With Breastfeeding On The Rise In Arizona, Moms Seek More Resources
Have you seen the hashtag #normalizebreastfeeding on social media? It’s becoming a lot more popular as breastfeeding rates continue to rise in the U.S.
Breastfeeding is seen as the healthiest option for babies and a matter of liberation for some mothers.
LeeAnne Contreras registered for a nursing cover so she could breastfeed in public when she was pregnant with her first son. Back then, she said she wasn’t even all that concerned about breastfeeding her children.
“I didn’t really know anybody that had breastfed,” Contreras said.
Once she did it, she said it quickly became a passion.
“It’s so special because it’s just a once in a lifetime opportunity to bond that way with your baby, like you just grew that baby inside of you and he’s such a vital part of you, I mean, physically, emotionally, everything.”
Natural, but not always easy
Desiree Allison is a certified lactation consultant at the Arizona Breastfeeding Center. She works with new mothers and babies who struggle with breastfeeding at the center … and as a leader for La Leche League of Arizona, a national nonprofit breastfeeding support group.
She said most new moms assume that breastfeeding their children will be easy.
“I think they think because it’s a biological process, that they think it’s going to be simple, that it has to be easy,” Allison said.
But, that’s not always the case. Allison works with women who struggle with low milk supply, oversupply, infections, tongue-tied babies, and more.
“It does take a little bit of practice,” she said.
More and more women in the U.S. are breastfeeding, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the CDC, 81 percent of mothers in the U.S. are breastfeeding their children at birth. In Arizona, that number is even higher, 85 percent.
“We have seen a huge culture change in what our patients are asking for when they come in," said Janet Peirce-Hollett, a lactation consultant and patient and family educator for Banner Health. She said now, mothers are coming into the hospital expecting to see a lactation consultant.
“It’s not us educating at the bedside and trying to preach the benefits of breastfeeding, now our patients are coming in with that basic knowledge, they just want to know how to do it,” Peirce-Hollett said.
Ask why and you’ll get a lot of answers: access to care, education, it’s generational.
“A big part of me feels like a lot of this is because of Facebook,” Peirce-Hollett said.
At last check almost 100,000 people were talking about the hashtag #normalizebreastfeeding on Facebook.
“These women who would maybe not otherwise know each other are talking to each other,” Peirce-Hollett said.
Work presents challenge for breastfeeding moms
But, according to the CDC, that’s not getting enough moms far enough down the road. Only about half of babies are still being breastfed at 6 months of age. The agency recommends breastfeeding for a year or more.
Peirce-Hollett said as mothers head back to work, breastfeeding can get more difficult. She said the Affordable Care Act now mandates that employers provide space and time for employees to pump, but the mandate does not include paid time to do so.
So, she says, many mothers, especially hourly employees, stop breastfeeding then.
“You might find that she gives up pumping at work in order to … not risk losing her job,” Peirce-Hollett said.
In Arizona, about 55 percent of babies are being breastfed at 6 months, the CDC says. That number is up almost 10 percent in our state since 2014.
According to Anne Whitmire with state health department’s Women’s, Infants and Children’s Program, or WIC, that’s partly because they’ve done so much work to make sure healthcare providers, employers, child care centers and mothers all have the resources they need to support breastfeeding.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Janet Peirce-Hollett's name was updated to reflect the correct spelling.
“The Arizona WIC program 10 years ago, we had one lactation consultant," Whitmire said. "Now we have 90.”
She said 60 percent of babies born in Arizona participate in the WIC program and they’re seeing the rates of even low-income mothers who choose to breastfeed go up as well – especially as the Affordable Care Act has provided some support for nursing mothers, like breast pumps.
“It’s making access to care a little bit easier for moms to get.”
Allison said it’s still easier for upper-middle class women to breastfeed, but her field is now focused on expanding their scope.
“We want access for all moms,” Allison said.
‘I know what you need, I can help you’
The first time LeeAnne Contreras called the La Leche League of Arizona’s 24-hour hotline and asked for help, she was having a hard night.
“You know, you’re stuck in that, I’m so alone, it’s 2 o’clock in the morning, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do, he’s still crying!"
She said she waited until 6:30 in the morning to call and immediately felt relieved.
“It was just, it was someone saying ‘I know what you need, I can help you,’” Contreras said.
Now, because it made all the difference for her, she’s training to become a support group leader herself.
“I want to create that community for other mamas, I want to be able to be the mom on the other end saying ‘you can do this.’”