Sifting through the clutter: Addressing breastfeeding challenges in the Catholic Church
Editor’s note: Even though my eldest is now in college, I have vivid memories of being a young mom, attempting to breastfeed my baby, and falling flat on my face. That’s why I am thrilled to welcome new contributor Jaime Buelterman who will join us once per quarter to share her wonderful perspective on this important topic. Please join me in welcoming Jaime. Feel free to leave your questions for her in the comments section. LMH
“I didn’t make enough milk”
“The baby would not latch”
“They did not tell me the pill would dry up my milk”
“My doctor told me that formula was just as good”
These are comments often made in passing from mothers. The last two are especially disturbing to me. It takes a great deal to hold composure in some situations and not let my frustration show while working with a mom. It is no secret these statements made by a friend or family member can plant the seed that leads to failure. The power of the media, peer influence, and that of a physician are recognized in the ability to shape the course a person will decide upon, even if a mother is aware of the risk.
Last year the Surgeon General released a “Call to action to support breastfeeding in the community”. I had the honor of presenting a portion of it at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. While gathering materials for the topic, I noticed a specific suggestion of utilizing churches in the effort to increase breastfeeding rates. Even the government recognizes the importance of faith in the decisions a family makes in regards to child rearing. Living in Cincinnati, we are blessed to have many experts in the field of lactation and NFP. I began to inquire as to why there was little being done by the Catholic Church to culturally support breastfeeding, especially since it was so important to the success of spacing children while practicing NFP (Natural Family Planning). The responses were all very different, but indicative of distress. Support of NFP in and of itself are a challenge, much less addressing the decision to breastfeed, which is not considered a moral issue, but a recommendation.
While there are steps to protect mothers in the hospital through the Baby Friendly Initiative, not every hospital participates. The next question remains: what happens to mom after she goes home? Some hospitals offer a limited post partum follow up, or a visiting nurse. Most often, it is during these days that trouble arises, and there is no one to offer critical guidance to a mother, or even simple encouragement that “this too shall pass”. Even worse, there is damaging advice from a nurse or a physician, in whom we often place complete trust.
We as a faith community hold a unique advantage in our society. We honor fertility, advocate breastfeeding, support the family structure, and hold steadfast to community in the gathering of saints. We are also nestled deep in the urban communities and rural areas of America, where accurate information is often hard to come by, especially for underserved populations. All of these components are critical. Women are often unaware of the impacts of IVF, hormonal contraceptives, and pre-existing health conditions in relation to breastfeeding successfully. Catholic mothers also face the distinct challenge of finding health providers knowledgeable on the vast information about NFP, and in conjunction LAM (Lactation Amenorrhea). We know that a large percentage of women do not practice NFP, but what better opportunity to open the door for loving education then during her pregnancy, or when problems with fertility arise?
Science is catching up where doctrine has always been deeply rooted, which too works in our favor. It is important to remember that many women are hesitant to reach out for assistance. The Elizabeth Ministry International, Catholic Nursing Mothers League, NFP and more, and Birthright International are some examples of groups that fully recognize the importance of mother-to-mother connections, and providing accurate resources to women in the Catholic Church, while providing outreach education. Do not be lost on the wonder of the Visitation. God was preparing Mary for what was to come. Humanity has thrived due to the nurturing instincts we possess, and we are responsible for ensuring that the women in our life do not have to “sift through the clutter” to find accurate information and suffer needlessly.
Copyright 2012 Jaime Buelterman