For all mothers — new, expecting or otherwise — the topic of breastfeeding can be a daunting one. From postpartum exhaustion to latch issues to finding spaces in public to feed, moms who breastfeed or are hoping to breastfeed can often feel overwhelmed by the task.
That’s why this week it is time to “Step up for Breastfeeding” — at least according to the theme of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, which began Monday.
Started in 1992 by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated annually from Aug. 1 to Aug. 7. The goal? To raise public awareness and support for breastfeeding.
“World Breastfeeding Week is a really important week to acknowledge people who have put time and effort into lactation,” said Kelsey Munn-Wilson, RD, IBCLC, CDN, a Community Lactation Consultant and Community Education Lead at Niskayuna’s Bellevue Woman’s Center.
This year’s theme, “Step up for Breastfeeding,” emphasizes the role of governments, communities and individuals in protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding. According to the campaign’s website, these factors are crucial to upholding a feeding process that not only nourishes babies but also encourages food security and “reduces inequalities between and within countries” through a consistent and universally accessible food source: breast milk.
Although World Breastfeeding Week is a global campaign celebrated by 120 countries around the world, its message hits home even in the Capital Region where more breastfeeding support is essential.
“Just like everywhere else, there is a pretty great need for breastfeeding support,” said Cara Banks, a leader at the Greenbush La Leche League, a not-for-profit organization that promotes breastfeeding through mother-to-mother support and education.
Banks points to a 2013 statistic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says that 60% of mothers do not end up breastfeeding for as long as they would like.
“Clearly people are not meeting their nursing goals and there’s something going on and they could use some extra support,” she said.
This disparity can be seen specifically in Schenectady where, according to Sarah Tice, a public health nurse and lactation consultant at Schenectady County Public Health, breastfeeding rates are lower in the heart of the city.
As for the greater Capital Region, hospital maternity statistics, which calculate the count and percentages of babies who were fed breast milk while in the hospital before discharge, further reflect the need for breastfeeding support around the Capital Region.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for about the first six months. However, according to 2019 data from the New York State Department of Health, Bellevue Woman’s Center, which is the only delivery hospital in Schenectady County, reported that only 52.84% of babies were fed exclusively breast milk.
At Fulton County’s Nathan Littauer Hospital that same year, only 48.53% babies were fed exclusively breast milk between birth and discharge. Saratoga County had one of the highest rates, with 76.95% of babies at Saratoga Hospital being exclusively fed breast milk at the hospital.
According to 2019 data from the CDC, in New York State as a whole, approximately only 23.4% of babies are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months.
According to Munn-Wilson, there are numerous reasons as to why a mother may choose to not exclusively breastfeed or breastfeed at all. For mothers with multiple babies, exclusive pumping may be the only way to keep up feeding multiple mouths at the same time.
Babies in the NICU or those with disabilities may have difficulty latching or coordinating to the mother’s breast. Additionally, sexual assault survivors may also also prefer to exclusively pump or supplement with formula if breastfeeding triggers their past trauma.
However, because of the recent formula shortage, which has left store shelves completely empty of formula, many parents are now being forced to change their breastfeeding plans unexpectedly.
At the Baby Cafes in Schenectady, which are located at the Mont Pleasant Branch Library and the Phyllis Bornt Branch Library and Literacy Center and provide free, drop-in breastfeeding support, many moms are looking to find ways to breastfeed longer.
“The moms that we’re seeing here at the Baby Cafe are more interested in continuing breastfeeding and figuring out what those issues are that they’re having — whether that be latch issues, perceived low supply, actual low supply, any of the issues that we tend to see — and figuring it out because the formula shortage is so scary for moms,” said Natalie Prehoda, a certified lactation counselor and public health education coordinator at Schenectady County Public Health.
Additionally, mothers who stopped breastfeeding are now working to restart their milk production, and mothers who weren’t comfortable with chestfeeding and supplemented with formula are now exclusively pumping.
“It’s been really sad and hard to see the formula shortage,” said Munn-Wilson. “It’s getting people to breastfeed in the first place that didn’t want to and I really don’t think that that’s fair to the people that really don’t want to do it — breastfeeding is a lot of work and time and effort.”
Munn-Wilson notes that she has observed higher rates of postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety in her patients, potentially due to the stress of the formula shortage.
“It definitely takes a toll on a lot of families. Between that and living in a pandemic and having an infant in a pandemic, the postpartum depression rates and postpartum anxiety, or PPA, rates have skyrocketed,” said Munn-Wilson. “I’m not sure if that’s directly correlated to the formula shortage or to the pandemic or to losing what life used to look like but we see an incredibly high rate of those right now.”
But World Breastfeeding Week strives to celebrate these moms that are working tirelessly to feed their children in whatever way they can, even if they have struggled in their breastfeeding journey.
“I want to celebrate the mom who fought to latch her baby that was in the NICU for four months, I want to fight for that mom that’s been triple feeding a sick baby — so she pumps, she latches her baby and she bottle feeds breastmilk and formula to make sure her baby is okay,” said Munn-Wilson. “I want to celebrate the mom that had twins who was working her butt off to make sure her milk supply came in and continued to offer breast milk in a bottle and I want to celebrate the mom who was never able to latch because of something and so she exclusively pumped for two years.
“I want to celebrate people regardless of what their journey looks like and I think that World Breastfeeding Week is a really good way to put a light on those people.”
Organizations around the Capital Region have been holding events throughout the week to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week.
The Schenectady Baby Cafes held a Mommy and Me photo session on July 30, along with a Baby Cafe pop-up at Hometown Health on Thursday which supplied snacks and educational materials. Tice was on hand at that event to answer questions and concerns.
“Breastfeeding looked different for all these different moms and they were different ages and we really just wanted to celebrate that mom’s breastfeeding journey whether she was still breastfeeding at that time or had stopped,” said Tice.
The Greenbush La Leche League will be hosting a fundraising event called Live Love Latch! in honor of World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Month on August 14 at the Snyder’s Lake Pavilion in North Greenbush.