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“Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large.”
This is the first thing anyone accessing the World Health Organization's online breastfeeding information will see. Why quote that paragraph, right at the beginning of an article? Because that single paragraph carries a lot of power.
It tells us some key things that many people don't know about breastfeeding:
Breast is not, actually, best. It is normal. Formula is an inferior alternative that serves women and babies well when the real thing is not available.
Breast milk provides babies with all the nutrients they need.
Almost all moms can breastfeed. They may run into some beginners' troubles, but most can be resolved with a little information and support.
Society has an important role to play in promoting breastfeeding. It's not all up to individual mothers!
Many mothers to-be worry whether they'll be able to breastfeed. A lack of knowledge and a lack of support are two key reasons the breastfeeding rates are so low in many countries. Did you know that less than 40 percent of babies under six months are exclusively breastfed on a global scale?
The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that all mothers (with a few notable exceptions, like women with HIV) breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months, and along with other foods after that, until the child reaches age two — and beyond, if you want to. They also strongly advise mothers to breastfeed their children on demand, so when they want to nurse and not on a predetermined schedule.
Before we look at all the different reasons breast is still best (normal!) for both mothers and babies, we'll tackle some of the more common breastfeeding complications. You may or may not be surprised that a perceived low milk supply is the most common problem. In practice, it is hard to asses whether you truly have a low supply or not — but if your baby is satisfied after nursing and is growing, you most likely to simply have enough milk. Worries about not having enough milk are more a cultural than an actual problem.
The second most common breastfeeding complication is breast pain, then engorgement (breast fullness), followed respectively by nipple pain, blocked milk ducts, and mastitis (an infection of the breast). These issues can almost always be resolved relatively easily, if a mom has adequate information and support. This support may come from a family doctor, midwife, a lactation consultant, and even from peer-to-peer breastfeeding support groups including the La Leche League.
Even women who do run into some initial difficulties will find that sticking with breastfeeding is most likely absolutely worth it. Now, we'll get to why.