How to get mothers everywhere to breastfeed longer?  Support them, duh!

By Jonathan Goldfinger, MD, MPH, FAAP

Founder, latchME

By now you know exclusive breastfeeding is the healthiest, “greenest” way to feed babies.  It’s recommended, through the first 6-12 months of life, by every major medical organization, and I hope by your doctor too.  This is because exclusive breastfeeding prevents so many childhood illnesses including viral infections, SIDS, ear infections, diabetes, asthma, necrotizing enterocolitis, and even leukemia and obesity.[1],[2]  It may also make your baby smarter!

Mothers who exclusively breastfeed lower their own risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and heart attacks.[3]  In fact, if 90% of infants in the US were exclusively breastfed past six months, we would save near 30 billion dollars and thousands of infants’ and mothers’ lives every year.[4],[5]  On a global scale improving breastfeeding rates is crucial to sustainable development as highlighted by the Gates Foundation that “more than a half-million child deaths each year are attributable to inadequate breastfeeding.”[6]

Worldwide efforts to help mothers breastfeed through Baby-Friendly hospital practices are crucial but insufficient to carry most mothers to six months.  Almost every new mom will have concerns in the first weeks home, and the majority give up breastfeeding without additional support.  My beloved state of California, for example, has the most Baby-Friendly hospitals, yet more than 2/3 of mothers stop exclusively breastfeeding by 3 months.[7]  In Los Angeles (LA) where my wife and I just had our little boy, 3/4 stop before 3 months.[8]  6 months?  Forget it.  Only 16% of US moms reach 6 months, only 25% of Californians, and only 10% of Angelenas; don’t believe the Hollywood glam shots![9],[10],[11]

So why do so many mothers and babies stop breastfeeding?  The answer is complex, historical, immoral, and cultural.  Since the early 1900’s, well-meaning doctors who didn’t know any better recommended infant formula.  Hopefully most physicians today know the few rare cases where formula is recommended for babies over breastmilk.  Then came aggressive formula company marketing so nefarious it still influences well-intended mothers and doctors and had to be codified against by the World Health Organization.  As formula companies lose revenue to breastfeeding, you’ll see more ads about toddler formula and its “positive effects on critical brain development”.  This is subliminal marketing for: BUY THIS FORMULA OR YOUR CHILD WON’T BE SMART!  About a product that’s rarely necessary.  Just terrible.

Perhaps most important, our society doesn’t support women’s rights to breastfeed the way they have for millennia.  Wet-nursing has turned into controversial, breast milk-sharing on black markets.  Daily headlines show women being shamed for doing the natural thing and breastfeeding in public, in eateries or on airplanes.  Facebook had to recently change its policies to allow mothers to share photos of breastfeeding infants.  Even President Obama has to battle antiquated maternity leave policies that force mothers to choose between feeding their child and contributing to household incomes.

To me the most embarrassing blind-eye to breastfeeding is the healthcare system.  As doctors we promote breastfeeding so much yet we provide very few mothers timely access to quality lactation support after discharge when they need it most.  We send women home without help, to struggle and suffer painful nipples, feelings of inadequacy and depression.  Include the breastfed babies I see daily who don’t latch well and lose weight rapidly—reflexively causing pediatricians to recommend formula rather than a lactation consult—and you have an impossible task for mothers.  With all these barriers, who could exclusively breastfeed for 6 months?

That’s why I created latchME, the world’s first breastfeeding app to help mothers overcome barriers by connecting them instantly to nearby, evidence-based supports free.  Professionals and peer groups easily found on latchME have been proven to help mothers breastfeed longer. [12], [13]  It truly takes a village to reach 6 months so latchME brings that village to you!

This month we also #March4Nutrition with 1,000 Days and every organization making a difference in maternal and child health through better nutrition.  We know breastfeeding is crucial to human health and development, but it’s going to take all of us working together to make it easier on mothers everywhere.  Here’s an idea: let’s get every mother the resources she deserves instead of just telling her to breastfeed.  Only then will we see families everywhere reaching that elusive 6-12 months.

Why latchMD is important for you and your loved ones

By Jonathan Goldfinger, MD, MPH, FAAP

It's undeniably clear that exclusive breastfeeding is the healthiest and most economical way to feed a baby. It's recommended through at least 6 months of life by all major medical organizations--the WHO, UNICEF, AAP, ACOG, US Surgeon General, etc. If 90% of infants in the United States exclusively breastfed past 6 months, the health care system would save billions of dollars and thousands of infant deaths would be prevented every year!

Here's why. Breastfeeding your baby is proven to prevent many costly and even deadly childhood illnesses. Research has shown it prevents viral infections, SIDS, ear infections, diabetes, asthma, eczema, necrotizing enterocolitis (usually in premature infants), autism, ADHD, and even leukemia and obesity! Breastfeeding also makes a baby smarter and more likely to succeed in his/her career later in life.

For mom, breastfeeding prevents breast and ovarian cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, and depression. Women who breastfeed successfully lose their baby weight rapidly, successfully bond with their baby, and feel great!

So why don't all women breastfeed? Well, for starters, breastfeeding isn't easy and formula companies have spent millions of dollars convincing the public and health professionals that cow or soy-based products are completely safe (which is untrue) and equivalent to breast milk (outright false). Recent research has shown that over 90% of women in the US receive 'free' formula gift baskets in the hospital before discharge, and that most hospitals do not pay for the formula their staff give to newborns innocently enough. When a woman goes home and has trouble breastfeeding loving parents' fear their baby is starving and decide to "just give a little formula". Unfortunately, early formula is among the most harmful things to breastfeeding success!

Efforts in the United States to combat this have predominantly focused on the birth hospital setting. Los Angeles County, for example, has improved the percent of women starting to breastfeed in hospital to 92% by broadly implementing WHO/UNICEF quality improvement strategies called "Baby-Friendly" that help women start out. Governor Brown recently signed into law SB402 requiring all California hospitals to adopt similar programs.

Still, the many benefits of breastfeeding and helpful hospitals are not enough. Within 3 months of giving birth, about 75% of Los Angeles mothers have give up on exclusive breastfeeding. By 6 months only 10% of infants are still being breastfed! A recent national study found that 60% of women do not meet their desired breastfeeding goals. Most mothers struggle with breastfeeding in the first weeks, they found. And there is little support back home as an entire generation of new grandmothers in America never successfully breastfed themselves.

At latchMD we strive to make this right for women and their babies. It's time for a new model of breastfeeding support. Our team of breastfeeding experts includes a Board-Certified pediatrician who will help you latch and address all your new baby concerns in the comfort of your own home! We offer flexible scheduling and phone, email, and video chat consults and follow-up.

It's our mission to ensure that all mothers and babies can breastfeed successfully and meet their goals!  Contact us for you or your loved ones today and give the gift of breastfeeding; to mother and baby's health!

  

Why you should share latchME with mothers today

It's time to redefine ourselves as a global breastfeeding entity. Over the past year we built latchMD through breastfeeding outreach, research and support system development, all the while helping many local mothers breastfeed. Then we had a realization. There are way more mothers out there struggling without any help than any one service can see! Thus latchME, the world's first crowd-sourced breastfeeding support network, was born.

Yes exclusively breastfeeding is the ideal way to feed your baby, but did you know that over 90% of US women receive 'free' formula gift baskets in the hospital before discharge? Think about the message this sends. New research also shows more than 90% of mothers (by no coincidence) struggle with breastfeeding in the first weeks home. A whopping 60% never reach their own personal breastfeeding goals! We are losing too many breastfeeding families to the formula industry.

The World Health Organization, UNICEF, and Baby Friendly initiatives have done incredible work combating formula marketing and securing better breastfeeding care for women inside hospitals.

But when a mother goes home and has trouble breastfeeding, she and her partner have a very tough decision to make. Should they push on till their doctor's visit still a few days away or "just give a little formula". Who doesn't want to feed a crying baby? Breastfeeding is overrated anyway, right?

Wrong. Breastfeeding is crucial to the health of mother and baby for literally hundreds of reasons. But these play second fiddle when sleep-deprived parents deal with breast pain or their little one not latching or screaming his or her little head off. (Trust us: when a baby struggles at the breast long enough and gets upset, it isn't pretty. Many moms start to cry.) Unfortunately, the introduction of "just a little" formula that ensues actually hurts the family's chances of breastfeeding success.

At latchMD we have always strived to make this right by getting families the help they need BEFORE they face this difficult, unnerving (un-nursing?) decision. Our team of breastfeeding experts helps new mothers latch all the time.

But we can't reach every mother. We need a way to help mothers and families help themselves. So we hatched latchME a month ago (it sure felt like a birth after development) for mothers and professionals to share breastfeeding support on a reliable platform, far far away from sneaky, profit-motivated formula companies.

Still a newborn, latchME has been adopted by thousands of experienced, professional breastfeeding supporters and dedicated mothers worldwide. We are so proud of them for listing (every single day in fact!) and seeking out resources to make great breastfeeding happen. It proves there is a real need for health-resource sharing among new mothers. It also shows the tremendous caring and integrity of the breastfeeding support community.

latchMD will continue to develop latchME so it makes this community proud. In 1 month we've put out 2 new versions based on user feedback and we're translating latchME for Android! The work never ends and we never tire of it.

The power of mothers sharing with one another can also not be underestimated. Research shows that mother to mother support (also found on latchME) reliably helps women reach their breastfeeding goals. latchME now has enough listings to for thousands of mothers to get help allover the world!

We need your help as a mother supporter. Share this page with mothers, so they can share it...and they can share it...and so on. Help us make latchME go viral! All mothers deserve breastfeeding help immediately. They also deserve to not have to make that tough formula decision.

Download latchME today and latch on!

-Dr. Jonathan Goldfinger

References

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2011. (http://www.surgeongeneral.gov)

[2] Ip S, Chung M, Raman G, Chew P, Magula N, DeVine D, Trikalinos T, Lau J. Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries. Evidence Report/Technology Assessment No. 153 (Prepared by Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-based Practice Center, under Contract No. 290-02-0022). AHRQ Publication No. 07-E007. Rockville, MD:Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. April 2007.

[3] Bartick, M. C., Stuebe, A. M., Schwarz, E. B., Luongo, C., Reinhold, A. G., & Foster, E. M. (2013). Cost analysis of maternal disease associated with suboptimal breastfeeding. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 122(1), 111-119.

[4] Bartick M, Reinhold A. The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: a pediatric cost analysis. Pediatrics 2010;125:e1048-56.

[5] Bartick, Melissa C., et al. "Cost Analysis of Maternal Disease Associated With Suboptimal Breastfeeding." Obstetrics & Gynecology 122.1 (2013): 111-119.

[6] http://www.gatesfoundation.org/What-We-Do/Global-Development/Nutrition

[7] 2010 MIHA County Report: A Summary Report of County Snapshots and Geographic Comparisons from the Maternal and Infant Health Assessment Survey. Sacramento: California Department of Public Health, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health Program; 2012.

[8] National Immunization Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services

[9] National Immunization Survey, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services (2011) (http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/data/nis_data/rates-any-exclusive-bf-state-2011.htm)

[10] LA County Health Survey (2011) (http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/docs/Hospital_Practices_2013.pdf)

[11] Humenick SS, Hill PD, Spiegelberg PL. Breastfeeding and health professional encouragement. J Hum Lact. 1998;14:305–10.  

[12] Lu, MC., Lange, L., Slusser, w., Hamilton, J., & Halfon, N. (2001). Provider encouragement of breast-feeding: Evidence from a national survey. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 97, 290 – 295.

[13] Renfrew MJ, McCormick FM, Wade A, Quinn B, Dowswell T. Support for healthy breastfeeding mothers with healthy term babies. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012, Issue 5. Art. No.: CD001141. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001141.pub4.