Learn How to Best Support Mothers & Babies During World Breastfeeding Week

Updated January 11, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The decision to breastfeed is a personal choice that requires a major commitment from mothers. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first 2+ years of life due to the maternal and infant health benefits of breastfeeding, but for many parents, this un-paid commitment is not feasible or possible. Regardless of whether a mother decides to breastfeed, you can help by supporting their decision and offering encouraging words. The World Breastfeeding Week is a global alliance that highlights the complexities surrounding breastfeeding and seeks to raise awareness of the importance of supporting breastfeeding for both mothers and babies. By gaining more knowledge in this area, you can make a more informed decision for yourself or help a friend choose the option that’s best for them.

Frustrated By The Demands Of Breastfeeding?

Who Can Breastfeed?

Physically, most new mothers can breastfeed, regardless of breast and nipple size. There are, however, some reasons why breastfeeding may not be advised or possible, including the following: 

  • Certain illnesses: Some conditions won’t impact breastmilk, but others (such as HIV or T-cell lymphotropic virus) can. Acute illnesses, such as active herpes simplex virus, may warrant temporarily stopping breastfeeding. Talking to your doctor is the best way to find out what choice is safest for your baby.

  • Surgery: Many mothers who have had a lumpectomy can still breastfeed, however, radiation treatment may limit the amount the milk flow. In general, most women with breast or nipple surgery can breastfeed, but the situation will be different depending on the complexities of the surgery and how much tissue was removed.

  • Mental illness: For some, the stress of breastfeeding may exacerbate certain psychiatric disorders. The decision to breastfeed is personal, and if it is harmful for the mental health of the mother, it may be worth considering the use of formula. 

  • The use of certain medications: Your doctor will be able to advise you on whether your medications are safe for use while breastfeeding. 

  • Drug or alcohol use: Having a substance use disorder, whether drugs or alcohol, can make your milk unsafe for your infant. Mothers who are Narcotic-dependent and in a supervised methadone program and are not using other drugs may be able to breastfeed. 

The slogan, “breast is best”, can be a harmful proverb that may lead women to feel bad about themselves if breastfeeding is not desired, possible, or feasible. A 2021 study found that mothers who feed their infants formula may experience guilt, shame, anxiety, and depression about the choice. However, infant formula is shown to be a good alternative to breastmilk and building a close connection with your child is about more than just breastfeeding; feeding breastmilk or formula provides an opportunity for bonding. 

Advantages Of Breastfeeding

Most health experts recommend breastfeeding to best defense against infections and certain diseases. If you’re able to breastfeed and have chosen to do so, here are some of the advantages you might gain as a result:

  • Bonding and connection: Research shows that babies benefit from skin-to-skin contact with their mother after birth. Nursing can help mothers and babies feel more connected, and suckling releases oxytocin, which helps the baby feel safe and calm.

  • Better immune function: Mothers are less likely to develop certain cancers, like breast and ovarian cancer. Babies who nurse receive their mother’s antibodies through the milk and are better equipped to fight off many types of infections, including ear infections, respiratory infections, and diarrhea. Breastfeeding may also provide some assurance against the development of asthma, allergies, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). 

  • Weight management: Breastfeeding burns around 500 calories per day and may result in greater pregnancy-related postpartum weight loss. It also helps infants gain weight at a healthy pace and reduce their risk of developing obesity

  • Mental health benefits: While breastfeeding can cause distress in some women, others will find that it helps their mental health. It can reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression.

  • Better sleep: The nutritional content of breastmilk varies based on the time of day, with milk fed at night containing higher amounts of tryptophan that triggers the production of melatonin. This can help both mother and baby get more rest. 

  • Financial benefits: Baby formula can be expensive and difficult to find during shortages and recalls. Some estimate that mothers may pay as much as $10,000 per year on high-end formula, compared with $847 per year on breastfeeding equipment and lactation consultations. 

  • Fewer digestive issues: Babies have an easier time digesting breastmilk than formula. Breastmilk is easy on their digestive system and causes less stomach upset and gastrointestinal problems.

Disadvantages Of Breastfeeding

While breastfeeding has lots of advantages for mother and child, it can also have disadvantages. It’s important to be aware of all the pros and cons to make the most informed decision about whether nursing is right for you. Some potential disadvantages include:

  • Public stigma: If you’re out in public and need to feed your baby, you may be subject to stares, rude comments, or other uncomfortable situations. Pumping breastmilk when you are not with you baby can also be challenging, with some women describing difficulty finding spaces to pump at work. 

  • Can be uncomfortable: Breastfeeding may be uncomfortable or painful, especially if you experience nipple cracking or develop a condition like mastitis or thrush. As your baby grows and develops teeth, breastfeeding may become more uncomfortable.

  • The baby needs to eat more often: Since breastmilk is so easy for babies to digest, they need to eat more often. Baby formula isn’t digested as easily by a baby’s system, so they tend to eat less throughout the day.

  • Only you can feed your baby: Unless you’re pumping often, you’re the only one who can give your baby food. Those who use formula can get their partner, family, or friend to help, but breastfeeding can make this more challenging. You will need to plan ahead by pumping if you’d like help with feeding.

  • It can take more time: If you’re breastfeeding, you will probably have to set aside more time throughout the day for extra feedings or to pump.

Breastfeeding Disparities

Breastfeeding disparities exist. Although breastfeeding is recommended for most newborns, not everyone chooses or is able to nurse their baby. Mothers may face certain barriers that keep them from breastfeeding: 

  • Racial gaps: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 85.3% of non-Hispanic White infants are breastfed at some point, while only 74.1% of non-Hispanic Black infants are ever breastfed. As highlighted by the ACLU, breastfeeding is oftentimes more challenging as a Black person. 

  • Income disparities: If you have a job that isn’t flexible and doesn’t allow you to breastfeed, using baby formula may be the best option even though it is more expensive than breastfeeding. Racial minorities are more likely to need to return to work sooner after giving birth, making formula a more feasible choice. There is a socioeconomic gradient for women who breastfeed. Mothers and fathers with high educational attainment and high-paying professional careers are associated with a high likelihood of breastfeeding. 

  • Information sharing: Those belonging to minority groups may be less likely to receive adequate advice and assistance after giving birth. For example, doctors may emphasize the benefits of formula but fail to discuss the potential benefits of breastfeeding or how to get babies to latch. In contrast, White mothers tend to have more information about breastfeeding given to them by healthcare professionals. 

  • Cultural norms or stigma: Having poor familial and social support can be a barrier to breastfeeding, as can public stigma. In the United States, bottle feeding is viewed as the cultural norm. Those who breastfeed in public may experience fear, guilt, shame, or embarrassment. Since babies who breastfeed must be fed often, it can be difficult to avoid feeding them in public. 

Making Breastfeeding Easier

Breastfeeding itself is a challenging job that demands a lot of time and effort from mothers. Since breastfeeding is recommended for the first two or more years of life, it is valuable for society to make nursing more convenient, and acceptable for mothers with the following steps:

  • Increase places for mothers to breastfeed and pump: Breastfeeding stations can be difficult to find, where mothers can nurse their baby or pump. Mothers may end up pumping in the bathroom, which can be uncomfortable and unsanitary. Workplaces can give new mothers a dedicated space to pump while they’re at work, and public areas can incorporate lactation rooms. Employers can also offer work-from-home opportunities for new mothers, so they can spend time with their child and breastfeed or pump from home. 

  • Paid parental leave: Giving new parents 12+ weeks of paid time off from work to focus on parenthood can reduce the risk of postpartum depression and increase the likelihood that mothers choose to breastfeed. 

  • Spread awareness: Social media marketing can influence positive behavioral changes, potentially helping women understand the benefits of breastfeeding and improving social support for loved ones. 

By reducing the stigma around breastfeeding and giving mothers more resources, breastfeeding can become less burdensome for mothers.

Frustrated By The Demands Of Breastfeeding?

World Breastfeeding Week

World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) is a WABA-sponsored annual world campaign that began in 1992. The WBW campaign is now recognized by over 100 countries around the world and is celebrated each year from August 1 to August 7. The global campaign aims to raise awareness of breastfeeding, promote the practice, and help mothers and babies get the resources they need with the help of organizations dedicated to the purpose. Since 2016, the WBW campaign has aligned itself to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals which is determined by the General Assembly and Economic and Social Council. Every year, World Breastfeeding Week has an annual theme to highlight certain issues. The specific goals of World Breastfeeding Week are to:

  • Inform the public of the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and child

  • Encourage community involvement in breastfeeding-related issues

  • Partner with organizations around the world

  • Help mothers gain the resources they need to breastfeed

  • Enable mothers to be able to work and breastfeed successfully

  • Defend mothers’ and babies’ rights through maternity assurance laws

  • Spread awareness about breastfeeding and eliminate any misinformation

  • Encourage workplaces to be mother-friendly

  • Spur society to action to make breastfeeding more reachable and acceptable

Many people do not have enough breastfeeding education and resources. World Breastfeeding Week is an opportunity to reach communities around the world. 

Breastfeeding, Parenthood, And Mental Health

Parenthood and breastfeeding can be challenging. While it is believed that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of postpartum depression, many mothers find breastfeeding causes stress and anxiety. The perinatal period, which begins in pregnancy and ends one year following birth, is a common time for women to experience symptoms of psychiatric disorders. One study found that more than 20% of women may experience major depressive disorder at some point during this period, and 10% experience an anxiety disorder. 

Some practices, such as getting enough sleep, taking time for yourself, getting routine exercise, socializing, eating well, meditating, and practices deep breathing exercises can reduce stress and symptoms of mental illness. 

If lifestyle changes haven’t helped you to feel better, or if you’re having difficulty implementing lifestyle changes on your own, you might want to consider reaching out to a licensed therapist. 

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is frequently used to address mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety disorders. During CBT sessions, therapists typically guide clients to identify and reframe negative thought patterns and behaviors so they can help themselves respond to the stresses of parenthood in a healthier way. A study of 3,623 participants with postnatal depression found that CBT was effective at reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

Online therapy, which is offered through sites like BetterHelp, can be more convenient for new parents who don’t have time to commute to sessions. Additionally, online therapy is shown to be effective for most people. A study from 2020 found that online CBT was as effective as in-person CBT at addressing most cases of depression and anxiety. Another study found that online therapy successfully decreased anxiety and postpartum depression symptoms in new mothers. 

Takeaway

The choice to breastfeed is personal, and every new mother should be provided with all the necessary information to make the best decision for themselves and their child, regardless of socioeconomic status or skin color. While there are many benefits to breastfeeding, not all women can breastfeed, and disadvantages can make it unfeasible. 

Many mothers experience stress and anxiety about their choice to breastfeed or feed formula, and any parent can experience postpartum depression. If you are concerned about your mental health, you can reach out to a therapist. Online therapy is shown to be effective at addressing anxiety and depression, and it may be a more convenient option for parents. 

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