Moms tend to get overlooked during the holidays. Not only do they have to meet the obligations of daily life, but they're also busy cooking the feast, meticulously cleaning, shopping for gifts, wrapping the gifts, running errands, and all the odds and ends that come with end-of-year celebrations. In other words, if you're feeling the holiday joy, it's because a mom is working her ass off. That's why every person should be aware of the one gift every breastfeeding mom actually wants this year: your support. And the best part? It won't cost you a single cent.
According to a 2016 report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 81 percent of mothers begin breastfeeding their babies at birth, and that number steadily declines month after month. In fact, less than 1/3 of those moms are still breastfeeding when their babies reach 12 months of age. The report suggests that, without proper support, moms may not be able to overcome the challenges associated with breastfeeding, particularly first time mothers and most notably after they return home from the hospital or back to work after maternity leave (if, of course, leave was provided).
And of course, remember that support isn't synonymous with pressure.
The lack of support among those who wish to breastfeed is so prevelant, in fact, that, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), even the U.S. Surgeon General issued a call to action, stating there are far too many barriers that keep moms from continuing with their initial plans to breastfeed. Lack of knowledge and education about the benefits of breast milk, along with the lack of tools to overcome feeding challenges, are among the main reasons why moms give up breastfeeding before initially intended. The report also emphasizes the importance of partner support, suggesting that in one randomized study, 74 percent of moms with supportive parters were more likely to continue breastfeeding after the initial introduction, with 25 percent sticking it out past the baby's six month mark.
Most moms go into breastfeeding with the goal to continue for months (even years), but what happens when the pressure to breastfeed becomes unfathomable? Social pressures not only negatively affect a woman's breastfeeding experience, but impact a woman's postpartum mental health, too. A study in the Journal or Maternal and Child Health revealed that those who breastfeed and "fail" may be at a higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression.
With familial, cultural, and socioeconomic factors in play, the pressure to "get it right" can trigger a landslide of consequences. If you truly want to give the perfect gift to a mom still breastfeeding, support is crucial.
I planned to breastfeed both of my children, and attempted for months to succeed without proper emotional or physical support. In the end, I ultimately "failed" to meet my breastfeeding goals while simultaneously navigating severe postpartum depression (PPD). And as a result, I know firsthand the difficulty of deciphering where the disappointment from lack of support and success with breastfeeding ends, and the depression begins. It seems as though they may be more intertwined than previously thought. It also begs the question: are breastfeeding moms set up to fail? With familial, cultural, and socioeconomic factors in play, the pressure to "get it right" can trigger a landslide of consequences. If you truly want to give the perfect gift to a mom still breastfeeding, support is crucial.
La Leche League says ensuring mom has enough help around the house (cleaning, meals, and tending to other children), as well as an adequate amount of time time to care for herself, can go a long way. And, of course, so can praise and encouragement. Breastfeeding is an emotional journey where women are constantly faced with self-doubt and insecurity. Be an advocate, and be tireless in your efforts to make the breastfeeding person in your life feel supported before, during, and after every feeding session. And when she needs a break, give it to her. Breastfeeding is a lot of work, burning anywhere between 380-600 calories a day. Make sure she's eating and staying well-hydrated, and without her having to constantly ask for help.
And of course, remember that support isn't synonymous with pressure. According to a study published in BMJ Journals, telling women to exclusively breastfeed for their baby's first six months of life isn't only unhelpful, it's harmful. The overarching advice within the media, on billboards, and in the context of breastfeeding pamphlets is unrealistic, fails to be inclusive, and essentially sweeps each individual woman's needs under the proverbial rug. Basically, suggesting that moms should breastfeed at all costs helps no one. Instead, utilizing a proactive, family-centered approach with "more attention to the diverse values, meanings, and emotions around infant feeding within families could help to reconcile health ideals with reality," according to the aforementioned study. Providing a new mother with a healthy, forgiving environment that takes into account her individual needs will help her meet, or surpass, her nursing goals.
Supporting a breastfeeding mom is critical to her long-term, and short-term, success. So this holiday season, support the nursing mom in your life. It won't take you long to realize it's the gift that will truly keep on giving.
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