News broke this week about a small Scottish study that says that exclusively breastfeeding for six months may not be the best recommendation. The study, conducted by Aberdeen and Stirling universities and published in the British Medical Journal, suggests that by recommending six months of exclusive breastfeeding (as the World Health Organization currently does), we are actually setting new mothers up to fail.
I have very mixed feelings about this study and the press it has received. On the one hand, the study focuses on communication, support, and setting realistic expectations. Having had a very difficult time with breastfeeding in the beginning (as I talked about in this post), I can completely relate to the pressure, feeling guilty for not “getting it right,” and the need to be up front with pregnant women and new mothers that breastfeeding does not always come naturally and is not always sunshine and rainbows.
On the flip side of the coin, I worry that this study is going to provide an excuse not to breastfeed and may lead to more new mothers giving up on breastfeeding too soon. The study itself isn’t the problem here—it actually outlines fairly convincingly how this point of view may help improve the number of breastfeeding mothers and how long women stick with breastfeeding by adjusting the expectations and ratcheting down the pressure on new moms. No, the problem here, in my opinion, is how this study is being presented in the media. In a quick Google search of this story, the top headlines include:
Breastfeed exclusively for first six months? Surveyed moms say no way
Many Women Say No to Breast-Feeding for 6 Months: Survey
Exclusive breast-feeding may just be too hard, study says
Study of the Day: Breastfeeding for 6 Months is an Unrealistic Goal
If a pregnant or (worse) struggling new mama comes across one of these headlines but, for whatever reason, doesn’t dig deeper to see what the study really says, what impression are they going to have of breastfeeding? Will they throw up their hands and quit before even trying?
I don’t think anyone could or would argue against breastfeeding being the best option, but new moms are a fragile bunch (at least I was) and a little sensitivity and responsibility on the part of the media could go a long way toward the public’s perception of this and other breastfeeding studies. I understand that headlines need to be sensational and grab the reader’s attention, but they should also give a glimpse of accuracy.
What do you think—will this study and the way it is being portrayed in the media help or hinder breastfeeding in America?