“Any amount of liquid gold is better than none :)”: Results of my Breastfeeding Survey

As a doula, I hear many stories of the difficulties some women experience with breastfeeding. Although I have lots of training in the basics, my role is to help facilitate early initiation of breastfeeding through skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. In the postpartum period, I can provide referrals to lactation specialists, but my main form of support is informational and emotional.

What if I could provide education prenatally that would help women prevent the most common challenges? If not properly identified and corrected, many breastfeeding issues can get out of hand in a short amount of time, before some women are even able to identify who to seek help from!

This gave me the idea of a survey.   What better way to improve my understanding of the experiences of local women than to ask them? The response was overwhelming: in 48 hours, I had over 80 responses!

Before I share the results, I have to clarify that this is not the same as research. Most of the respondents found the survey through My Breast Friends, a Muskegon-area Facebook group started by Mercy Health to provide a social media extension of their twice weekly support groups.  For this reason, they are not representative of the general population, but it’s a great group to ask if you want to know what works!

For example, the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program collects data on breastfeeding for program enrollees. While not all breastfeeding women are enrolled in WIC, the program provides some data to compare our group to. As of Spring 2015, 81% of infants in the program were breastfeeding at 1 week, dropping to 12.8% at 6 months and 1.29% at 11+ months. In contrast, among the women who responded to my survey who had stopped breastfeeding, 20% had done so at more than a year! Even so, 23.5% of the women did not reach their breastfeeding goal, indicating that improvement is still possible.

What was most interesting to me was what and who women found helpful. With few exceptions, when women do seek support, they find it! At the top of the list were:

  • Hospital Breastfeeding Support Group: In Muskegon we are so lucky to have a support group that meets twice weekly at the Mercy Health Hackley Campus on the second floor, 2210A. Mondays 5 – 7 PM and Thursdays 11 AM – 1 PM.
  • Husband/Partner/Father of the Baby: 80.25% of respondents found their partner to be very or somewhat helpful. Let’s hear it for dads! (Want to learn how to best help your breastfeeding partner? Click here!)
  • The Internet/Social Media: Since the survey solicited responses from a Facebook breastfeeding support community, this should come as no surprise.

Great bonding, a healthy baby and confidence as a mother topped the list of benefits. One respondent reminded me of the cost savings of breastfeeding, while others let me know that the confidence and sense of accomplishment they enjoyed extended beyond that of parenthood. Said one mom, “It was the best thing I ever did”!

Now for the bad news. Sadly, childbirth educators were found to be the least helpful. Not to say they were harmful, but 36% found them to be neither helpful nor unhelpful. Next came prenatal care providers, whom 12% of women found somewhat unhelpful or not at all helpful. The third least helpful group was workplace/coworkers. One in 10 women found their workplace to be not at all helpful! This may contribute to the fact that over 1/3 of respondents indicated difficulties with breastfeeding and work.

Nearly 60% of women experienced pain when breastfeeding, followed by cracked nipples (56%). Low milk supply and difficulties latching tied at 48%.

The advice moms gave formed a couple of distinct themes:

  • Find a support group: Overwhelmingly, moms who have breastfed want other moms to know that they should connect with others, ask for help when needed and not be afraid to seek professional support. As one mom said, “Find your momma tribe”!
  • Don’t give up: Many moms stated that if you can get through the first few weeks, it gets easier. All agreed that it was worth it in the long run.
  • Be flexible: 38% of respondents supplemented breastfeeding with formula. Said one mom who’s been there, “Don’t be too discouraged if you have to supplement with formula.”

Thanks to everyone who completed the survey! For more information on breastfeeding resources in the Muskegon area, check out the “resources” section of my website.

Childbirth Classes?  Yes, you should!

The question of if and how families benefit from childbirth classes is complex.  Despite some research in this area, there is wide variation among curriculum, instructors, duration and settings.  Instead of drastically impacting the physiological outcomes of birth, I found that classes help families prepare mentally to “complete an important developmental milestone” (Koehn 2008) and “expand the social network of new parents” (Fabian et. al. 2005).

How do Cooperative Childbirth Education classes vary from other classes?

  • Cooperative childbirth education is based on the experiences of women, not named after a male doctor who made a “discovery” through observation. While I can’t ignore the work of my male predecessors, such as Lamaze, Bradley and Grantly Dick-Read, my education was based on the writings of women in the field, such as Ina May GaskinSheila Kitzinger and others.
  • I write my own entire curriculum and do not follow anything copywrited. This means that I can update the information I present at will or tailor it to fit the needs of my students, without having to receive permission or approval from a certifying agency.
  • Unlike hospital classes, in which the instructor, usually a Registered Nurse, is an employee of the hospital, I am independent and self-employed. Hospital classes are sometimes criticized for creating more compliant patients instead of empowered consumers.
  • I have no agenda. Most classes center around “natural” or “unmedicated” childbirth as their goal.  While most people seek out classes to achieve an unmedicated birth, I want families to have enough information to make the right decisions for them.
  • As the Cooperative Childbirth Education website states, we are trained to be “passionate consumer advocates.” I’m not just doing a job, I’m a part of a movement.  Many movements in fact, all working toward the shared goal of increasing access to childbearing options for all families.

I hope you will join me at an upcoming class, where you can prepare for your birth quest and connect with other parents!

Fabian, Helena M., Ingela J. Rådestad, and Ulla Waldenström. “Childbirth and parenthood education classes in Sweden. Women’s opinion and possible outcomes.” Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica 84.5 (2005): 436-443.

Koehn, Mary. “Contemporary women’s perceptions of childbirth education.” The Journal of perinatal education 17.1 (2008): 11.