Support Changes Everything: National Breastfeeding Month
August is National Breastfeeding Month, kicking off with World Breastfeeding Week’s theme to Empower Parents, Enable Breastfeeding. Pediatricians are uniquely poised to empower parents and enable breastfeeding.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has long supported breastfeeding as the optimal infant nutrition. The AAP Policy Statement on Breastfeeding reminds us that “human milk is the normative standard for infant feeding and nutrition.” While an impressive 96% of babies born in Oregon start off breastfeeding (PRAMS, 2015), the rate decreases by half by the time infants are three months old (OR WIC Administrative Data, 2017). Support for breastfeeding is needed at every level, including policy, health systems, work places, schools, and at home.
Early newborn appointments frequently involve breastfeeding discussions. Well child visits are a prime opportunity for pediatric providers to provide anticipatory guidance and support the breastfeeding dyad for ongoing success throughout the recommended 12 or more months. Pediatricians have cited gaps in their knowledge as a barrier to care as well as underestimating their influence on breastfeeding. As both a peer breastfeeding mentor and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, I have observed the power of key individuals to make or break the breastfeeding experience. It is often the personal experience of the pediatrician, partner, or grandmother that informs the infant feeding support a new parent receives.
National Breastfeeding Month reminds us that Support Changes Everything. Pediatricians can do many things to support breastfeeding success, such as developing a breastfeeding-friendly practice, enhancing your training (see this AAP online course) or integrating a lactation consultant (IBCLC) in postpartum office visits. Referring families to Oregon’s Women, Infants, and Children program gives them access to additional breastfeeding support, with Multnomah County WIC having just piloted forms for pediatricians to refer clients directly.
On the policy level, with the support of Oregon Pediatric Society, House Bill 2005 passed the 2019 State Legislative Session, allowing for 12 weeks paid leave for all Oregon workers welcoming a new child. This paid leave will enable families to establish a solid milk supply before returning to work, something often disrupted by maternity leaves cut short in order to pay the bills. Paid leave builds on the momentous coverage for lactation support added by the Affordable Care Act and the peer-to-peer breastfeeding support available at the WIC program.
James Grant, former UNICEF Director, said that “breastfeeding is the only natural safety net against being born into poverty.” Supporting families to reach their breastfeeding goals will reduce health inequities, improve health outcomes, and empower parents to continue making a lifetime of positive health choices for their children.
Amber Ziring, MSW, MPH, IBCLC
OPS Project Manager