All About Babies

Why Doctors Should 'Support' Breastfeeding, Not 'Promote' It

New guidelines aim to lessen the pressure on moms to breastfeed, but still educate them that breast is best.

New guidelines say doctors should support breastfeeding but not promote it to lessen pressure on new moms. Shutterstock
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has issued new breastfeeding guidelines... kind of. The organization will still "support" breastfeeding, but it will not explicitly "promote" it, in contrast to the wording of the guidelines issues in 2008.

According to ABCNews.com, the task force, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, still wholeheartedly recommends that doctors encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies as the healthiest choice for both of them. But the word "promote" may place too much pressure on mothers who either cannot, or don't want to, breastfeed.

Dr. Maureen Phipps explained, "We felt that 'supporting' really emphasized that it's about making sure that women have what they need when they make that choice." In other words, educating moms about the benefits of breastfeeding is good. Making them feel like crap when they don't breastfeed is bad.

As a mother who encountered difficulties with breastfeeding, I cannot say how much I love this new approach. Because it's not necessary to remind me that I've "failed" at breastfeeding with language and actions that make it feel like a failure to choose formula. When doctors pressured me to try again, try harder, try more, they only fed into my fear that I sucked as a mom.

I'd much prefer a supportive approach, no matter how I choose to feed my baby. I realize this is a lot about a specific doctor's bedside manner, but it's comforting to know a medical task force is finally embracing the notion that breastfeeding isn't going to work for every single mother on Earth.

But not every mother agrees with me, obviously. In response to the new guidelines, which still very clearly say that breast is best, Diana West of breastfeeding advocacy group La Leche League International said, "Women need to understand all of the risks of formula, and benefits of human milk." She added, "What we really come to understand is that far too often, women feel tremendous regret because they were not given adequate information and support [about breast-feeding] when they needed."

No regret here. I fully feel that information about the benefits of breastfeeding is very readily available online, in books, and from friends, family, and doctors. What isn't readily available is enough support and empathy for moms like me who aren't breastfeeding. And I support the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force for considering the needs of all moms and their children.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.