August is National Breastfeeding Month and is a good time for nurses to offer support and resources for families who want to make breastfeeding part of their lives.

According to the United States Breastfeeding Committee, “83 percent of U.S. infants receive breast milk at birth, only 25 percent are still exclusively breastfed at six months of age.” And while the benefits of breastfeeding are widely touted by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other organizations, not every family has equal access to resources or has a supportive environment in which breastfeeding can be sustained.

This month calls attention to the disparities that exist and can help families who choose breastfeeding to have better opportunities for education, support, and resources.

On August 27, from 11:30 am to 1 pm EDT, BirthNet will host the lunchtime discussion, Celebrating Black Breastfeeding and How Doulas Can Help. The panel discussion will address using doulas to help families through some of the challenges they find, especially during the times when COVID-19 can bring even more barriers to finding support when they need it.

Most babies and mothers reap health benefits associated with breastfeeding. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics those include some infant and childhood protection against:

  • bacteremia
  • diarrhea
  • respiratory tract infection
  • necrotizing enterocolitis
  • otitis media
  • urinary tract infection
  • late-onset sepsis in preterm infants
  • type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkins disease
  • childhood overweight and obesity

Mothers also find benefits include a faster uterine recovery, decreased bleeding, faster postpartum weight loss, and some risk reduction of ovarian and breast cancer.

Nurses can continue to offer support to moms who are beginning the process or those who want to continue and are having a hard time doing so. While breastfeeding is a natural method of feeding, it isn’t always easy. Frustration, pain, and exhaustion can derail even the most determined parent. But supportive care—from a nurse, a friend, family member, or a professional—can make the path to continue a little easier. When parents find reliable and effective advice, emotional support, and encouragement, they may be more inclined to continue.

As a nurse, even if you aren’t an ob/gyn specialist, you can help support families who want to breastfeed by helping them find resources within your organization. General supportive conversation if they are finding breastfeeding more challenging than they realized or guiding them toward breast pumps, pillows, nursing clothing, salves, or support groups can sometimes be all that’s needed.

As a professional, you can also advocate for breastfeeding rights including workplace rights for working parents, equal access to resources and support, and general acceptance of breastfeeding.

The Healthy Newborn Network offers a Breastfeeding Advocacy Toolkit that offers ideas on everything from funding to workplace policies aimed at making breastfeeding easier and more sustainable for many different lifestyles and scenarios.

Celebrate and support families this week during National Breastfeeding Month.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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