10 ways breastfeeding moms should get better support in the U.S.

Hint, hint employers and policymakers...

10 ways breastfeeding moms should get better support in the U.S.

Thanks to public health efforts over the last decade, the percentage of American moms who breastfeed continues to rise. But that doesn’t mean they are always supported in their efforts: According to the CDC, although four out of five moms start out breastfeeding, fewer than a quarter of American moms are able to exclusively breastfeed to six months.


So what can America do to help breastfeeding moms succeed long-term? We’ve got some ideas.

1. Bring paid maternity leave to American moms

Breastfeeding is hard when you’re at home with your baby, and it’s even harder when you have to go back to work. (Even the Surgeon General’s Office agrees.) If you have just a few weeks of leave, you may still be struggling with latching, pain and other issues when you head back to work—and add pumping to the mix.

While many moms are doing their best and making pumping work for their families, paid maternity leave would certainly take some of the pressure off in those early months of motherhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls breastfeeding an investment in the short- and long-term health of the infant, rather than a lifestyle choice, so we say maternity leave should also be considered an investment.

2. Leave for dads would be great, too

Paid leave for moms needs to be a priority, but other countries have also found that giving dads some paid leave helps moms feel supported and encouraged in their breastfeeding efforts. In Norway—a country with much higher rates of breastfeeding success than the United States—a woman’s partner gets 10 weeks of leave after a child is born. Having support at home during those first few weeks can be a real lifesaver for a breastfeeding mom, as evidence suggests fathers have a strong influence on a mother's decision to initiate and continue breastfeeding.

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3. Implement better breastfeeding support at work

Despite state and federal laws surrounding breaks for nursing moms and appropriate places to pump, the practical realities of pumping at work in America are still far from ideal. Only 40 percent of working moms continue breastfeeding after they return to work. It’s hard to keep up your supply if you can only pump once or twice a shift, and many working moms are still pumping in bathrooms and supply closets. Accommodating pumping schedules and giving moms the proper facilities to pump (as well as store and wash their pump) could go a long way to helping moms breastfeed.

4. Stop aggressive formula marketing

The World Health Organization recommends governments stop formula companies from marketing to moms, but it still happens. Of course there is nothing wrong with using formula, and if you’re having trouble breastfeeding your doctor may even recommend supplementing (fed is best!). But studies prove that when a bunch of coupons and freebies show up in the mail just before your due date, you’re more likely to give up on breastfeeding.

5. Support breastfeeding at the community level

Research cites embarrassment as one factor in why mothers stop breastfeeding. Because so many generations of Americans grew up thinking bottles were the only way to feed babies, some moms still report being shamed when they feed their baby in public. Programs to support and normalize breastfeeding at the community levels are recommended by Unicef and the WHO. (Perhaps America could take a cue from a Canadian campaign that’s seeing life-sized cutouts of breastfeeding mamas going up in public spaces.)

6. Improve access to lactation help in the hospital

Let’s be real, not everyone has the money to spend on lactation consultants. So having support from a nursing expert before you leave the hospital is vital. It’s unfortunate that, according to the Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, only 18 percent of American hospitals support recommended breastfeeding practices outlined by the World Health Organization. If this number was higher, maybe the rates of breastfeeding success would be, too.

7. Help mothers connect with support groups

A recent study in the UK found that breastfeeding support—whether by trained professionals or just other moms—benefits moms and babies. The researchers found moms who got face-to-face support were about 8 percent less likely to stop breastfeeding before six months.

8. Make breast pumps affordable for everyone

For many moms-to-be, walking down the breast pump isle at Target is an exercise in sticker shock. If your insurance covers one, consider yourself lucky because these things are expensive. An electric pump is going to set you back at least couple hundred dollars, but cheaper, manual pumps aren’t a great option for moms trying to pump during a 15 minute break at work.

9. Increase overall funds for breastfeeding support

All of the items on this list require funding, which is why increasing funding to raise the rate of breastfeeding is the number one item on Unicef’s list of recommended government actions.

10. Listening to moms

Moms know why they’re not able to keep breastfeeding the way the WHO recommends. So if America wants to do better on next year’s Global Breastfeeding Scorecard, new mamas are the ones to ask for ideas.

As the rising rates of breastfeeding demonstrate, we’re already making progress—and by bringing these discussions into open forums, the number of American moms who feel empowered in their breastfeeding efforts is only going to improve.

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