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What Should We Inform People About Breastfeeding?

As part of the World Breastfeeding Week 2018, we are urged to “inform people about the links between good nutrition, food security, poverty reduction and breastfeeding.”

It’s easy to look at that and think — oh, they mean tell people the benefits of breastfeeding. Well, okay, you can do that if you wish. But honestly, that’s not going to cut it. Informing is much more than that.

It isn’t just preaching the benefits

Telling people the “benefits of breastfeeding” is seldom persuasive enough to get them to do it. Many of us know the benefits of something — like exercise — but we don’t take action.

When I look at the scientific literature and my own clinical experience, here’s what I think. The effectiveness of informing parents about the “benefits” of breastfeeding is remarkably slim. Just preaching the “benefits of breastfeeding” only works when the family is already committed to something bigger than just their own agenda, fears, values, or misunderstandings.

If they think breastfeeding is difficult, breastfeeding ties you down, breastfeeding hurts, breastfeeding [fill in the blank], they won’t do it.

And by the way, talking about the “benefits of breastfeeding” doesn’t normalize breastfeeding. We don’t talk about the benefits of breathing clean air. Instead, we talk about the risks of air pollution.

Underlining the “risks” is probably more effective

For decades, we have continued to recite a litany of benefits, but clearly, it isn’t persuasive enough to get people to do something they just don’t want to do.

During the decade or so when I was on the United States Breastfeeding Committee, we launched an ad with a pregnant woman on a skate board. The formula companies were livid, and there was some political tussle which I can’t recall. (Further, I suspect there was also some back-room horse trading used to squelch the ad.)

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics — well-known for their long history of accepting money from formula companies — objected to the ad. They insisted that the focus be on the “positive.” So, despite our best efforts, the original ad message was watered down.

Informing is about filling in the blank spots

Parents might know the benefits of breastfeeding. Perhaps they even know some effective techniques for breastfeeding. But they still have a lot of blank holes in their understanding of what they’re getting into. We need to inform them with answers to their every-day questions:

  • Is it okay if I go in the Jacuzzi tub?
  • Is it okay if I color my hair?
  • Is it okay if get a tattoo?
  • Do I have to give up chocolate?
  • Is it okay if I [fill in the blank]

In our quest to inform, we need to spend time looking at what people are doing, and what they want to do.

It’s about debunking the myths

Inform? Sure. Believe? Maybe. One source said “only 43.5% of these 1300 websites contained recommendations that were in line with the AAP recommendations, while 28.1% contained inaccurate information and 28.4% of the websites were not medically relevant.”

It’s about correcting the misperceptions and misinterpretations

Some people have been exposed to the written or verbal misinformation. Yet, there’s another thing that interferes with their making good decisions about breastfeeding. They have a misperception about something, or they misinterpret what’s going on. For example:

  • My breasts are not leaking so I don’t have enough milk.
  • My baby is asking to nurse every 90 minutes, so he needs formula.
  • My nipples are sore, so my baby needs to have his tongue clipped. (A possibility, but not the only answer.)
  • My baby has teeth, so I need to wean him.

The list goes on. And on.

It’s about helping people get past their objections

Especially in my former hospital life, I had very little time to discuss the feeding decision with clients. When talking with the family, my favorite questions was, “Tell me what you’ve heard about breastfeeding.” That question elicits a response that reflects misinformation or misperceptions Or, more often, the flat-out objections they have to breastfeeding.

To inform is to meet people where they are at

So, if your ‘informing’ sounds more like ‘preaching’, maybe it is. Try to meet people where they’re at. The information must align with that family’s individual needs, beliefs, and values. That’s more effective than having your own canned speech about the benefits of breastfeeding.

I am embracing the Inform objective by offering access to two of my newest Parent Handouts free for a limited time! 

If you haven’t already, click here to sign up free for Marie’s Insiders Club where you can download and share the parent handouts.

Once you sign up you will have access to the following Parent Handouts:

  • What Every Parent Needs to Know About Expressing Mother’s Own Milk
  • What Every Parent Needs to Know About Breast Pumps and Healthcare Insurance Plan

What will you be doing this year to carry out the World Breastfeeding Week’s objective to “inform”?

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