professionals and of the lack of support for breastfeeding within the workplace, I feel that Ms. Glass herself was not especially supportive of those mothers who continue to nurse despite numerous impediments. I believe that Ms. Glass fell into the trap so common among writers discussing breastfeeding: in an effort to present a "balanced" view and not offend those who cannot or choose not to nurse their children, she underrates the importance of breastfeeding to our children's health, to women's health, and to our nation's social and economic health.

As a nursing mother, I was extremely offended by Dr. Harris Burstin's characterization of breastfeeding women as "cows." Negative statements such as this, especially by a pediatrician, discourage women from breastfeeding as well as encourage mothers to wean prematurely. Perhaps Dr. Burstin is unaware that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that pediatricians "promote and support breastfeeding enthusiastically."

I was also very disappointed by the author's negative portrayal of La Leche League (LLL). As noted in the article, breastfeeding is most successful when the mother receives adequate information and support, and LLL is the international authority on breastfeeding. Discouraging women from seeking their assistance might make the difference between a happy breastfeeding couple and a baby being fed formula unnecessarily. It is very likely that the woman mentioned in the article who called LLL for advice on weaning was told to wean gradually. This is by far the most sensible approach to weaning for both mother and child, since it will minimize discomfort and the risk of breast infections for the former and emotional distress for the latter. But to say the LLL is "about never stopping" breastfeeding is unfair and untrue.

Similarly, mothers may be deterred from utilizing lactation consultants by Ms. Glass' characterization of them as unreasonably overzealous. It is the lactation consultant's responsibility to provide the support and assistance to facilitate the nursing relationship, just as it is the mother's responsibility to determine when enough is enough. Thus, I was pleased to see a sidebar advocating the use of lactation consultants despite Ms. Glass' negative statements in her article.

Perhaps most disturbing is that article leaves one with the distinct impression that the author never bothered to read the AAP's policy statement, "Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk." Had Ms. Glass done so, she would have seen the abundant research proving incontrovertibly that breastfeeding is not just "preferable" to formula feeding, but that formula feeding carries significant health risks. The AAP, in its policy statement, provides copious documentation that "human milk and [the] breastfeeding of infants provide advantages with regard to general health, growth, and development, while significantly decreasing risk for a large number of acute and chronic diseases." Furthermore, the AAP documents proven benefits to maternal health as well as the social and economic benefits of breastfeeding. In the latter case, a mother can save over $1200.00 in the cost of formula if she exclusively breastfeeds for one year. Then too, formula carries special risks for infants in low income families: its high cost leads some mothers to over-dilute formula.

Given these facts, I find the author's statement that breastfeeding "offers statistical advantages, not guarantees" disingenuous at best. The corollary to this statement is "most children do just fine on formula." Most children who aren't strapped into car safety seats will not die or be injured in automobile accidents, but we legislate the use of such seats because of the unacceptable statistical risk. Most infants don't die when we put them to sleep on their stomachs, yet pediatricians now recommend against this practice because of the increased statistical risk of SIDS. Nonetheless, as a society, we feel that the advantages of breastfeeding and the risks associated with formula feeding should not be disseminated because mothers who cannot or chose not to breastfeed might feel guilty or like failures. Isn't getting our children off to the optimum start worth risking a little maternal guilt?

Only 3% to 5% of all women are physically incapable of breastfeeding. Despite this, less than 60% of mothers are breastfeeding at the time of hospital discharge, and only about 20% are still breastfeeding their babies at 6 months. Clearly, we must increase the numbers of mothers who breastfeed if we have any concern for the health of our children. By discounting the benefits of breastfeeding and diminishing those individuals who support nursing enthusiastically, we do nothing to further this goal.