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The #1 Reason Why Women Struggle to Breastfeed in the US

The #1 Reason Why Women Struggle to Breastfeed in the US

bottle feeding culture
Lex Beach, IBCLC

Lex is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and mother to seven children.

Hello! Welcome to Lactation Chats with Lex, Mighty Milk’s breastfeeding advice column. I’m so glad you’re here!

I’m Lex, the lactation consultant behind Mighty Milk, a new business that offers online breastfeeding classes for new and expectant parents. I’m currently doling out breastfeeding advice from my home office, also known as my bedroom, also known as the attic floor of the three-story Victorian era farmhouse that I share with my wife, Meg, and our seven children who range in age from 2 to 17. My six older kids (everyone except the 2-year-old) are “attending” remote school this fall, so there’s a whole lot of internet chaos and dropped zoom calls and shouts along the lines of “I can’t get into Spanish class!” in my life at the moment. I feel lucky to get to sneak upstairs and spend some time chatting with you about all things boobs and milk and babies and breastfeeding. 

You can learn more about me and my life as a lactation consultant in this interview that I did with Kate Miller, the founder of Mighty Milk. 

On a regular basis, I’ll be using this platform to answer a few reader-submitted questions in the style of an advice column. If you have a question you’d like to see addressed here, please email me! 

This week I’m going to be talking about the top reason why women in the US often struggle to breastfeed their babies, a reason that may very well surprise you. For most of us in the US, when we think of “normal baby care,” like the way we hold our babies, the way we expect our babies to sleep, and how often we think they should eat, we’re actually thinking of “normal bottle-fed baby care.” We don’t come to parenthood with a cultural understanding of what’s normal for exclusively breastfed babies because the vast majority of babies in our culture have been at least partially bottle-fed with infant formula for more than a century. We live in what’s called a bottle-feeding culture. And when we try to apply those “normal bottle-fed baby” cultural expectations to our exclusively breastfeeding babies, it can be a lot like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

In the US, only a small percentage of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding (feeding their babies only their milk, either by breast or by bottle) for the full six months recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, even though nearly 85% of them start out breastfeeding when their babies are born. Almost every mother I talk to about breastfeeding mentions how hard it was in the beginning, and many of them share stories about not ending up exclusively breastfeeding for as long as they’d hoped toincluding Kate Miller, Mighty Milk’s founder

The theme of the column this week will be bottle-feeding culture, and I’m going to address some of the ways in which living in a bottle-feeding culture creates challenges for breastfeeding families. In our class, Breastfeeding For Expectant Parents, I talk a lot about how living in a bottle-feeding culture affects us in ways that we aren’t at all aware of, and can stand in the way of us meeting our breastfeeding goals. Understanding these biases and resetting our expectations to be more aligned with breastfeeding can make the early weeks with our new babies feel a lot less challenging.

If you’re anything like the majority of my lactation clients, you probably don’t have any idea that you live in a bottle-feeding culture. If the people around you are pro-breastfeeding, you might even think that that means that you, in fact, live in a breastfeeding culture. The ways in which our culture is biased toward bottle-feeding babies—despite a relatively widespread understanding of the benefits and superiority of human milk and breastfeeding—are so deeply ingrained that we don’t even see them. We take them for granted. And then we wonder why our breastfeeding babies want to nurse so often, when in fact they’re nursing a perfectly normal amount for a breastfed baby. We wonder why our babies won’t sleep through the night, when in fact it’s completely normal for a breastfed baby to need to eat overnight. There are approximately a bazillion ways in which our bottle-feeding culture sets us up to struggle with exclusive breastfeeding.

Subscribe to our blog below to learn more specifics about how our bottle-feeding culture affects our breastfeeding experience. I’d love for you to check out our Instagram to join the conversation!

Have you ever heard of bottle-feeding culture before? Share your answer!

Warmly,
Lex

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