Healthy Relationships

The Wonders of Breastfeeding—and the Pressures That Mothers Face

July 31, 2020

In the U.S., the month of August begins with World Breastfeeding Week and continues as National Breastfeeding Month. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend that mothers breastfeed their children exclusively for the first six months of life, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention goes further, encouraging breastfeeding at least throughout the first year.

Breastfeeding provides the oldest and best way to nourish an infant, but many factors combine to persuade women to find other ways to feed their children. Despite the medical community’s renewed focus on the long list of breastfeeding health benefits for mother and child, many people lack awareness of these specific advantages—and recent improvements in commercially prepared formula may give the impression that it offers equal benefits.

That looks complicated

Many new mothers admit that they’re not really sure how to breastfeed, and assume that it’s as simple as placing the baby at the breast. Without help to understand the nuances of breastfeeding technique, women who expect it to be easy but find it challenging often abandon the practice early and altogether. Additionally, some mothers experience physical discomfort from breastfeeding, or have trouble producing enough milk, and feel pressured to “succeed” at something they find difficult to accomplish.

How do I do that at work?

Not surprisingly, the earlier mothers return to work from maternity leave, the shorter the period in which they breastfeed their babies. Although the Affordable Care Act requires employers to allow breastfeeding mothers to express breast milk at work in a private space other than a restroom, and to do so throughout the first year of their children’s lives, many workplaces lack appropriate private lactation rooms, or may not provide a proper place to store the milk. Furthermore, short breaks may not allow time for a working mother to pump milk and still take care of other tasks that can’t be accomplished during work time.

Isn’t formula just as good as breast milk these days?

Only a very few women should avoid breastfeeding because of medical conditions, medications they take, or a short list of specific infant health challenges that rule out breast milk as a nutritional source. Manufacturers of commercial breast milk substitutes have improved the nutrition of their products in recent years, but their advertising often describes formula as a real, universal replacement for breastfeeding that confers convenience along with nutritional support. Additionally, they portray the idea of breastfeeding—or the decision not to do so—as a lifestyle choice instead of a health issue.

Do I really want to pump or breastfeed in public?

Attitudes toward breastfeeding in public have changed little, and slowly at that, especially because of the ways society equates the breast with sexuality. Survey after survey shows that both men and women express disapproval at the sight of a nursing mother nourishing her child in a park, shopping mall or restaurant, even though the laws in all U.S. states support the practice. Breastfeeding women can feel shunned and embarrassed, which often leads to choosing formula along with or instead of breastfeeding—or abandoning breastfeeding entirely.

Making it easy for mothers

The health benefits of breastfeeding alone should be enough to encourage virtually every woman who can do so to offer this perfect source of nourishment to her child. Community and workplace attitudes can stand in the way of that ideal, as can the uneven availability of unbiased information about the advantages and how-tos of breastfeeding.

Enroll in Our Free Breastfeeding Class

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and need expert help, you can get lots of great tips from our Breastfeeding Class, offered every other month. Taught by certified lactation nurses, you’ll learn the best positions for breastfeeding, how to establish a good milk supply, proper latch technique, how to tell whether your baby is getting enough to eat, and how and when to pump and store breast milk. For more information about the class, contact Lisa Buksar at or 317-477-6526. Hancock Regional Hospital also has a lactation line—for answers to breastfeeding questions or concerns you have right now, call 317-468-4397.

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