According to the CDC’s 2016 breastfeeding report card, while 88% of babies start out being breastfed, at six months old only 25% are still being exclusively breastfed. While breastfeeding rates vary widely, they are significantly lower for African-American infants. There are multiple barriers to starting and then continuing to breastfeed. For moms to succeed, they need a myriad of continuous and consistent education and support mechanisms.
Breastfeeding is one of the most highly effective preventive measures a mother can take to protect her infant’s health. It’s important to educate families early about this and other benefits. Being proactive with information is essential – it’s never too soon to start educating future moms and their partners. Set goals and expectations during pregnancy. Offering a prenatal breastfeeding class gets the subject top of mind early on. By starting sooner than later, the subject can be taught in small sections over time, so parents aren’t being overwhelmed with too much information at once. Plus, there are so many ways to reach today’s moms outside of the classroom that there are more education opportunities than ever. With digital devices, they can use apps, Augmented Reality, web-based programs, and even social networks like Twitter and Facebook for information and support groups.
Having positive resources to turn to is also important for mothers when they have breastfeeding challenges to overcome and need support to stick with it. Providers and facilities that stay in touch with families and create a strong connection with them are more likely to have more mothers return for that aid. Positive messages about breastfeeding throughout the community reinforce that it is a natural and very important thing to do. Getting the community engaged through awareness efforts, coalitions and baby-friendly establishments all help to do this.
Letting mothers know where to look for peer-to-peer support is another way to offer encouragement. Connecting through peer-to-peer groups in the hospital or other support outreach methods, including Facebook communities, Twitter and blogs can make a huge difference in breastfeeding rates.
But it’s not only mothers that need to learn the benefits and understand the importance of doing it exclusively – it’s also their partner, the baby’s grandparents and even the mother’s friends. The more support and positive messaging she can get from those around her, the longer she is likely to exclusively breastfeed. In an experimental study, it was found that help from the family is even more important than education and peer support when it came to long-term breastfeeding. “Support that is only offered reactively, in which women are expected to initiate the contact, is unlikely to be effective; women should be offered ongoing support so they can predict that support will be available.” Those that are around the mother every day can influence whether she sticks with breastfeeding for a longer duration. If those people – partners, grandparents, friends – actively support her decision to breastfeed and make it a priority, she is more likely to reach her breastfeeding goals.