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How the ‘exclusive-breastfeeding movement’ is impacting mother’s mental health

Breast May Not Always Be Best: how the ‘exclusive-breastfeeding movement’ is impacting mother’s mental health.

In the 1970s, 75% of mothers chose to formula-feed their babies. Today, the pendulum has swung, and there is a push to increase breastfeeding rates. The World Health Organization’s 2025 goal is for 50% of babies to be exclusively breastfed until they are six months old (currently at 13%). The “Breast is Best” campaign is in full effect, and although there can be great success and joy in breastfeeding a baby, and breastfeeding gives a baby natural nutrition, its value is not more significant than a mother’s choice and her mental health.

New mothers now feel enormous pressure to exclusively breastfeed despite a myriad of issues that may arise for them—undersupply; oversupply; cracked, painful, and bleeding nipples; clogged ducts; and mastitis. The “Breast is Best” campaign promotes breastfeeding as the only healthy and safe option for a new mother, paying little attention to the specific needs of new mothers. Issues include insufficient time for self-care; affordability; access to lactation support; inadequate sleep, leading to poor functioning; lack of support in the workplace; and insufficient parental leave. The pressure to breastfeed leaves many new mothers feeling as though breastfeeding alone is what defines them as “good mothers.” Conversely, if their mothers cannot breastfeed or choose not to, they perceive themselves as failures. This message can be very damaging to new mothers who universally want what is best for their babies. As a result of this pressure, a new mother may experience postpartum anxiety, depression, OCD, and even psychosis due to lack of sleep and the perceived necessity to breastfeed her baby.

Join pediatrician Dr. Liza Natale, and The Motherhood Center’s CEO and medical director Dr. Catherine Birndorf, and founding director Paige Bellenbaum LMSW, for a conversation on the mental health implications of “Breast is Best.” We’ll investigate whether the data that supports the practice of exclusively breastfeeding warrants the current trend and why “Breast may not always be best.”

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