Breastfeeding for Six Months – Idealism vs. Realism

Authorities all across the globe – the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Canada – have stood behind a recommendation that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life. But an organization in the UK took notice that many women are failing to meet those recommendations and decided to conduct a study.

For the small study, 36 women who planned to breastfeed were interviewed shortly before birth and during set intervals after birth. The researchers also interviewed 26 partners, 8 mothers, 1 sister and 2 health care professionals about various aspects of breastfeeding.

After gathering all of the data, researchers concluded that the responses of participants revealed an “overarching theme emerging…as a mismatch between idealism and realism.” Respondents voiced opinions about breastfeeding education classes. Those opinions amounted to “patronizing and scientific” classes that “[presented] breastfeeding as an absolute.”

In light of the information found during their survey, researchers proposed that health care professionals and health organizations take “a family centered narrative approach.” Instead of presenting breastfeeding as an exclusive means of nutrition, researchers suggested that “incremental goals” be set to help provide more “practical and emotional realities” so that women could feel more successful at infant nutrition.

“More attention to the diverse values, meanings and emotions around infant feeding within families could heal to reconcile health ideals with reality,” stated the researchers in their conclusion.

Breastfeeding, in and of itself, can be a topic of great controversy. In my opinion, this study only adds more fuel to the fire. Before you send me to slaughter, allow me a moment to explain.

Annie at PhD in Parenting does a very good job of explaining why we should avoid taking recommendations personally, and points out that we should ask less of ourselves instead of asking for lesser recommendations.

Annie’s post got me thinking…why do we take recommendations like breastfeeding so personally? Then I found my answer. I found it while browsing Facebook, blogs, Twitter and other social networking platforms. Honestly, I already knew the answer, but I was fully reminded today.

Parenting is a very personal journey. It is a journey that we all take alone. While we may share similarities with other parents, the reality is that we will never parent the exact same children, raise the same children or perform a task or set of tasks exactly the same. We are unique individuals and our children are unique little beings.

Choices surrounding breastfeeding – how long, how often, whether or not to breastfeed at all – are also very personal. The choices we make today might not be the same choices we make five years down the road. I have only one child that has never tasted formula; my youngest. Yes, I breastfed all of my children, but all for different lengths of time. Yet, I have never felt guilty or threatened because I chose to stop or supplement. That’s not to say, however, that there might not be people out there that wouldn’t look down on me because of the choices I made concerning breastfeeding (as well as many other choices I made in parenting).

I have learned a lot over the last 13 years. I know more now than I did when I had my youngest. I am older, wiser and have made decisions differently. I worked outside of the home 13 years ago. I have the privilege of being a self-employed mother now. Life changed.

I won’t go into details about what fueled the thought process because I don’t believe in hurting others for the sake of argument. But I will say that we, as mothers, should stop comparing ourselves to others, stop making others feel inadequate when they fail to meet “recommendations” or standards, stop making ourselves feel inadequate when we fail to meet “recommendations” or standards.

The recommendations surrounding breastfeeding were not set up or designed to make anyone feel bad or less of a mother. You do not love your child any less because you only breastfeed for two weeks instead of six months. You are not any less of a mother. And breastfeeding for any length of time is better than not breastfeeding at all.

But the recommendations do not change. Breastfeeding for six months would still be the best source of nutrition for your infant. The health benefits received by infants that breastfeed for six months or longer won’t change, but as the mother of your child, you have to make the best choice for you, for your infant, for your family. And that, my friend, is what makes you the awesome mother you are, no matter what your choices and decisions are regarding breastfeeding.

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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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