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What’s the Problem?

Some people still think of formula feeding as the “normal” way to feed babies, even though now about 80% of babies are actually breastfed.

Many mothers who breastfeed stop breastfeeding early because they don’t get the support and help they need.  Many parents don’t know how to support a breastfeeding mother and baby.

When mothers are in the hospital to have their babies, many things can make it harder to get breastfeeding started well.  Some of these things include mothers getting medications during labor, taking the baby to the nursery or the baby sleeping in the nursery, giving the baby a bottle or pacifier, and feeding the baby based on a set schedule.

Who’s at Risk?

Any baby who is not breastfed faces higher risk of health problems, including acute (short term) infections such as diarrhea, ear and respiratory infections, and chronic (long term) problems such as asthma, allergies, and obesity.  Babies who are premature, who are sick when they are born, or who attend group day care are at highest risk for health problems if they are not breastfed.

Mothers who work, have only high school education, are unmarried, are not Caucasian, or do not have a lot of money are at highest risk for not breastfeeding.  Many people mistakenly think that in order to breastfeed, mothers need to make many changes to their lives such as eat a very healthy diet or always be home with their babies.

Can It Be Prevented?

The ‘problem’ to be prevented isn’t a disease, per se, instead it is the lack of breastfeeding.

Mothers and babies often need some help in order to breastfeed.  They need:

  • Accurate breastfeeding education.  This education can happen during prenatal visits, during routine nursing care in the hospital, and during pediatrician visits.
  • Help in the hospital.  This help includes keeping mothers and babies together in the same room in the hospital, not giving the baby bottles or pacifiers in the hospital, and having someone on staff who is a breastfeeding expert help mothers with breastfeeding.
  • Support from fathers, grandmothers, bosses, store owners, religious leaders, coworkers, and friends.  This includes encouragement and help with breastfeeding and other daily tasks and refraining from teasing, making jokes, or harassing mothers for breastfeeding.

Tips For Scripts

Include breastfeeding whenever a character has a baby.  Keep mothers and babies close to each other.  Instead of showing an infant car seat or stroller with a blanket over it when the actor is not available, show the mother wearing the baby in a fabric sling carrier – this completely conceals the baby’s head and body, and includes the baby in the scene without needing the live actor.

Display a positive hospital environment.  When a baby is born, the first thing it should do is breastfeed.  Show babies sleeping in their mother’s rooms, not a nursery.

Breastfeeding need not be a central part of the story line.  If a character is a working mother, show her carrying her breast pump to work, or have a door labeled “Nursing Mothers’ Room” in the workplace set.  If a character brings her baby to day care, show her bringing her pumped milk for the baby as well.  If a baby or child becomes fussy as part of a story, the mother can breastfeed to settle and soothe him/her.  Include women breastfeeding in a crowd scene, include a woman breastfeeding in a scene in a doctor’s office.

Avoid teasing characters about breastfeeding and any other jokes about breastfeeding.

Include important kernels of information:

  • Breastfeeding should not be painful.  If it is painful, mothers need to get help from a breastfeeding expert.
  • Breastfeeding is necessary for a baby’s health, and prevents serious illnesses in both mothers and babies.
  • Babies should get only breast-milk for the first 6 months, breastfeeding should continue at least 12 months, and as long as mothers and babies want after that.

Bottom Line

Breastfeeding is important for mothers’ and babies’ health.  Unfortunately, many people mistakenly think breastfeeding is simply an alternative method to feed babies and just a personal choice.  With education and support, many more mothers would be able to breastfeed, preventing many deaths and illnesses every year.  Breastfeeding mothers need education, support, help, and encouragement.

Case Examples

  1. Mary is an African American teen mom who comes into the hospital to deliver her baby.  As soon as her baby is born, he is placed on her chest under a blanket.  The nurse tells her she did a wonderful job and encourages her to watch her baby “latch on to the breast.”  (the nurse stands between Mary and the camera to conceal the breast)  The baby sleeps in Mary’s room with a sign on his bassinet: “No bottles or pacifiers for me, please, I’m learning to breastfeed!”
  1. Suzanne is an Asian American working mom with twins.  The twins are breastfed, as evidenced by her special ‘breastfeeding pillow’ (a ‘c’ shaped pillow that props the babies well for breastfeeding) in the background, the breast pump parts drying next to the sink in the kitchen, and a few scenes where she is sitting comfortably with the babies lying on her lap facing her.
  • Page last reviewed: September 15, 2017
  • Page last updated: September 15, 2017
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