Data vs. anecdote: breastfeeding rates

24 July 2009 at 6:22 am Leave a comment

We know that breastfeeding rates vary greatly by location, hospital, etc. Race and a mother’s educational background also play a role. We also know that, no matter what, the average rates are not as high as we’d like them to be. You can look at some statistics here, but here’s my–again, purely personal and anecdotal–illustrative example:

In December I joined a playgroup with four other women. We’d all had babies within a month of each other last summer (between July 20th and August 22nd, 2008); we’re all college-educated, upper-middle-class, and obviously Massachusetts (more specifically Boston and Brookline) residents. That’s where the similarities among us ended, though, with regard to breastfeeding.

Mom #1: initiated breastfeeding in the hospital, but had a hard time and was only helped by L&D nurses (no lactation consultant); started giving formula before hospital discharge and never looked back; formula-fed exclusively for the first three months and then started solids early; now giving only a bottle of formula a day at eleven months, with baby otherwise exclusively on solids and cow’s milk.

Mom #2: initiated breastfeeding in the hospital, but had a hard time; started supplementing with formula before hospital discharge and used both breastmilk and formula until baby was six months old; started solids at four months, and stopped breastfeeding entirely at six months; at twelve months, baby entirely on solids and cow’s milk.

Mom #3: initiated breastfeeding in the hospital with no problems; breastfed exclusively for the first six months; started solids at six months; weaned baby off the breast by eleven months and switched to formula; at twelve months, baby on solids and two bottles a day of formula. 

Mom #4: initiated breastfeeding in the hospital with no problems; breastfed exclusively for the first six months; started solids at six months; at eleven months, baby on solids and nursing twice a day with those nursings to be cut out “soon.”

Mom #5 (me): initiated breastfeeding at birth (homebirth) but had a hard time; saw a lactation consultant and breastfed exclusively for the first six months; started solids very gradually using baby-led (Rapley) weaning; still breastfeeding 8 or so times a day at eleven months, including through the night; will continue to nurse until child weans on his own.

So, breastfeeding at birth: 100%

Breastfeeding upon hospital discharge: 80%

Exclusive breastfeeding from one week to six months: 60%

Breastfeeding through to one year: 40%

Breastfeeding beyond one year: 20%

Of course, the standard caveats apply–tiny tiny sample of convenience, etc. etc.–but what is interesting to me here is how our one group of five compares to the national average rates. What’s also interesting here is the OB to midwife ratio of the group–only the one other woman who even breastfed the entire first year had a midwife (CNM at Brigham and Women’s). Personally, I know my midwife was instrumental in helping me initiate breastfeeding and in referring me to a great lactation consultant. 

–Christina

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