That is a tough question. It is the one Cheryl Clock of The Standard, a local newspaper in St-Catherines, Ontario, tackles in her article “Breast milk is best” published October 5th 2009. Here is an excerpt:
A recent study done by Brock University and the Niagara public health department found that just 40 per cent of Niagara moms who had started breastfeeding were still nursing at six months. (Roughly, just over 10 per cent were breastfeeding exclusively.)
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, and nursing to two years and beyond.
The study followed 90 new mothers recruited through the Niagara Health System over three weeks in 2007, and 140 new moms recruited over five weeks in 2008.
Why had so many quit? Two main reasons. First, breastfeeding can be challenging, especially in the first couple weeks, says Lynn Rempel, chair of the department of nursing at Brock University. She is the study’s lead investigator.
If a mom encounters problems, she’s more likely to quit early, says Rempel.
Problems like a poor latch (how the baby’s mouth forms around the breast), which leads to sore or cracked nipples. And a woman’s perception that she doesn’t have enough milk.
Neither issue is insurmountable, or a reason to quit, says Rempel. In fact, they’re both quite simple to solve with early support.
And secondly, for women who overcome challenges and make it past those first few weeks, they quit because of pressures from society in general. Friends and family, specifically.
In 1999, Rempel did a similar study in Waterloo. By six months, women were hearing messages that caused them to second guess themselves. Messages like: “Are you STILL breastfeeding?” and “Look at how big he’s getting. He needs more.”
Plus, we’re still not comfortable with seeing a mom nursing an older baby, she says.
Nursing a newborn, that’s acceptable. But an older baby, society sees it as just plain weird, says Rempel.
It’s a challenge with no quick solutions. Perhaps mothers need buddies, women who have breastfeeding experience and can normalize ongoing breastfeeding.
In Niagara, the public health department has joined the Baby Friendly Initiative, a global campaign to encourage breastfeeding as a cultural norm.
“We need to make it more public,” says Rempel.
“We need to show it, talk about it and experience it.
“And bit by bit, it will make people more comfortable.”
I agree with that: breastfeeding has to become more public. Women should feel welcomed to nurse anywhere and all the public initiatives like “la route du lait” in Montreal (the milk’s road) or the Breasfeeding-friendly signs that the restaurants can put on their windows do make a difference. I remember seeing, when my daughter was just a few months old, a mother nursing a two year old at an Early Years Centre in Toronto. For me who had heard the recommendations of exclusively nursing for 6 months, I just could not have imagined that someone could nurse for that long. The kid was not a baby anymore. He was tall, he was talking, he was eating, running, and having tantrums like the other ones around. Except that sometimes, for a minute or two, whe would cuddle his mother, she would lift her shirt and he would nurse. Sometimes I want to thank this mom for having had the guts to nurse a toddler in public. Seeing her that day changed my perception of prolonged breastfeeding and made it look possible for me too.
At Momzelle, our mission is to help moms feel good about breastfeeding in public. The nursing clothes I design have hidden openings that allow you to nurse discreetly without hiding (behind a blanket, in a dark corner or at the bathroom). I do sincerely believe that if all moms had a Momzelle top, breastfeeding in public would not be that much of an issue. Let’s not make breastfeeding in public a reason for quitting breastfeeding !