New mothers continue to face social stigma against breast-feeding

Breasts. They’re pretty important. Do you know why? If Sports Illustrated comes to mind, you may need to rethink how you view these masses of adipose tissue. Don’t worry — you aren’t the only hominid to have forgotten that mammals (with our root meaning breast; see: mammogram) evolved to use the organs on our chests.

This is causing a crisis among women who are new to parenting. In fact, Laurie A. Nommsen-Rivers and colleagues from UC Davis recently reported that breastfeeding problems are very common among first-time mothers, leading these women to add formula or abandon breastfeeding overall.

The study, which involved women in different stages of pregnancy and childbearing, revealed a myriad of problems associated with breastfeeding. Among these issues were breast pain after feeding, perception of insufficient breast milk and concerns infants were not feeding well enough at the breast. The survey revealed that while 75 percent of American mothers initiate breastfeeding, less than 13 percent follow through with the six months recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In an email correspondence, Nommsen-Rivers spoke on behalf of the UC Davis research team about this issue. She believes that women certainly have access to information on breastfeeding in the classroom and online, but the problem stems from a lack of vicarious learning.

This means that women do not usually observe others breastfeeding. The research team correlates this with societal attitudes against breastfeeding. They write, “As a society, we can help to ensure that all expectant mothers have … learning opportunities by being a more breastfeeding friendly culture. For example, it is important that mothers feel welcomed to breastfeed wherever they may go with their baby — whether it be at a restaurant, the park, the mall, etc.”

This fear of mammary glands is both new and alarming. Breastfeeding has been a part of the human life cycle since we evolved, as seen in our animal relatives. It is very important for making healthy humans. One of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding stems from the immune system boost mothers pass to their children. A woman can pass up to half a gram per day of Immunoglobulin A antibodies via her milk. These end up in the intestines of the infants and help fight infection.

Over the last few hundred years, breasts have become centers of attention for different reasons. Why this occurred is hard to say, but the researchers recommend help for the concerned, new mothers. The scholars suggest plans to evaluate breastfeeding and make mothers more comfortable with their role in childbearing. Perhaps the lactation rooms on our very own campus can help set this in action.

“I’ve seen [the lactation rooms] around but I’ve never seen them in use,” said Amy Chyan, a second-year neurology, physiology and behavior major.

While not many of the younger student population may take advantage of these rooms, Lonna Hampton, the lactation specialist at WorkLife on campus, knows the true importance of the lactation rooms.

“The rooms benefit students, staff and faculty who are separated from their infants during their time on campus, as they provide excellent quality breast pumps and a private place in which to pump,” Hampton said in an email.

 

CATHERINE MAYO can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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