SOCIETAL BARRIERS TO
By Annie Urban
When people think of breastfeeding difficul- ties, the things that probably come to mind are supply issues, bad latch, cracked nipples,
constant feedings and the like. Certainly, there are women who are afflicted by those difficulties and who cannot
overcome them. But I believe the societal barriers to
breastfeeding have a much more significant impact on
breastfeeding rates than the medical or technical issues.
What are the societal barriers to breastfeeding?
Formula advertising: Everywhere you look, formula is
being pushed on new moms. Buying maternity clothes?
You can enter a drawing to win a year’s worth of formula.
Buying a parenting magazine? Expect a few two-page
spreads telling you about the latest hype on formula
being closer than ever to breastmilk. Giving birth at a
hospital? Expect to go home with a sponsored bag full
of formula samples and coupons, unless you are lucky
enough to give birth in a baby-friendly hospital. Surfing
the Web looking for breastfeeding advice? The formula
companies will try to deceive you into clicking on
their ads by pretending they are about breastfeeding.
We need to push to make compliance with the World
Health Organization’s International Code of Marketing
Breast-Milk Substitutes into a standard or a law, or
find some other way to ensure that formula and bottle
companies are not acting unethically and unnecessarily
sabotaging breastfeeding in pursuit of corporate profits.
in breastfeeding is insufficient. It will obviously differ
from school to school and jurisdiction to jurisdiction,
but I have heard of some doctors having merely a few
hours of training on breastfeeding. In addition, pediatricians’ attitudes about breastfeeding are declining,
doctors whose skills are most lacking are least likely to
seek training to upgrade it, and there are plenty of medical professionals who are just downright not supportive
of breastfeeding, either on purpose or out of ignorance.
So when I hear people say, “the pediatrician said ‘X’ and
I trust him, so we followed his advice,” forgive me for
being a bit skeptical. If you are having breastfeeding difficulties and your doctor does not refer you to a lactation
consultant, you should be concerned. Be proactive and
build your A-Team before your baby arrives.
Poor access to lactation consultants and breast
pumps: People who are struggling with breastfeeding
need access to qualified lactation professionals—i.e.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultants—
and may often need access to a quality double electric
breast pump to help maintain or increase supply while
working on breastfeeding issues. However, a lot of
people who do have access to healthcare still do not have
access to these essential breastfeeding supports.
Insufficient education of medical professionals:
Women having trouble with breastfeeding often turn to
their pediatrician or to a general practitioner. Unfortunately, the amount of education that these doctors have
WORLD BREASTFEEDING WEEK
AUGUST 1– 7, 2012
Lack of maternity leave: In the United States, women
do not have access to decent maternity leave. Some
have no access to maternity leave at all. In Canada, most
women have access to maternity leave, but there are
pressures that prevent many women from being able to
take leave or that force them to go back early. It can take
months to get breastfeeding well established, and many
women must return to work before it has happened.
The insufficient maternity leave provisions in many countries pose a significant
barrier to breastfeeding.
No workplace support for breastfeeding:
Whether they are forced back to work due
to inadequate maternity leave provisions