Breastfeeding in America- Student Article.

The following is a student blog post by Jessica Young

Breastfeeding in America- Jessica Young

A society is only as good as it treats its weakest citizens, and in my opinion the weakest and most precious citizens are getting a poor deal. Breastfeeding is the normal and natural way for babies to get nutrition from their mothers. It is the healthiest and most complete form of nutrition for infants, and Americans have a very low rate of breastfeeding (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). There are not enough resources for assistance and education for breastfeeding being made readily available and promoted to the public in ways other than literature. Society frowns upon breastfeeding in public places. Infants are not coming first. America is in a health crisis, and increasing breastfeeding can help with a large portion of it.

There is a large lack of breastfeeding understanding in America. It starts early and keeps building. Baby dolls, which are learning tools for children, have bottles. A lot of people think it is inappropriate for children to know about or witness breastfeeding, which in turn affects the way that children view breastfeeding. Teenagers are not taught in detail at school about breastfeeding, so they are generally not prepared as adults to breastfeed. People rely on mass media marketing for a lot of things, including infant feeding and the perception of the human body. Women rely on myths or cultural ideas to get their information about breastfeeding instead of advice from family and friends anymore because the last few generations of women have not breastfed their babies. Women are told to give bottles or cereal to help babies sleep or that formula has more vitamins to help babies grow, which is not accurate (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). A woman’s partner is a very important factor in breastfeeding success, and there are more programs being implemented by the government to help fathers be more educated and supportive of the breastfeeding relationship (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 includes a provision for home health visits for pregnant women and their children from birth until the beginning of school. A lot of the programs that are implemented have been improving the rate of breastfeeding within the last 20 years, and there is a slow incline in rates of breastfeeding in the United States although the rates are still not ideal or above half (Labbok, Wardlaw, and et al 272-276).


There are many obstacles that come early in the breastfeeding relationship that cause problems for the mother and baby. The majority of women in the United States go to a hospital to give birth. They often rely on their OBGYN or hospital labor and delivery staff to assist them with breastfeeding initiation in the hospital. Very few hospitals have sufficient staff for breastfeeding education and support. Most “breastfeeding specialists” are only floor trained nurses. Many are not reluctant to give a newborn a bottle of infant formula or a pacifier without trying very much for breastfeeding success. The ideal breastfeeding advisor is an IBCLC, or International Board Certified Breastfeeding Consultant. Many women are sent home with formula samples from companies after being exposed to formula promotional advertisement bombardment during pregnancy that tells them that formula is equivalent to breast milk, such advertisement is actually illegal based on the international code to regulate the marketing of breast milk substitutes that was adopted in 1981 (World Health Organization). When they get home, there is not much knowledge or help from family or friends because not many of the women in the past two generations have breastfed their own babies. There are organizations from the government, WIC for example, that are meant to promote breastfeeding but offer formula for free which seems to affect long term success at breastfeeding in a negative way (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Many women have to return to employment shortly after birth, which also affects breastfeeding in a negative way. There are supposed to be clean, safe places to express and store breast milk at work as well. Women who receive longer maternity leave are more likely to succeed at breastfeeding, and the United States is one of only four nations that do not have some nationally protected form of paid maternity leave (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

The majority of breastfeeding relationships are cut short unnecessarily. Many women start out wanting to breastfeed, but two-thirds of mothers after only 3 months of breastfeeding have given up nursing their babies, more than half by 6 months, and virtually no toddlers are breastfed in the United States (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). A lot of women stop breastfeeding because of sore nipples, the idea that they do not produce enough milk, painful engorgement, or mastitis. Situations in which breastfeeding should be stopped to supplement or too little milk are actually rare, and more support is needed to avoid switching to breast milk substitutes in avoidable circumstances (Boseley 6). A lot of the problems faced by women can be fixed with minimal help, such as latch assistance, checking for tongue tie, instructing about proper nutrition, and talking about what is normal. Most resources for women that are readily available are in print form, which is not very affective at helping a hands-on problem. There are now resources on the internet such as The Leaky Boob blog that have intensive peer-to-peer help with breastfeeding. When breastfeeding really needs to be supplemented or stopped, infant formula is not the only or more optimal option. “The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding states that “for those few health situations where infants cannot, or should not, be breastfed, the choice of the best alternative – expressed breast milk from an infant’s own mother, breast milk from a healthy wet-nurse or a human milk bank, or a breast-milk substitute…depends on individual circumstances”(Gribble, Hausman, and et al 275-283).

Infant formulas are made to be supplements for those that cannot breastfeed. One option for breast milk substitution is a formula based on cow milk. The hormones and antibiotics that are given to cows are passed through the milk and are present in the infant formula, which can cause problems with babies including early puberty and other illnesses (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Many formulas have lots of different strands of bacteria in them, among them are Enterobacter sakazakii and Salmonella enteric which is allowable in 3 to 14% of formula cans and can cause meningitis, encephalitis, bacteremia, and necrotizing enterocolitis in infants (Gribble, Hausman, and et al 275-283). Another option for infant food substitutes is soy formula. Soy formulas are often used when a mother suspects that their baby is intolerant to milk or is “colicky.” The actual indications for the use of soy formula are for galactosemia and primary lactase deficiency, which are actually very rare (Vandenplas, De Greef, and et al 162-166). There is no medical indication for the use of soy formulas to treat colic (Vandenplas, De Greef, and et al 162-166). Soy formulas also have plant estrogens that have been linked to infertility problems in adulthood (Vandenplas, De Greef, and et al 162-166). There are lots of chemicals in commercially prepared infant formulas that are artificial, and many home prepared formulas do not offer the proper nutrients needed for optimal health. In the USA, it is estimated between 600 and 900 infant deaths annually can be associated with lack of breastfeeding (Gribble, Hausman, and et al 275-283). The risks of feeding breast milk substitutes are legally supposed to be printed on the packaging (World Health Organization). They are not.

Human milk sharing is becoming a more popular method for infant feeding in the United States lately, although it is still widely taboo. There are less than 20 human milk banks in the United States. Human milk from banks is commonly given to infants in intensive care units, such as premature babies. Two organizations, Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats On Feets, have been a facilitator for person-to-person milk sharing through donation. Many Americans feel that sharing human milk is distasteful culturally, and lots of healthcare workers are concerned with the safety of sharing bodily produce. The Centers for Disease Control state that human milk is not a biohazard. There are even safe methods of killing HIV in expressed breast milk without ruining the nutritional value of it such as “flash heating,” in which the milk is placed in glass and heated to a rolling boil then removed from heat (Gribble, Hausman, and et al 275-283). Another concern of sharing milk is the hygiene of donating mothers or the presence of drugs being passed into breast milk. This is an extremely rare occurrence because the mother would have to be giving the same milk to their own child (Gribble, Hausman, and et al 275-283). Throughout history, women have worked together to feed babies through wet nursing when another mother is unable to do so whether a health problem is the cause or the mother is working. Wet nursing and milk sharing are still practiced widely in other areas of the world, and are making a very tiny comeback in the United States (Gribble, Hausman, and et al 275-283).

Breast milk is made for babies! It has bioactive compounds, immunity boosting cells, and the perfect balance of nutrition for your baby and can help prevent a lot of childhood diseases, some of which are fatal in undeveloped areas of the world (World Health Organization). The WHO also recommends breastfeeding on demand day or night. The WHO strongly recommends breastfeeding exclusively, that is breast feeding with nothing else going into baby for at least 6 months and breastfeeding with food supplements for a minimum of 2 years. Studies indicate that breast fed babies fare better than milk and soy based formula fed babies in cognitive development and sensorimotor development (Andres, Cleves, and et al 1134-1141). The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome is 56% higher in babies that were not breast fed. The rate of ear infections, eczema, allergies, and a myriad of other childhood diseases and disorders are associated with lack of breastfeeding (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

According to the Surgeon General, “Health literacy is the ability of an individual to access, understand, and use health-related information and services to make appropriate health decisions. Low health literacy contributes to our nation’s epidemic of overweight and obesity. For example, some mothers are unaware that they can promote their baby’s health through breastfeeding” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Many Americans are lacking health literacy. More breastfeeding support and education is needed for American women. Increasing the rate of breastfeeding can help us as a society. Nutrition is a definite problem in the US, as are obesity, breast cancer, and infant mortality. This is common knowledge. Breastfeeding also benefits mothers. Breastfeeding is shown to have a relationship with lowering the risk of postpartum depression, lowering the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and helping a mother return to a healthy weight after pregnancy (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). The fact that exclusively breastfeeding on demand for the first 6 months is also a very effective form of birth control is also a bonus. Adults that were breastfed as infants are less likely to have conditions like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and have been shown to score higher on intelligence tests (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).

Breastfeeding is normal. It is alright to say it, “BOOBS!” Boobs are mammaries. Humans are mammals, and baby mammals drink milk from mammaries. Breastfeeding is what breasts are made for. American society has over-sexualized a pair of perfectly otherwise functioning organs into nothing more than t-shirt pillows. Breasts are viewed as sexual objects in American culture, and some men are unwilling to “share” them and some women are reluctant to use them for their purpose the fear of feeling dirty. What about the needs of infants? Should babies not get the best possible nutrition whenever possible? A lot of mothers feel pressured to be isolated when breastfeeding because a lot of people make them feel guilty or gross about feeding their child in places other than their own home. A lot of this isolation and frustration can lead to post-partum depression and disruption of the breastfeeding relationship. Many women are asked to leave stores or to cover up. Asking a mother and child to hide feeding is suggesting that it is an unclean act or something that should not be seen. It is no wonder so many new mothers, especially young mothers, are not breastfeeding because they feel it is gross. Breastfeeding in public is protected by law. You, America, are the ones telling them it is not okay by your actions. Stop it.


When I had my first child at 16, I knew nothing about breastfeeding but knew I needed to do it for the health of my baby and myself. I breast fed my baby for 4 months and pumped very often for bottles when I worked. I had no education or help with problems. I had sore nipples, oversupply, and got a clogged duct that required surgery. I was told I could not and should not breastfeed again by the surgeon. I wish I had known about milk sharing then. I was devastated. I am a perfect example of the problem that is going on today with breastfeeding in American culture. I have since nursed two children, one until 3 years of age because I searched for information for myself and was able to seek out help from experienced mothers. Not a lot of women have these resources. I was pestered regularly for pumping in the break room at work, nursing a baby over a year old, and am still insulted occasionally or asked to cover for not covering up when I breast feed my baby. I have donated to milk banks and am currently donating my extra milk to two local babies. I give as much personal advice on natural pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding as I can to everyone who will listen because I know that if I can reach one person, they may reach another to help break this cycle. I plan to finish my education to be an IBCLC and midwife within the next decade in order to help as many women and babies as I can. It starts with one person. I have dedicated myself to being at least one voice for women, mothers, and infants to get things right.



Works Cited

Andres, A, M Cleves, et al. “Developmental Status of 1-Year-Old Infants Fed Breast Milk, Cow’s Milk Formula, or Soy Formula.” Pediatrics Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. 129.6 (2012): 1134-1141. Web. 29 Apr. 2013.

Boseley, S. “Research dismisses breastfeeding myths: Analysis finds just seven in 100,000 get seriously ill Better support needed for mothers trying to nurse.”Guardian [London] 20 MAR 2013, Final Eition 6. Academic Search Complete.Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

Gribble, KD, BL Hausman. “Milk sharing and formula feeding: Infant feeding risks in comparative.” Australasian Medical Journal. 5.5 (2012): 275-283. Academic Search Complete.  Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

Labbok, M, T Wardlaw, et al. “Trends in Exclusive Breastfeeding: Findings From the 1990s.” J Hum Lact. 22.3 (2006): 272-276. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2011.

Vandenplas, Y, E De Greef, et al. “Soy infant formula: is it that bad?.” Acta Paediatrica. 100. (2010): 162-166. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.


World Health Organization, . 10 FACTS ON BREASTFEEDING. 2012. Infographic. http://www.who.intWeb. 28 Apr 2013. <>.

This is from a blog post and essay I wrote for a class before. It is also used in my BAI birth doula assignment.


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