Two out of three moms ‘fear stares if they breastfeed’

This from the U.K.’s The Independent, but bound to be true in the U.S. too:

Despite decades of initiatives to persuade mothers that “breast is best”, most still prefer using infant formula milk because they believe society at large is anti-breastfeeding, a poll for Mother & Baby magazine has found. The survey comes on the eve of World Breastfeeding Week as the Government debates whether to introduce legislation protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed.

Nearly two in three mothers believe the UK is “not breastfeeding-friendly”, prompting concerns from nursing mums that they would struggle to breastfeed while out and about. Miranda Levy, Mother & Baby’s editor, said: “Every mum we questioned understood the health benefits of breastfeeding, but a huge percentage were put off even trying because of the fear of people staring.”

She added that many of the 1,200 readers surveyed cited stressful breastfeeding experiences, with one commenting that she was even asked to be more discreet at a “mums and tots” group because the lady running the group had her husband there.

Although the World Health Organisation recommends mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies until they are six months old, barely a third of British babies are still exclusively breastfed at one week and just one-fifth still are by six weeks. By the time babies are four months old, that figure has plunged to 7 per cent, giving Britain one of the worst breastfeeding records in the developed world.

Following the article are a number of comments admonishing moms to not care what other people think, and to whip out their boobs in public, as well as some rants for or against covering up when nursing in public.  

First of all, admonishing moms to get over their shyness is counterproductive.   Sure, we’d like to see moms be empowered to nurse in public, but beating them over the head with it is not going to help any more than beating them over the head with the benefits of breastfeeding is going to help when they are being handed a bag of free formula on their way out of the hospital.  What we really need is to change the public perception of breastfeeding.  Let’s start by giving mom accurate, unbiased, evidence-base information and then respecting her decision on how to feed her baby, whether that is formula-feeding, breast-feeding, or a combination of both–and let’s promote donated, screened, pasteurized human milk as the next best choice to mother’s own milk.   Next we need to change the public perception using glamorous, mainstream images, celebrities, and an ad campaign to coach, cheer on and celebrate moms who decide to breastfeed, just as Nike did for fitness and Demi Moore and Vanity Fair did for maternity.  Moms need to be inspired, but so does the general public, to view with awe and admiration the act of breastfeeding.  Moms face a myriad of “booby traps”–the cultural and institutional barriers to breastfeeding that are preventing them from succeeding, and certainly don’t need more pressure, judgment or to be made to feel guilty.   Finally, we need to shine the spotlight on those “booby traps” and remove them through a well-coordinated strategic approach.    When we remove the barriers, we’ll find that more moms will make the decision to breastfeed and be able to carry it out. 

Second, let me take a minute to address the covering up in public issue.   This is hotly debated in the breastfeeding movement, with many breastfeeding advocates insisting that women should not be forced to cover up, and that it is only when our culture sees more moms breastfeeding openly that it will become socially acceptable.   Well, in my opinion, it’s a bit of a which-comes-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg syndrome.   As long as moms are squeamish about nursing in public, no amount of cajoling will get them to do it.   And while we at Best for Babes absolutely agree that no woman should be told she HAS TO cover up, we also think that if it makes some women more comfortable, then let’s encourage and cheer them on.   I was one such woman who didn’t feel comfortable nursing in public, and although I made it an adventure to find hidden spots to nurse it was always a bit daunting.   So I implore the breastfeeding advocates who are against cover-ups categorically to consider that they can be a useful stepping stone.   More nursing in public whether covered or not is a GREAT thing, and if a mom can be made to feel more secure or even stylish by using a lovely product in the form of a poncho, bib, blanket or even wide-brimmed hat then let’s let her be.   After all, some of us are a bit more motivated to go to the gym by the chance to wear cute work-out gear, or feel more confident going on an interview when sporting a snazzy suit, so let’s not deprive new mothers of the same props that may make the difference in how long they carry on.

By the way, upon checking out Mother and Baby magazine online, I was very happy to see that they advertise right on the home page a gift bag for moms that carries no formula samples and is breastfeeding-friendly  and code-compliant by adhering to the  World Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing Breastmilk Substitutes.  Kudos to Mother and Baby!

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10 Comments | Last revised on 07/06/2009

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