FAQ 8. Challenges

Q. If most women should be able to breastfeed, why do so many seem to have problems?

A. The reasons that women have trouble breastfeeding are because we live in a modern culture with a lot of misconceptions that have been passed down from mother to daughter and neighbour for the last few generations.

These misconceptions were perpetrated in a number of ways over the years: starting with artificial feeding information shared in medical schools and doctors not learning key breastfeeding concepts back in the day when formula companies were allowed to teach professionals about their products. Fortunately this has changed a LOT in recent years and some doctors are becoming quite aware of normal breastfeeding and the need for mothers to get the specialized help that lactation consultants offer.

But back when misinformation abounded in the middle of the last century, those doctors then communicated some of the inaccurate information to mothers and then these well-meaning but misinformed women (who lost a lot of the previously understood breastfeeding ideas that we had before formula was introduced as an infant feeding method) would share that information with others.

In fact, formula and bottles became so common and artificial feeding was seen as a normal way to feed babies that in some hospitals babies were not even allowed to breastfeed until they “proved” they could suck by demonstrating they could do so with a bottle first!

Artificial feeding really took hold around the middle of the twentieth century, in the 40s up to the 70s, and some of the formula companies deliberately discouraged breastfeeding by writing parent-targeted literature that was and still is filled with incorrect ideas or concepts that filled moms with doubts about their ability to breastfeed.

An example is the notion often included in this industry-based literature (or websites) that babies need to feed every three or four hours. This can be true — for SOME babies. But breastmilk digests quickly and it is not uncommon for a breastfed baby to need to nurse again in an hour and a half or so. But this frequency alone can make moms think there is something wrong (why can’t my baby last four hours between feedings?) when maybe everything is fine.

The formula-industry material has often included ideas or is written in a way that makes breastfeeding seem difficult or too time-consuming, or simply not worth the time it takes to learn how to breastfeed, and therefore makes formula-feeding seem preferable to breastfeeding.

It is ironic that the formula industry has often tried to make breastfeeding seem time-consuming, when in fact it takes more time to formula feed: buying bottles, nipples, cleaning supplies, and formula, and then mixing, heating, and feeding it. Breastfeeding, once it is well established, just involves latching on and then baby does the rest — even while you sleep!

As far as the time it takes to really understand how to breastfeed satisfactorily — well, that is always time well-spent, as it involves really learning to understand your little nursing person! That can be such a joyous and rewarding time, and help you really know and care about your baby.

Some of the myths about breastfeeding were often inadvertently –or deliberately — created and incorporated into mothers’ experiences when bottle-feeding practices were introduced into breastfeeding experiences by formula companies. Then those things were passed along that had negative consequences on breastfeeding.

These include many elements from bottle-feeding and then trying apply them to breastfeeding. But many of these are counterproductive to effective breastfeeding: such as timing feedings or deliberately introducing bottles as “standard” practice (especially to “train” baby to take a bottle or preparing to wean to a bottle — which also originated as an intentional effort from the artificial-feeding industry to encourage parents to buy their products), or giving orange juice because it was believed breastmilk did not provide vitamin C, or laying the baby on her back to breastfeed as if they are bottle-feeding, instead of positioning her facing the breast, and many other things that have a negative effect on breastfeeding.

Without knowing why, over time throughout the twentieth century, many women lost a lot of knowledge of the basics that make breastfeeding go smoothly.

Maybe in a non-formula feeding culture, breastfeeding would be more “instinctive” but in cultures like that, little girls grow up seeing how to hold and breastfeed a baby, so they learn how to do it by watching all the time. Is that instinctive? Probably the urge to nurture is instinctive. How to actually do it seems to be learned.

Even cats often become better mothers and more proficient at caring for their young, the more experienced they are!

In any case, in modern society, many young women and girls learn more about how to artificially feed (such as while babysitting) than how to breastfeed, even if on principle they believe that breastfeeding is good. Or they see babies being bottle-fed in public, such as on the bus (when the mom might very well breastfed all the rest of the time)!

But the problem is that bottle-feeding practices are very entrenched and get applied to breastfeeding unless we get proper information and mindfully stop applying the bottle-feeding knowledge to breastfeeding. Another example is timing feedings, and trying to measure how much milk baby is getting or feeling that breastfeeding lacks the certainty of quantity that bottle-feeding requires. But if we needed to measure we would have evolved with measuring instruments. Actually we do: it’s diapers. When baby has planty of soaking wet, pale urine and poopy diapers, that is proof that something went in! That’s tangible. So is a satisfied baby who shows good growth at regular checkups.

So the best way to get information is to make sure it is objective. Therefore, I advise against getting ANY breastfeeding information from the artificial feeding companies (including bottle, formula, or nipple companies) or any information from any professional who has a connection to an artificial feeding company, such as sponsorship or advertising from an artificial feeding company in the breastfeeding literature or website.

These companies stand to gain a lot financially if they can find ways to discourage women from breastfeeding. And the reality is that for these companies, their biggest competition is not other companies — but breastfeeding. So to reach their financial goals they work hard to find ways to make breastfeeding seem hard or unimportant. And if you have challenges? Well, they want you to think that THEY have all the answers.

The only way to ensure that you are getting real PRO-breastfeeding information is if it does not come from a company that stands to benefit financially from you not breastfeeding. And even then, it is wise to be really discerning.

Look at our links on the links page, for great parent resources that offer objective, factual information — or you might want to check out some sites that support breastfeeding rights in the Breastfeeding Issues link.