A Closer Look at Why “Just Breastfeed” is Ridiculous Advice
For Many Parents, Breastfeeding Doesn’t Come Easy
The parent who hears this suggestion to “just breastfeed” may have already struggled to breastfeed and is now combo feeding (breastmilk and formula) or providing formula exclusively. “Just breastfeed” implies that breastfeeding is easy for everyone, and that parents are overlooking an obvious and easy option to start breastfeeding or breastfeed more. Not only does it completely dismiss any previous struggle the family might have already endured, it furthers the myth that because breastfeeding is natural, it should be easy for everyone.
Re-Lactating and Increasing Breastmilk Supply Takes Time
While re-lactating and increasing milk supply may be options for parents who are (or recently were) breastfeeding, both take weeks of commitment. Unfortunately, it is not a matter of simply “turning on a faucet.” For these protocols, families should work with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and the outcome is not guaranteed. In some cases, increasing supply can also have repercussions for the parent including plugged ducts and/or mastitis. This should be done carefully, under the supervision of an IBCLC, and in some cases is not recommended at all.
Breastmilk Is Not the Right Choice for Every Family
Although breastmilk is the gold standard, breastfeeding is not the right choice for every parent and every baby. There may be medical reasons (a parent who is undergoing chemotherapy, a child who requires a specialized formula or has a metabolic condition), emotional reasons (history of sexual abuse, lack of family or partner support) or logistical reasons (family didn’t have access to education and evidence-based information, a job that makes breastfeeding or pumping difficult). Additionally, there are families who were never interested in breastfeeding. They have the right to choose how to feed their baby, and they don’t owe anyone an explanation.
Babies Have Opinions about Their Food, Too
Babies who have been getting lots of bottles may resist feeding at the breast. And some parents do not respond well to pumping.
Our Work Culture Does Not Encourage Breastfeeding Success
The fact that the U.S. does not have universal paid parental leave for families makes it extra challenging to establish breastfeeding before returning to work. Once back at work, even though pump breaks are mandated and protected by federal law, at certain jobs it still presents a challenge. It’s not possible for all working parents to dedicate the time to establish and protect the breastfeeding relationship.
Breastfeeding Isn’t Free
Even when breastfeeding is going well, it still takes time and supplies. When it isn’t going well, it often requires working with an IBCLC, which may or may not be covered by their insurance, renting a hospital grade pump, supplements, doctor’s visits, prescriptions and so much more. According to the ACA, plans must provide breastfeeding support, counseling and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding. However, many families are still paying out of pocket for this critical lactation care.
So What Is the Answer?
Changing Federal Policy
Legislation like the new Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act and the invocation of the Defense Production Act and Operation Fly Formula are part of the solution. However, while ramping up formula production right now is crucial, it will take time for formula supply to return to the retail shelf and we know that is too long for something as essential as formula. Emergency funding for prenatal lactation care is a critical stopgap while families struggle to find formula on shelves. Plus, legislation like the Mamas First Act presents an incredible opportunity to shore up Medicaid coverage for this crucial preventative care.
Helping Breastfeeding Families Meet Their Goals
On average, there are 10,200 babies born every day. That means that before this crisis is over, at least one million families will have welcomed new babies—and they won’t know if they’ll be able to feed them. These families need prenatal lactation care. This means a prenatal lactation consultation to set them up for breastfeeding success, whatever that means for them. And for families with newborns, this means postpartum lactation consultations to support and extend their breastfeeding journeys, if they want. Again, this is not about re-lactation; it’s helping current and new breastfeeding families meet their goals, while simultaneously easing the additional burden on the formula supply chain.
Donating Excess Milk
Families who are currently breastfeeding can also consider donating any excess milk to a local milk bank that is certified by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) or a similar organization. Those who combo feed, want to increase breastmilk supply, relactate, or pump more to help others, should reach out to their IBCLC for support and guidance, as all of these protocols should be done with support. Families who are having difficulty obtaining formula should reach out to their pediatrician for resources.