While October urges us to "Save the Tatas" for breast cancer awareness, the month of August is encouraging women everywhere to lend their boobies to the babies in honor of – you guessed it – National Breastfeeding Awareness Month. And many mothers are already taking part. According to an article on Huffington Post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2012 Breastfeeding Report Card says breastfeeding rates have increased 2 percent – the biggest jump in the past decade.
Why the increase?
"WIC, a supplement nutrition program for women, infants and children, may be the biggest push towards breastfeeding," says Mary Kay Smith, lactation consultant with Henry Ford Hospital's lactation services. The program, federally funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has also been issuing grants to help prevent childhood obesity – which, Smith says, is in accordance with a push for mothers to nurse: "Breastfeeding is a huge prevention against childhood obesity."
Barbara Robertson, professional development director for the U.S. Lactation Consultant Association and owner of the Breastfeeding Center of Ann Arbor, agrees with Smith. "Breastfeeding is becoming more of a public issue than a lifestyle choice. Families in poverty are generally less likely to breastfeed, but WIC is pushing breastfeeding for all mothers. It's a national push," says Robertson.
The pro-breastfeeding argument
Not only is breastfeeding essential for creating a bond between mother and infant, experts say, but it gives back to mothers as well. "The longer moms breastfeed, the better the benefits," Robertson says. "Later in life, these moms will have less chance of facing obesity, heart disease and osteoporosis. It can also help lower the risk of post-partum depression – plus it helps moms burn calories faster."
Besides providing your child with the essential fatty acids and DHA only found in breast milk, breastfeeding has been found to have positive effects on your child's brain power. "A study showed that there is a connection between a child being fed breast milk and their IQ," Smith says. Furthermore, breastfeeding saves money. Robertson says, "The government could save $17 billion in health care costs if families chose breastfeeding for their child for just six months."
Despite the 2 percent increase though, numbers still aren't matching up.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed infants for 6 months, then continually breastfeed for up to a year or more while introducing complementary foods. However, the CDCs Maternity Practices in Infant Nutrition and Care (mPINC)'s report card shows that in Michigan alone, only 37.2 percent of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding at just 3 months and only 17.9 percent at 6 months. If breastfeeding offers mothers and their babies so many perks, why are some still reluctant to nurse?
Why some are hesitant to start
"Some mothers are afraid of pain," says Smith. "But if it's done correctly, breastfeeding doesn't hurt." And when it comes to costs, depending on your health insurance policy, Robertson says that lactation consultants are covered by most policies – plus they'll reimburse on the cost of breast pumps. "Most moms choose to start breastfeeding but, by 3 months, they'll stop either because they're not getting enough emotional support or they're getting the wrong directions."
Where mothers first receive their children also significantly impacts whether a mom chooses to breastfeed – and how long she will continue. According to the mPINC's report card where hospitals and birth care centers across the country are scored out of 100 points on their maternity care practices, the national average fell at 70 in 2011.
Both Smith and Robertson say that one of the bigger reasons mothers may think twice about breastfeeding is the worry of being seen. Unfortunately, the root of the problem isn't breastfeeding itself, but the breasts.
Society's impact on nursing mothers
When TIME released its controversial May 2012 issue of a young boy feeding from his mother's half-exposed chest, jaws dropped and people cringed with complaints.
Just last week, news broke about New Jersey mom MaryAnn Sahoury, who'd filmed an instructional breastfeeding video in hopes of helping new mothers get started with the practice. Months later, Sahoury was shocked when she found out her video had been turned into a porn video, posted on adult sites and shared on YouTube with thousands of hits received.
Robertson says it's a matter of society straightening its priorities. "Breasts have been sexualized – not the nursing. What's seen as something natural suddenly becomes obscene when a baby is placed in front of it. Furthermore, in some countries, it's normal to breastfeed in restaurants because it's part of family routine – but in the United States, people would be disgusted."
Is there a solution for increased breastfeeding acceptance? "Unfortunately, desexualizing breasts may not be an option at this point, but you can still take small steps to improve the situation," Robertson says. "If you see a nursing mother, don't draw attention to her. Simply let her know you approve."