For the Children’s Sake

Ask anyone experienced in animal husbandry and they will confirm:  THE crucial factor in a calf living & growing versus dying is whether or not the calf receives colostrum within an hour of birth  This is one of the key reasons why you’ll find the cattle farmers quite short on sleep during calving season. Calf nursing

Bottom line is that newborn mammals need to suckle right after birth.

Why do we persist in the myth that “breastfeeding is the mother’s choice” and make no distinction between first-hour colostrum and ongoing breastfeeding?  In what other circumstances do we allow “parental choice” to put the lives of their children at risk?  We insist on safety seats in cars, we insist on immunizations, we have compulsory education.  If a child is inappropriately dressed for the weather,  beaten, obviously malnourished, or living without shelter, child protective services intervene.  We go so far as to recommend that human mothers, like bovine mothers, be immunized against certain diseases during the latter part of their pregnancy so that the newborns can carry certain immunities at birth.

Yet we make inadequate efforts to educate for newborns to receive colostrum from their mother at the beginning of their breathing days.  We lump the crucial first-hour colostrum together with the entire package of breastfeeding and let it be lost to “the mother’s choice”.  The evidence of benefit from the practice of suckling colostrum is so strong across multiple species that I think it is tantamount to child abuse to withhold it from any infant.

Regarding infant nutrition and health, statistical analysis estimates that approximately 900 infant deaths per year in the USA could be prevented if children were exclusively breastfed for their first 6 months.  Recent  DNA-based findings that breast milk can contain more than 700 species of bacteria are amazing when coupled with evidence of the contributions made to immunity from the digestive flora.  Human sciences are merely confirming that which has been known by the cattle farmers for decades!

The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life.  These are not idle recommendations drawn from anecdotes and hear-say:  they are evidence-based and effective for improving the health and saving the lives of our children.

breastfeeding

For the sake of the children being born into your clan, let us adopt realistic expectations and attitudes regarding the female capacity to feed our young. Men and women alike, we need to accept and honor this capacity as we model life and teach our children.  Let our boys and girls respect that for which mammary tissue is developed, and let our young mothers be encouraged from all the people in their life to give life to their babies through breastfeeding within the crucial first hour of each and every birth, and continuing to give breast-milk as the sole source of nutrition for the first 6 months.

2 thoughts on “For the Children’s Sake

  1. I’ll admit, Marty, to feeling a tad conflicted about this post. On the one hand, I’m an advocate of breastfeeding, and know that what you have said is true: breastfeeding is crucial. On the other hand, my child wasn’t breastfed exclusively until 6 months; in fact, he wasn’t breastfed at all after 6 1/2 months. For some currently-undiagnosed reason, he simply was not able to latch correctly. He was able to get enough milk to get by for a few months, but it was frustrating for him, painful for me, and stressful for my whole little family. And all of this was with lots of support – lactation consultants, pediatricians, ENT referals, community encouragement. Some women have no such support (and some woman have much worse problems with breastfeeding than I did). In light of all this, I wouldn’t want to ask you to back away from telling the truth about the benefits of breastfeeding, but I would remind you that, sometimes, the decision not to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months isn’t a free choice.

    • Thank you Marina for your statement “sometimes, the decision not to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months isn’t a free choice.” I readily acknowledge that breastfeeding is difficult for some mother/baby pairs; yet I am immensely frustrated that the societal bent is to “just do formula- it’s so much easier”. There are both medical and social reasons why breastfeeding doesn’t work out sometimes, and I intend no disrespect toward mothers who wrestle with these; sometimes as you point out- with less than adequate support.

      Your story is one I needed to hear. You are a wonderful mother! Mea Culpa for failing to acknowledge medical reasons that contribute to shorter durations of breastfeeding.

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