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.