One of the best things I get to do as part of the Baby-Friendly project is speak to groups of doctors, administrators, nurses and families about what all of us can do to make breastfeeding work for mothers in our community. How fun that people are listening and usually eager to help! This week I speak with obstetricians about the 3 hours of breastfeeding education required for physicians. Here are my thoughts. Wish me luck!
#1 Breastfeeding is a public health issue, not an alternative.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics February 2012 breastfeeding policy statement:
Breastfeeding and human milk are the normative standards for infant feeding and nutrition… Recently, published evidence-based studies have confirmed and quantitated the risks of not breastfeeding. Thus, infant feeding should not be considered a lifestyle choice but rather a basic health issue.
#2 Breastfeeding saves money.
In 2010 the journal Pediatrics reported that 13 billion dollars could be saved annually in the U.S. if 90% of women followed recommended guidelines to exclusively feed their babies breast milk for 6 months. Families save $1,200 to $1,500 in formula cost alone, not taking into consideration doctor appointments for illness, medications and missed days at work.
#3 Doctors’ words are a powerful influence.
When talking to a family about any health issue, I can quote research, show the actual journal articles, bring in a panel of experts or talk about what has worked for thousands of women over millennia, but if my words don’t align with what their doctor says, my words fall flat on the ground.
Consider this. My sister-in-law decided to formula feed her second baby right from the beginning. Her obstetrician respectfully charted her decision without saying a word. Her baby was born one evening, and she formula fed through the night. In the morning, my nephew’s pediatrician spoke with my sister-in-law, and over the course of the conversation, he said one sentence that made all the difference. He said, “With your family’s history of allergies, you really should breastfeed.” That’s it. That’s all he said. From that moment she started breastfeeding and exclusively breastfed her baby for six months.
#4 Inconsistent messages are confusing.
If doctors’ words are that powerful, think how detrimental misinformation or inconsistent information is for new mothers. Myths abound in the breastfeeding world. Routinely restricting a woman’s diet, restricting the length of feedings and basing weight gain on outdated growth charts are all current examples of what mothers are hearing from doctors in our community. Even what may seem a harmless sentiment like, “Don’t feel guilty if breastfeeding doesn’t work out for you” undermines a woman’s confidence in her ability to breastfeed. Out of concern for saying the wrong thing, some doctors say nothing. However, a neutral stance sends the message that formula feeding and breastfeeding must be equal. If the choice really matters, women believe their doctors will say something.
#5 ALL medical professionals need breastfeeding education.
How can physicians be sure they are giving up-to-date, relevant information? Baby-Friendly requires all physicians who deliver babies or care for babies in the hospital have 3 continuing medical education (CME) credits related to breastfeeding. These can be done online through the University of Virginia School of Medicine at no cost to the hospital or to the doctors. For our Baby-Friendly designation timeline, we will need all CMEs completed by the end of 2013. That will be a pretty nice beginning to working together on making breastfeeding a success for more moms in our community!