For all mothers – newbies or not – the topic of breastfeeding can be overwhelming. From postpartum fatigue to latching issues to finding places in public places to feed, moms who are breastfeeding or hoping to breastfeed often feel overwhelmed by the task.
That’s why this week it’s time to “step up for breastfeeding” — at least according to this year’s World Breastfeeding Week theme, which kicked off Monday.
Started in 1992 by the Global Alliance for Action on Breastfeeding, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually from August 1 to August 7. what is the point? Raising public awareness and supporting breastfeeding.
“International Breastfeeding Week is a really important week to recognize the people who put the time and effort into breastfeeding,” said Kelsey Munn-Wilson, RD, IBCLC, CDN, a community lactation consultant and chair of community education at Bellevue Women’s Center in Niskauna.
This year’s theme, “Scaling Up Breastfeeding,” focuses on the role of governments, communities and individuals in protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding. According to the campaign website, these factors are essential to support a feeding process that not only nurtures children but also promotes food security and “reduces inequality between and within countries” through a consistent and globally available food source: breast milk.
Although World Breastfeeding Week is a global campaign celebrated by 120 countries around the world, its message reaches home even in the metropolitan region where more breastfeeding support is essential.
“Just like everywhere else, there is a very big need to support breastfeeding,” said Kara Banks, a leader at Greenbush La Leche League, a nonprofit that promotes breastfeeding through mother support and education.
Banks points to a 2013 statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says 60% of mothers don’t end up breastfeeding as long as they want to.
“Obviously people are not achieving their goals in nursing and something is going on and they could use some extra support,” she said.
This disparity can be seen specifically in Schenectady where, according to Sarah Tice, a public health nurse and lactation consultant for Schenectady County Public Health, breastfeeding rates are lower in the heart of the city.
As for the greater metropolitan area, hospital maternity statistics, which calculate the number and proportions of babies who were breastfed while in hospital prior to discharge, more reflective of the need to support breastfeeding across the metropolitan area.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively for about six months. However, according to 2019 data from the New York State Department of Health, Bellevue Women’s Center, the only maternity hospital in Schenectady County, reported that only 52.84% of babies are fed exclusively breast milk.
At Nathan Letour Hospital in Fulton County that same year, only 48.53% of babies were fed breast milk only between birth and discharge. Saratoga County had one of the highest rates, with 76.95% of children at Saratoga Hospital being fed exclusively breast milk at the hospital.
According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in New York State as a whole, only 23.4% of babies are exclusively breastfed during the recommended six months.
According to Moon Wilson, there are many reasons why a mother would choose not to breastfeed or breastfeed at all. For mothers with multiple babies, exclusive pumping may be the only way to continue feeding multiple mouths at the same time.
Babies in the neonatal intensive care unit or those with disabilities may have difficulty latching or coordinating with the mother’s breast. In addition, survivors of sexual assault may also prefer to express milk exclusively or to supplement if breastfeeding has caused past trauma.
However, due to the recent shortage of formula, which has left store shelves completely devoid of formula, many parents are now forced to unexpectedly change their breastfeeding plans.
At Schenectady’s Children’s Cafés, which are located in the Mount Pleasant Branch Library and Phyllis Burnett Branch Library and Literacy Center and offer free breastfeeding support, many mothers are looking to find ways to breastfeed for longer.
“The mums we see here at the Baby Café are more interested in continuing to breastfeed and knowing what those issues are — whether those issues are latch, low perceived supply, decreased actual supply, or any of the issues,” said Natalie Prihoda, certified lactation consultant and coordinator. Schenectady County Public Health’s Public Health Education, “which we tend to see — and find out because formula deficiency is so scary for moms.”
In addition, mothers who have stopped breastfeeding are now working to reproduce milk, and mothers who were not comfortable with breastfeeding and supplementing with milk are now exclusively pumping milk.
“It was really sad and hard to see the imperfection in the formula,” Munn Wilson said. “Getting people to breastfeed in the first place they don’t want to, and I don’t really think that’s fair to people who don’t really want to do it – breastfeeding takes a lot of work, time, and effort.”
Munn Wilson notes that she has observed higher rates of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety in her patients, possibly due to stress caused by a lack of formula.
“It’s certainly going to affect a lot of families. Between that and living in a pandemic and having a baby in a pandemic, rates of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, or PPA, have skyrocketed,” Moon Wilson said. “I’m not sure if this is directly related to the lack of formula or the epidemic or the loss of what life used to be like but we’re seeing an incredibly high rate of those now.”
But World Breastfeeding Week strives to celebrate those mothers who work tirelessly to feed their babies in any way they can, even if they struggle with the breastfeeding journey.
“I want to celebrate the mom who struggled to hold her baby who’s been in the NICU for four months, I want to fight for that mom who’s been feeding a sick baby three times — so she pumps her baby, puts her baby down, and bottle feeds breast milk,” said Moon Wilson. “I want to celebrate the mom who has twins who have been working her butt to make sure the milk gets through and keep offering breast milk in a bottle and I want to celebrate the mom who hasn’t been able to hold because of something and so has been pumping exclusively for two years.
“I want to celebrate people no matter what their journey is like and I think World Breastfeeding Week is a really good way to shine a light on these people.”
Organizations across the metropolitan area held events throughout the week to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.
Schenectady Baby Cafés held a Mommy and Me photoshoot on July 30, along with a Baby Cafe pop-up at Hometown Health on Thursday that offered snacks and educational materials. Tice was at the event to answer questions and concerns.
“Breastfeeding looked different for all these different moms and they were different ages, and we really wanted to celebrate that mom’s breastfeeding journey whether she was still breastfeeding at the time or stopped,” Tice said.
Greenbush La Leche League will host a fundraising event called Live Love Latch! In honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month August 14 at the Snyder Lake Pavilion in North Greenbush.
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