Some of the reaction to the recent study finding that over 900 lives and $13 billion in health care costs could be saved by increasing exclusive breastfeeding rates has focused on the guilt that mothers might feel for not breastfeeding.
That's why I was so pleased to read this excellent piece by one of the study's authors, Melissa Bartick, in the Huffington Post. Melissa is a doctor and president of the Massachusetts Breastfeeding Coalition.
Melissa framed her piece as a 'tale of two births.' Here are excerpts of each. I strongly suggest reading the whole article.
Having a baby in the ideal, family-friendly United States: You give birth with the help of a birth doula. She helps you avoid a c-section or vacuum assisted birth, which is why your hospital hired her. Your baby is wiped off, then put directly onto your chest, skin to skin, with his head between your breasts. The nurse puts a blanket around you both, and then your partner cuts the cord. The nurse evaluates his initial transition to life outside the womb as he rests on your chest. As you lay semi-reclining, happy and exhausted, your baby uses his arms and legs to crawl over to your breast and he starts nursing. You and your partner are left undisturbed for an hour to enjoy your new baby, who has now imprinted the proper breastfeeding behaviors thanks to this initial breastfeeding. You are then transported to your post-partum room with your baby on your chest...
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Having a baby in the real United States: You give birth to a healthy baby, and you've never heard of a birth doula. The umbilical cord is clamped and cut before anyone can say, "It's a boy!" Immediately, your baby is whisked across the room to the warmer where Apgar scores are assigned, he's given a shot of Vitamin K, and antibiotic eye ointment is slathered in his eyes, clouding his vision. He's placed on a cold scale and weighed and measured. He is examined by his nurse, who takes him to a different room to do her evaluation. He is bathed, washing off his mother's scent. At last, he's professionally swaddled into a nice tight parcel and handed to you to hold, cradled sideways in your arms. He's not skin to skin, and he can't move his arms and legs to crawl to the breast. Before you know it, an hour has passed since his birth, and since he's missed the window of "alert time" after birth, he slips into a deep sleep without having spontaneously breastfeed. You attempt to interest him in the breast, but he is really too tired to try very hard. Because he's wrapped up and has been given a bath, he can't use his sense of touch and smell to crawl his way over to find your breast...
Each story continues through the postpartum period, covering breastfeeding support after leaving the hospital, maternity leave, and return to work.
So, now that you've heard the difference between what your experience could have been like, and what it was actually like, you tell me: Do you feel guilty for not breastfeeding? Or do you feel angry because it didn't have to be this way? Yes, I'm a researcher and a physician, but I'm also a mother. Since I live in the United States, you can probably guess what my birth experience was like. Maybe you've heard me on the news saying that moms shouldn't feel guilty. I've been there. So take that guilt and turn it inside out, and do something positive so that other moms don't have to go through what you did. We all deserve better.