A new documentary, The Milky Way, addresses the reasons why America seems to have issues with breastfeeding. In fact, the nation has a low breastfeeding rate. The film’s producer, Chantal Molnar, cites the fact that America is one of four countries that does not offer paid maternity leave mandated by the government. The other three countries are Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.
Molnar believes that the culture in America sets mothers up to fail when it comes to breastfeeding. She points out that right out of the gate, the baby is taken away from the mother at the hospital for bathing, weighing, testing and immunizations.
This practice interrupts a biological feeding sequence that is triggered when the newborn comes out of its mother. It essentially disrupts the latching process. As a nurse and lactation consultant, Molnar saw this happen for years. She pinpoints this moment as the beginning of the failure that so many mothers experience when trying to breastfeed successfully.
One of the possible answers to these wholly unnatural practices is the formula companies. Formula manufacturers like Similac and Enfamil invest in maternity wards. They donate diaper bags for new mothers to take home, with their products inside. Molnar would like to see that come to an end.
Through her research for the documentary, Molnar discovered that formula makers actually donate “architectural plans” to hospitals that include nurseries. In order for their products to sell, these companies rely on hospitals to ensure that mom and baby are not together enough to establish a healthy breastfeeding routine from the start.
Fortunately, more hospitals are opting for mom and baby rooms. In progressive states like Washington, maternity centers are quite common. Conversely, Molnar lives in California, where a law had to be passed that required hospitals to take a more baby-friendly approach.
Throughout other First World nations, the scenario is quite different. In Germany, the baby is never separated from its mother, even when a cesarean section has been performed. Sweden provides new mothers 18 months of maternity leave, paid. Fathers receive two months. Incidentally, Sweden not only has the highest breastfeeding rate but the lowest infant mortality rate, as well. According to a wheel chart released by Think Progress, America’s neighbors to the south, Mexico, provides new mothers 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. To the north, in Canada, they get a staggering 50 weeks!
Molnar, in looking at the breastfeeding rates in the U.S., says that the first week sees high numbers. Within the next couple of months, however, that number drops dramatically. By the sixth month, the breastfeeding rate is at 14 percent.
To Molnar there is a clear progression. From separation at the hospital and unsatisfactory support once the baby has been taken home, to the need for mom to get right back to work, thus continuing the separation. Molnar refuses to allow the blame to all be heaped on the backs of mothers. Molnar is hoping that a shift in culture and a demand for governmental participation will occur. The Milky Way, definitively shows that America’s issues with breastfeeding need to be addressed and improved in order for mothers to feel that they can be trusted with their own babies.
By Stacy Lamy