Stories Suggesting The Medical Community May Be Failing Breastfeeding Moms Are Not Surprising

shutterstock_114424966I don’t know how everyone’s experience with breastfeeding was – but mine was hard. I was hell-bent on doing it, so I did tons of research and really utilized my hospital’s lactation consultant. If I hadn’t had done those things though – I’m sure I wouldn’t have succeeded. Everyone around me just seemed to assume that breastfeeding was something I would know how to do. Not true.

It hurts like hell, it’s hard, and nothing really comes out for the first few days. Luckily, I had a very dedicated lactation consultant on my maternity ward who was there to assure me that everything would be okay. That not a lot of milk is actually produced in the first few days. That I wasn’t starving my baby. The other nurses just asked me if I was planning on breastfeeding and when I said “yes,” they handed me my baby.

I remember thinking, What now?

That’s why the story in this week’s Time magazine about women not getting enough lactation support doesn’t surprise me.

When women have trouble breast-feeding, they are often confronted with two divergent directives: well-meaning lactation consultants urge them to try harder, while some doctors might advise them to simply give up and go the bottle-and-formula route.

“We just give women a pat on the head and tell them their kids will be fine,” if they don’t breastfeed, says Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB who treats breast-feeding problems in North Carolina.

No one argues against the idea that breast is best, but the truth is that breast-feeding is very difficult for many women, and for some, medical problems make it almost impossible without intervention. With the recent bans on giveaways of formula samples in some hospitals, it’s all the more important that the medical community have the tools and knowledge to help mothers breastfeed — or to figure out why they can’t.

I had a lactation consultant who actually put her hands on me, looked for my milk output, and examined closely to see if the baby was taking in food. I was reassured that he was – that some women can’t produce, but I was not one of those women. Had she not been there, I would have given up for sure.

Conversely, we are now seeing hospitals institute bans on formula. Mothers must request it and have it administered – almost as if it were a prescription. I’m glad hospitals are making an effort to support breastfeeding. I’m just not sure this is the answer.

Nurses that work on maternity wards need to be versed in helping women succeed with breastfeeding and recognizing when their bodies aren’t producing. Lactation consultants need to be readily available. Just assuming a woman can succeed with breastfeeding because you make formula harder to get is pretty ridiculous.

Until doctors and nurses are properly trained to help, women… will experience all of the pressure to breastfeed, with none of the support to figure out how.

What do doctors learn about breast-feeding in medical school? “We learned that it’s what’s best for baby,” said my own pediatrician. “But that’s it.” They’re introduced to evidence that prolonged breast-feeding reduces the possibilities of obesity, SIDS and allergies, but the science of it, what’s happening at the anatomical level? Not so much.

So it seems that even though most medical professionals can agree that “breast is best,” they still have a long way to go in terms of having the knowledge and expertise to actually help women meet that goal – and realize when they can’t.

(photo: Zurijeta/

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  • OfaceJones

    I was extremely lucky to have a great nurse who herself had breast fed 3 children to show me what to do, as the hospital lactation consultants were AWFUL. One acted like I was bothering her, the other wouldn’t look me in the eye or listen to any of my concerns. Breast feeding is one of the hardest things I’ve done (even over child birth), and I think its ridiculous that doctors are not taught more about it.

    • bumbler

      it’s ridiculous that mothers and fathers don’t demand that doctors know more about it. People will only get away with what you let them, incl medical professionals.

    • JLH

      You can only demand so much. Doctors are still a necessity if you’ve chosen a hospital birth. And from my dr/nurse friends demanding patients or patients who complain a lot when they contact higher ups are known as “complainers” and therfore not listened to. You can’t just demand things and expect someone to bow down. Do research ask questions etc. but there is only so much one person can do.

    • bumbler

      you’re right, I was too vague in my comment. I meant to say that mothers and mothers-to-be (and their support, family, midwives, partners etc) should be taking proactive steps to ensure adequate care is given in hospitals, by requesting docs have proper training and that the hospital has proper protocols. I don’t mean whining at the shift nurses (obvs many will only brush you off), I mean making specific, reasonable demands to the admin etc, and letting it be known that less won’t be tolerated. If the demand is large and organized, it will be met. Otherwise, hospitals will often get away with the shoddiest laziest ‘care’ they can legally manage.

    • ipsedixit010

      Doctors aren’t there to coddle you through parenthood, show you how to
      change a diaper, feed your kids, or how to put them to sleep. Those are
      things you should be learning on your own in the months leading up to delivery or, if you are having
      trouble, have the resources to get help from. Go to a LLL meeting, go
      to an outside lactation consultant, or ask other mothers. A doctor can only hand hold so much.

    • bumbler

      this is also a very valid point. Mothers need to be proactive in educating themselves and finding the right support if they fear they cannot figure it out or that the hospital staff might be inadequate. The help is out there for sure, you just need to stand up and take it. There’s even youtube and books if nothing else!

    • OfaceJones

      I wasn’t looking to be coddled. I just think there needs to be more resources besides LLL. I have gone to LLL (too militant), seen a couple of lactation consultants, and asked other mothers. There are some physiological questions that none of them seem to know the answers. No need to be condescending.

  • Robyn Hoover Mejia

    I wish I would have had more support. I got no help at all that night after my son was born. Then they took him away in the morning and put him in the NICU for a week because he had low blood sugar and refused to let me nurse him for 3 days. They told me to pump and no matter what I said I was ignored. Then when I was allowed to try and nurse him, I got no support. They told me I had a stubborn baby. Well of course I do when you give him formula and want him to be take 2-3 ounces at 2 days old!

    • bumbler

      what do you mean they wouldn’t LET you nurse YOUR baby? They kept you chained to the bed or something? I don’t mean to pester you, but it really baffles me how women let them selves get walked all over and pushed around, especially in hospitals it seems. Is there a victim mentality playing in here? (An honest question) And what about the family and friends that were (likely, in most cases) by your side? If you were exhausted or confused etc, why didn’t they stand up for you and the baby?
      Never forget that more than any medicine or machine or doctor, what a sick baby needs are it’s mother(s) and father(s).

    • Guerrilla Mom

      I know exactly what Robin means. I was lucky to have my midwife with me who insisted on retesting my baby’s blood sugar, or the same thing would have happened to me. In some hospitals they have protocol that insists that if a baby’s blood sugar is testing low they take him to the nursery and give him a bottle.
      Guess what? Women get railroaded in hospitals all the time. I am definitely not a “victim” but they wouldn’t have listened to me if my midwife wasn’t there. And I actually said “get your fucking hands off my baby – he’s breastfeeding.”
      We need to stop placing the blame on women – and start placing it where it belongs – misinformed dr’s and nurses.

    • bumbler

      wow, I’m impressed you said that to them! That’s the right idea, and it’s good your midwife was there too. And no need to say women are ‘being blamed’ here, but they’re supposed to be #1 defender of the baby (right?) so is it too much to expect they’re the ones who should demand better service fot themselves and the baby? Yes, the docs/nurses need to change, but SOMEONE has to spearhead that change. Someone has to demand it. Why not the mothers??

    • Guest

      After an emergency c-section I was physically unable to get off the bed when my first born was placed on a drip in the special care nursery due to hypoglycemia. I was in a hospital with nurses that supported breast feeding but it was still around 14 hours after his first feed that I was mobile enough to get to him to resume trying to breastfeed. I then encountered a paediatrician who insisted that if I wanted to breastfeed I had to pump then bottle feed every three hours to see how much my son was taking in – very painful and difficult when your milk hasn’t come in yet. The nurses had that changed as soon as they could to just weighing him before and after every feed to guage how much he was drinking. I can fully understand how someone can be bullied into an experience such as Robyn’s. Fortunately I had supportive nurses and midwives who rallied around me and I successfully breastfed until he self-weaned at 14months.

    • Justme

      Ah yes. Shame the mother.

    • bumbler

      I don’t think there is shaming here, but shame is a pretty good tool to get people to do what they’re supposed to do, so I wouldn’t be opposed. Also, your overly defensive, vague, reactionary comment did not add much to this discussion.

    • Justme

      There was no defensiveness but instead a noticeable trend amongst all your postings.

  • boots

    To be fair, doctors are only human. They are not gods or wizards. They learn a lot, but there is a genuine limit to how much a single human being can absorb. They are expected to know so much about so many things (including the frightfully rare stuff), but are lambasted if they get anything wrong.

  • msenesac

    I didn’t have any support from my nurses after my son was born. They basically handed him over and said that I needed to figure out breastfeeding by myself. It was… completely overwhelming. We didn’t get a chance to meet with a lactation nurse until at least a day after he was born. A week after we brought him home, my preemie son was still losing weight (he slept all the time and we had trouble getting him to sleep). Our pediatrician told us that she wanted to see him daily, and that if he continued to lose weight, she would admit him to the hospital. She then stressed formula and that’s what we ended up doing.

    If we had had better support, we definitely would have continued with breastfeeding.

  • Vikky

    Everyone (especially doctors & women pregnant with their first child) repeat after me:

    Breast-feeding is a skill, not an instinct.
    Breast-feeding is a skill, not an instinct.
    Breast-feeding is a skill, not an instinct.

  • chickadee

    The best support I got was from my mother, who had breastfed all of her children. I have to say that it was pretty easy for me, but that was probably also, in part, because my mother was there.

    I’m not sure I believe that it’s the doctor’s responsibility to know how to assist breastfeeding mothers, but I do agree that any lactation consultant should be knowledgeable and supportive.

  • freemane

    I wish more people would nurse around other people. (Did that make sense?) The fact that so few women actually see breastfeeding probably makes it harder to do it themselves… Maybe I should stop using a nursing cover…

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