Friday, January 4, 2013

Is the medical community failing breastfeeding mothers? Yes - but so is the community!

This was not the original topic for this fortnight. Instead, this is yet another reaction piece to recent events in the news. Specifically, a widely circulated post on Is the Medical Community Failing Breastfeeding Moms. This post has received considerable attention, both positive and negative, and speaks to larger issues in society and mammary physiology. First off, you can have lactation failure, just as you can have kidney failure, infertility and numerous other physiological disorders. And lactation failure is probably not all that rare – the estimates floating about in the blogs are 1-2%; in the 1980s the estimates were a bit higher at 2-5%. In the study I work with, mothers in the Philippines in the 1980s had a failure rate of about 3%. 

What strikes me most about the new focus on medical professionals failing breastfeeding mothers, is the assumption that by presenting the challenges and potential problems of breastfeeding, we are somehow  setting mothers up for failure. I would argue in the fact the opposite – we have already set mothers up for failure by pretending that the act of doing is natural and natural means anyone can do it if they try hard enough.  Natural becomes a code for easy, when the reality is neither. Breastfeeding is work, it can be stressful, it can be difficult, it can be impossible. It can also be event-less, not difficult (but never easy), and successful.  Every tool should be in place to help mothers who want to nurse their babies and every tool should be in place to help mothers who do not want to nurse.

The set up for failure actually starts outside the medical community in the actual community. Take a moment and ask yourself when was the last time you saw a baby nurse? If the populations in my classroom are any index of the general public (probably not) then about 50% of people have ever seen a baby nurse. Think about a trip to the mall, zoo, or museum. Nursing moms? I usually remember them because of the rarity – the other 100s of visits to these places where I do not see a nursing women blend together.  Breastfeeding is largely invisible – think about the recent stink over the “breastfeeding doll” compared to the dolls prepackaged with bottles?