|By Janis Rozentāls [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
Many studies support the importance of breastfeeding in childhood development. The World Health Organization recommends that a child breastfeed for at least two years. The Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies, with some exceptions, be exclusively breastfed for about six months and continue breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for at least one year. The U.S. Public Health Service’s “healthy people 2020” set national goals of 81.9% of babies breastfed at birth, 60.6% at six months, and 34.1% at one year. The goals for exclusively breastfed infants are 46.2% at three months and 25.5% at six months. The CDC published data in 2011 showing that 79% of U.S. mothers initiated breastfeeding; 49.4% were breast-feeding at six months (18.8% of these exclusively breastfeeding at six months) and 26.7% breastfeeding at twelve. So why are so many women initiating breastfeeding, but not continuing?
My story begins on December 30, 2015, the day my daughter was born. I knew I would have to be back at work when she turned eight weeks. I also knew that to establish a good milk supply I needed to wait six.
I was in my first year of residency and did not know much about breastfeeding, how to initiate it, how to overcome common problems, or where even to go for help. Though I was not an attending physician, I considered myself a well-educated well-rounded person.
But now I was in the hospital, holding my newborn daughter and not really knowing how to latch her. I had received a five minute crash course from the nurse who helped during delivery and that was it. The pediatrician did not discuss it, my obstetrician had not talked to me about it, and I had not done any research. Like many women, I believed this would be a natural process that would need no help. I had never been so wrong in my life. I went home after an uncomplicated delivery with sore, cracked nipples. I remember crying almost every day for four weeks because I felt like a horrible mother as I wanted to give up on breastfeeding. It hurt and was a lot more work than I expected.
The combination of being a hormonal mess, with sleep deprivation, a crying baby who seemed hungry all the time, engorged breasts, cracked nipples and mastitis, all made for a difficult time. I had never been through anything so hard in my life. However, I had resources and a supportive husband. On my daughter’s third day of life my milk was not coming in, my daughter cried for hours, I kept trying to put her on my breast, but nothing seemed to be coming. I wanted desperately to comfort her, so I picked up the phone and called a good friend who also happened to be a lactation consultant. She came to my home, stayed with me, worked with me, talked to me. She came every other day for a week, and called me or sent text messages to make sure I was doing okay. During week two after I got over mastitis, my nipples were still cracked and sore, so I decided to go to a mom support group. I sat there listening to other mothers going through the same things. I felt normal for the first time in two weeks. I worked on latching, used a nipple shield, lanolin cream, coconut oil, had mastitis, until finally at six weeks it all stopped.
My daughter is now fourteen months, and I still nurse her. When she turned eight weeks old I went back to work as a resident physician. But I continued to breastfeed her exclusively until she began solid foods at six months. I went through so much, and I am only one woman; how many women out there go through the same thing but do not have resources, support groups, or a lactation consultant who will go to their home. Why are only 18.8% of women exclusively breastfeeding at six months of life? (data from CDC 2015). My story in part answers these questions. Breastfeeding moms are unfortunately the minority; it is indeed a lost art.
Gloria Graham is currently a family medicine second year resident at Eisenhower Medical Center. She has a bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University and went on to receive her M.D. from the American University of the Caribbean. Along the way she met her soul mate Joshua Graham and had her daughter during her intern year of residency.