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Why moms need support to increase breastfeeding rates in America

There's a big 'breastfeeding gap' between high- and low-income countries, study finds.

Why moms need support to increase breastfeeding rates in America

Despite volumes of evidence that nutrients from breast milk are ideal for mothers and babies, there is a major discrepency at play worldwide: Among babies born in the United States, about 26% are never breastfed. Elsewhere, particularly in middle- and low-income countries, virtually every baby is breastfed for some period of time.


So, what explains this significant "breastfeeding gap" and its persistence in high-income countries like the United States? According to a wide-spanning new report from UNICEF, "cultural and political contexts" continue to disadvantage mothers and babies in places like America, Ireland and France. Not only are the fixes theoretically simple, but they are also undeniably effective—as the examples of high breastfeeding rates in other countries goes to show.

"In higher-income countries, we see that the proportion of children who have never been breastfed is significantly higher than the number of children in low- and middle-income countries. That is a fact," Victor Aguayo, UNICEF's Chief of Nutrition, tells CNN. "We need to create environments—including in the US—that make breastfeeding the norm."

According to the report from UNICEF's Global Database, the breastfeeding rate tops 99% in countries like Bhutan, Peru and Madagascar. At the other end of the spectrum, the rate is just 55% in Ireland and 71% in France—contributing to an average 79% of babies in countries designated as "high-income" receiving breast milk versus an average 96% in middle- or low-income countries.

Worldwide, UNICEF estimates improving breastfeeding rates would save the lives of some 820,000 children annually due to the positive influence of breast milk on growth, development and immunities. The organization also notes there are ample benefits for breastfeeding mothers, including protection against postpartum hemorrhaging, depression and some forms of cancer.

"Breastfeeding is the best gift a mother, rich or poor, can give her child, as well as herself," says Shahida Azfar, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director, in a press release.

But, as the statistics suggest, whether or not a woman will breastfeed is a complicated matter. The report states:

"Positive social norms that support and encourage breastfeeding, including in public spaces, serve to empower mothers to breastfeed. In communities, support from trained counsellors and peers, including other mothers and family members plays a key role. The support of men, husbands and partners cannot be underestimated."

The report notes that factors such as the cost of formula and lower rates of women in the workplace also contribute to higher breastfeeding rates in some countries. However, previously reported case studies from communities around the world prove that social support is also key.

For example, among the Himba people in Namibia, older family members basically serve as lactation counselors when helping new moms establish breastfeeding. And while women there reported the same struggles commonly associated with nursing anywhere else—trouble with latching, pain, supply issues, etc.—they were largely able to overcome them thanks to guidance from other women.

There seems to be a trend toward this happening in the United States, where a growing number of digital tools aim to support mothers' breastfeeding goals—and may have something to do with the rising breastfeeding rates among new moms.

Still, there's no denying that more needs to be done to normalize and facilitate breastfeeding. In the report, UNICEF officials recommend doing more to establish breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, enacting paid parental leave and workplace breastfeeding protections, regulating the marketing of infant formula and just generally doing a better job of empowering women with breastfeeding.

This report focused primarily on the rates of babies who were ever breastfed, which is important as studies have shown that breastfeeding any amount during the first two months of a baby's life cuts the SIDS risk in half. UNICEF as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months and continuing to provide breast milk through the child's second birthday. (The AAP says one year versus two.)

Weighing in on the report, Pamela Mulder, assistant professor at the University of Iowa's School of Nursing, tells CNN it is important to recognize and promote the "benefits of breastfeeding." She adds, "They can also combine breast milk and infant formula feedings, and they can breastfeed for the time they choose, whether that be two weeks or six months."

It's also worthwhile to recognize that breastfeeding rates are improving in the United States—and that trajectory will likely only continue to improve with more awareness brought to the subject through reports like this.

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My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

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