By Nicole Letourneau and Mary Lougheed for Huffington Post Canada. This article is about what changes Canada can make to encourage breastfeeding, but the recommendations are all applicable in the United States.
An Icelandic Member of Parliament breastfed her baby while delivering a speech in Parliament recently. No one reacted to her breastfeeding, because in Iceland, breastfeeding is the cultural norm. The mother stated that this was the most natural thing in the world.
If only that were the case in Canada.
According to Statistics Canada, while Canada has made significant strides toward breastfeeding as a cultural norm — for example 89 percent of women initiated breastfeeding in 2012, compared to 69 percent in 1982 — we still have a long way to go.
Why is breast feeding so important?
Overwhelming evidence shows breastfeeding is good for babies’ brains and for social development. Breastfed babies are thought to thrive because of the health qualities of breastmilk in combination with the healthy serve and return relationships promoted by close contact between mom and baby.
Breastfeeding is also convenient — just ask any breastfeeding mom. Breast milk is always available, the right temperature, clean and perfectly timed to infants’ feeding needs, both as the baby grows and even over the course of a single feeding. It’s also free.
What could be more natural?
There are also risks for not breastfeeding — for both mothers and babies. Mothers who don’t breastfeed have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers and delayed return to healthy weight. Infants who are not breastfed have a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome, common childhood illnesses, childhood obesity, cancer and diabetes.
So what’s the barrier?
In countries like Iceland, people grow up seeing breastfeeding in public. By contrast, in Canada baby formula as an alternative to breast milk is promoted widely to parents in many ways: through free samples and coupons, through disguised “educational” materials on baby feeding with an emphasis on formula, and showcased in parenting books and magazines.