By Kimberly Seals Allers
Friday, August 26, 2011
For all the promotion of breastfeeding, U.S. women are not responding well to the "breast is best" message, says Kimberly Seals Allers. It's time to clear the air and talk about all the other factors--beside nutrition--that affect a mother's feeding choice.
Despite the many benefits of breastfeeding, the fact remains that it also can considerably shrink your outer world, at least for a while. Stories of women being ousted from cafés, and earlier this month from the Houston Zoo, for breastfeeding in public don't help. Neither do stories about women getting fired for pumping breast milk at work. There needs to be an honest space to explore all of that.
Meanwhile, our post-feminist selves (perhaps foolishly) believed that our marriages would be partnerships with a co-equal dynamic. In reality, even in the best of marriages, the domestic burden often shifts, sometimes in slow ways, onto the woman. Breastfeeding plays a central role in that shift. When the woman alone is in charge of feeding (or even pumping so someone else can feed), it's assumed she naturally knows better how to comfort the child, and then she is a better nurse when the child is sick, and so on. Something happens from an initial breastfeeding decision, and it can sometimes lead to frustration, disappointment and even depression for some mothers.
These forces take a toll on women and their families, not to mention on public health. At a time when U.S. infant mortality rates rank higher than less developed nations like Poland, U.S. maternal mortality rates skyrocket annually and childhood obesity runs rampant, a stronger and more broad-based breastfeeding culture could have a significant impact on the health of infants and mothers.
If 90 percent of new mothers exclusively breastfed their babies for the first six months of their lives, it would save 911 babies and $13 billion each year, according to the CDC. If 80 percent of mothers exclusively breastfed for the first six months, 741 deaths would be prevented and $10.5 billion saved. If the Healthy People 2010 goals were met, which call for 50 percent of mothers to continue breastfeeding for six months, 142 deaths would be prevented annually and $2.2 billion would be saved.
This would be tremendous.
It's time to look past the simplistic marketing and examine the big picture, which includes the entire breastfeeding culture and all its insidious players. Women and infants need this.
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Kimberly Seals Allers is an IATP Food and Community Fellow and a leading voice on the African American motherhood experience. She is the author of "The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy" (Amistad/HarperCollins) and two other Mocha Manual™ books and founder of www.MochaManual.com, a parenting and lifestyle magazine and blog for African American moms. She is a regular commentator for Babycenter.com and Essence.com and is the multicultural mom channel leader for LiftetimeMoms.com.
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