If Breast is Best, Why So Many Obstacles?

What could be more natural and normal than breastfeeding an infant? Natural it may be, but it is hardly the norm. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that globally less than 40 percent of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed.

A recently-released study indicates that if mothers would breastfeed their infants for the first six months of life, it would save about 1,000 lives and billions of dollars annually.

We hardly needed another study to tell us what should be common sense. Health organizations the world over agree that breastfeeding is the most perfect source of nutrition for infants. It is packed with proteins and nutrients; easy to digest; and contains antibodies that protect babies from bacterial and viral infections and reduces the risk of many illnesses, including meningitis, diarrhea and ear infections, to name a few.

Some research also indicates that women who breastfeed benefit as well. Breastfeeding helps the uterus to contract and bleeding to cease more quickly after delivery. It can also lower the rates of some breast and ovarian cancers. The mother-child bonding can also be emotionally beneficial.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that it is very rare that any disease or condition of the mother’s will outweigh the benefits of breastfeeding. You can view a list of those conditions here.

A 2009 report from the CDC showed that only 73.9 percent of women in the United States even began breastfeeding, and only 33.1 percent were still exclusively breastfeeding at three months, and 13.6 percent at six months.

There are many reasons why women in the United States are breastfeeding is such low numbers. Among the obstacles:

  • Separation of mother and baby in maternity wards
  • Lack of support within the family; lack of guidance by mothers and grandmothers
  • Lack of maternity leave and support in the workplace
  • Lack of acceptance of breastfeeding when in public situations

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) maintains an up-to-date listing of breastfeeding laws by state that can be viewed here. The recently passed Patient and Affordable Health Care Act includes a provision to help some breastfeeding mothers in the workplace. From the NCSL website:

President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, H.R. 3590, on March 23rd and the Reconciliation Act of 2010, H.R. 4872, on March 30, 2010. Among many provisions, the law amends the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (29 U.S.Code 207) to require an employer to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk. The employer is not required to compensate an employee receiving reasonable break time for any work time spent for such purpose. The employer must also provide a place, other than a bathroom, for the employee to express breast milk. If these requirements impose undue hardship, an employer that employs less than 50 employees is not subject to these requirements. Furthermore, these requirements shall not preempt a state law that provides greater protections to employees.

Social stigma has a devastating effect on the process. Most women who breastfeed are simply trying to feed their babies, yet they find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to breastfeed in public bathrooms, hiding in corners, draping blankets over the baby’s head, or pumping in to a bottle. Sometimes they are made to feel unwelcome or asked to leave the premises.

The general message woman get? Breastfeeding is unacceptable, should be done only for a brief period of time, and completely hidden from view. Anyone who has ever breastfed can tell you that under those circumstances, exclusive breastfeeding is very difficult, forcing many good-intentioned mothers to give up.

Not that breasts aren’t bountiful in public life as objects of sexuality, especially in advertising. The social condemnation seems to stem from the perfectly normal and nurturing act of breastfeeding. Isn’t it about time we all get a grip?

Breastfeeding is healthy for mothers and babies and, practically speaking, saves a lot of money. Numerous studies have pounded the message home. Breast is best. Women who can and want to breastfeed deserve to be met with support from the medical community, their families, and from society as a whole. It’s just common sense.


Breastfeeding Resources

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Just to clarify for the few commenters who spoke to the issue of women who don’t want to breastfeed — I wrote, “Women who can and want to breastfeed deserve to be met with support.” It is most certainly a woman’s personal choice, and it doesn’t always work out.

Thanks for all the insightful comments!

Photo: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Brett Cloud
Brett Cloud3 years ago

I wish *I* had been breast fed!

PhilandAmy M.
PhilandAmy M.7 years ago

I'm a mom of soon-to-be six and have been lucky enough to have great experiences breastfeeding. However, when I designed and began to sell a nursing tank based on my own desire to be covered around my middle while still being able to wear any shirt in my closet (called Modest Middles www.modestmiddles.com), I was shocked to find so many moms who had stopped nursing very early or maybe didn't even continue after they left the hospital because they didn't have strong support for breastfeeding. Science shows us that breast is best and I love the title of this blog entry because it acknowledges that, but explains many of the obstacles that real moms face. I shared this article with my facebook and twitter and blog followers and hope others will do the same. I have found that giving a new mom the information she needs to know how important breastfeeding is as well as the moral support of another mom is key to helping her work through the ins and outs of breastfeeding. Amy M

Jennifer F.
Jenny F9 years ago

My daughter just turned one and I am still breastfeeding her. I have met many of the obstacles described (my dad, of all people, gave me a hard time about feeding her in a restaurant, fully covered with a nursing wrap. He thought I should go to the bathroom). I personally am not comfortable with not being covered up in public, so the nursing wrap has been a big help.

I've been fortunate enough to be a stay at home mom, so I have scheduled my life and leaving the house around her schedule. It's easier now that she is eating solid foods and will eat snacks if she starts getting hungry before we get home.

I am very grateful that I was able to do this for her. I hope that breast feeding becomes easier for women in the future. It's ridiculous that it's even an issue at all.

Mitzie W.
Mitzie W9 years ago

I found this very difficult for me. In my own family breastfeeding was not supported and I regret to this day having given in to peer pressure. But I will not judge another woman for making the choices she does.

Kristen R.
Kristen R9 years ago

Thank you for sharing this.

Vicky Hackett
Vicky Hackett9 years ago

Actually, my biggest stumbling block was my own embarrassment. I found it hard to get my boobs out discreetly and so never really felt totally relaxed and had to plan my trips out around places I knew I could find a quiet corner

Marielle L.
Ma L9 years ago

I even breastfed my son in the university lectures!!
I have breastfed with decreasing frequency until he was 2 and a half.
Now I have a daughter she is 8 months and I still mainly breastfeed.
I just try to "show" as little as possible, only the baby needs to see where her food is coming from. This way I am not offending any ones feelings and my little angel gets her meal.
If someone would ask me to leave I would finish feeding first and make sure they understand that I won't recommend their place ( if it was a restaurant). If this happened in a public space I would ask them to leave or look somewhere else!
Of course as breastfeeding mother I still must respect other peoples feelings, for example religious feelings. I recently sat at a restaurant at a table next to a group of elderly Muslim men and my daughter was hungry, so I put a light scarf over my shoulder, because I didn't want to make them feel uncomfortable, but she still got her meal!
Breastfeeding is a natural human right! And as such I treat it!

Time Out

Thanks. Why stare? It's just a baby eating! They stare because of lots of reason, but it is very disrespectful!

Time Out

The mothers could be offered this because they may feel more comfortable. Some perverts stare because it turns on their perve basic instincts. It doesn't help when the stigma and not so funny attitudes exist to motherhood, women, breasts, breast feeding. Also there should be a lot more fun and hygenic places to go.

Time Out

A idea just occured to me. It is this, mothers could be offered more choice of ladies and babies rest rooms, away from smelly toilets and lots of ventilation.