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Modern Parenthood

Breastfeeding goals: Over half of new moms miss the mark

Breastfeeding goals are largely unmet in the US where 85 percent of new moms intend to breastfeed for at least three months; more than half of all new moms miss that mark.

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That Save the Children report on global motherhood, for instance, found that only 2 percent of American hospitals are “baby friendly.”  The “Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative” was launched in 1991 by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and designates a hospital as “baby friendly” if it does not accept free or low-cost breast milk substitute and has implemented a number of breastfeeding support measures, such as having lactation consultants on staff and encouraging moms to nurse their babies soon after giving birth.

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is a longtime Monitor correspondent. She lives in Andover, Mass. with her husband, her two young daughters, a South African Labrador retriever and an imperialist cat..

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In a lot of ways, these seem that they’d be pretty basic steps. According to the all the information about breastfeeding out there, it’s clear that nursing soon after birth – preferably with the help of someone who knows how the whole thing works (not as obvious as you might think, I tell you) – is hugely important to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship. So is avoiding formula. 

But that’s not the way it often works in maternity wards.  According to the advocacy group Public Citizen, nearly two-thirds of US hospitals still give out free formula samples to new moms. That goes along with stories that I’ve heard from friends (totally scientific, I assure you) who have come home from giving birth in a hospital with “goodie bags” packed with formula and bottles.  I remember seeing formula pamphlets in a doctor’s office that compared the nutritional component of “milk” unfavorably with the advertised products. (The advertisement noted in tiny print on the back that it was talking about cow’s milk, not breast milk.) 

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The formula onslaught is even worse outside of the hospital, with Enfamil samples showing up on your doorstep after you buy a carseat, and formula coupons printing out at the drug store every time you buy a nursing-related item.

A lot of people in the new mom world talk about the need for breastfeeding mothers to “have support.”  And sure. A supportive partner, a flexible employer – these are important for nursing success. But a lot of women might simply not have these. 

Which brings me to another statistic in the Save the Children report, taken from a University of Michigan study. 

We know that a lot of moms who plan to breastfeed don’t meet their goals. But among low income moms the situation is even worse.  Almost none of them – only 2 percent – nurse according to plan. 

Those are the moms who are least likely to have “support” at home, and more likely to be influenced by the policies at a hospital.

And for this, say breastfeeding proponents, there is no excuse.


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