The endless battle to encourage breastfeeding

August 31, 2016 - 09:00

Despite the tremendous benefits of breastfeeding, the rate is still dramatically low in Việt Nam.

Viet Nam News

by Thu Vân

After many long text chats and much persuasion, I finally convinced a close friend to see me, seven months after she gave birth to her first baby.

As much as I was happy to see her, I felt a pinch in my heart to find she had lost a lot of weight.

She’s been trying to breastfeed the baby the whole time, and came across breast engorgement and also a blocked duct during the process. Despite the fact that she had to suffer much pain, she insisted on not taking any pills so that it wouldn’t affect her milk. She also refused to wean her baby.

It was a tough period – but she’s doing fine now and so is her baby. She said she would try to breastfeed the baby until she is two.

Sadly, mothers like my friend only account for the minority in Việt Nam, where only 19.4 per cent of women breastfeed their babies for the first six months.

And while the country has cracked down on formula advertising and upped maternity leave to six months, allowing mothers to meet WHO’s breastfeeding guidelines, the rate of breastfeeding has remained low in recent years, coming down from 34 per cent in 1998 to 19.4 per cent at present.

This puts Việt Nam in the group of countries with the lowest rate of breastfeeding babies, lower than the average rate of Asia, which is 42 per cent; lower than the rate in Japan, which is 60 per cent; and lower than the rate in the US, which is 51 per cent.

Why is breastfeeding is still on the losing side of the battle when Việt Nam has provided so many favourable conditions for this practice?

I have grown increasingly irritated as I try to reach out and read up on mothers’ views about this. From my personal observations, there are far more mothers talking about their right not to breastfeed, asking people not to judge them, than those who actually do breastfeed and try to keep the work up.

I’m trying not to judge people. But, come on, if you’re not breastfeeding, then you deserve judgment. Of course, I don’t mean those who have a health problems, are taking particular medications, have low milk supply, or have surgery that prevents nursing.

But if you’ve never tried, for reasons of personal choice, or just because it’s hard, or tried then gave up, then I’m saying that I’m judging you. Crystal clear.

I’ve heard all the arguments that formula is just as good – forget it, it’s no way as good as breast milk. I get it, children can still be healthy and smart and grow up with formula, and formula is not something as scary as poison, but it is far from being equal to breast milk.

The list of known breast milk components not present in formula is very long. To name just a few, breast milk contains immunities to diseases and aids in the development of the baby’s immune system; protects again Crohn’s disease and diarrhea infections, and much more.

A new study recently published in the British medical journal The Lancet revealed that breastfeeding has the power to save more than 800,000 children’s lives each year and increase a child’s IQ by three to four points.

And ok, formula can be good, but it is not the best choice for a baby. To me, when considering which method to follow, a woman should first decide what is best for her infant. Just like you can feed your child broccoli or junk food, and they’ll survive on either, but which is the more nutritious choice? Your body works hard to produce food for your baby, you are a mammal, you’re built to lactate. If it fails to do so for some medical reason, it’s sad. But if you just ignore and skip it, it’s a travesty defying nature.

I’m absolutely compelling women to do it. Because having a baby isn’t just about you, it’s about doing what you can to give your baby the best start in life. You made a choice to carry her or him for nine months, you made a choice to give birth to a human infant, and that choice doesn’t come for free, it comes with responsibilities. The responsibilities don’t end once the baby is out of your tummy, you have to feed that baby properly.

And if you believe that formula can do your baby just as good as breast milk, it’s a trap, or it’s just a bad justification for being too easy on yourself. If formula produced by some company can provide as much nutrients as breast milk, if that product can prevent and treat disease like breast milk, a product that costs nothing to produce and can be delivered in quantities controlled by the baby’s demand, then that company could win prizes and all the love and respect from people all over the world.

But no such company exists. Just loving mothers who are willing to give the best they have to their beloved babies.

I adore those moms just like I adore my friend who overcame all the pains to give her best to her baby.

I adore those who can patiently feed her baby every one and half or two hours despite all the fatigue of the post-birth period.

I adore those who are willing to wake up every two hours at night to breastfeed because scientists say that the hormones that tells the breasts to make milk are highest at night.

I adore moms who are working but keep pumping to maintain milk supply.

If you’re determined to breastfeed your baby as long as you wish, it’s wonderful. But it’s good enough if you’re breastfeeding your baby throughout the first six months. Think about it: Why mourn about lacking sleep at night? It’s only six months!

At the end of the day, being a mother isn’t easy at all. You have to know it the moment you decided to be a mother. The greater task - to raise a good person - is even more challenging. Breastfeeding, after all, is just the beginning. If you’re giving up, you’re making a poor parenting choice. So don’t give up one of the most incredible experiences of your life just because it’s easier.

I’m a mother. I know how hard it is to breastfeed. I do agree that no woman should feel a failure for not breastfeeding or giving up on it early. It’s a personal choice.

But, I’m sorry. I can’t help it. I’m not on your side.--VNS