It’s World Breastfeeding Week and a survey examines what discourages some women from nursing

According to the results, many new parents said they lack support and courage when it comes to breastfeeding in public.

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As World Breastfeeding Week takes place this week through August 7, women around the globe are taking to social media to share photos of themselves nursing their newborns. But according to a recent study, many women still face great challenges when it comes to breastfeeding anywhere outside of the home.

Earlier this year, the health technology company Philips conducted a global survey with 6,453 women across 25 countries via the company’s pregnancy app, asking participants to share personal apprehensions about breastfeeding. According to the results, many parents said they lacked support and courage when it comes to nursing in public. 

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Per the Philips report, the results of the study vary across cultures and countries. Two-thirds of the moms surveyed — 66% — said they would feel empowered to breastfeed in public if it was considered “normal.” Fifty-two percent of those surveyed were uncomfortable breastfeeding around others, while 40% said they would not use a breast pump in public, a number that drops to 17% in the United States, according to Philips. 

Meanwhile, 33% of U.S. mothers said they would be more inclined to breastfeed in public if they had support from others, while having the support of a partner or spouse would also be helpful for breastfeeding mothers in Colombia (41%), Mexico and Chile (both 40%), compared to Austria (17%) and Germany (13%), the report revealed. 

The study results also note that moms globally said if they had the “right” to breastfeed in public anytime they wanted, they would be more motivated to do so. They would also feel more confident nursing their babies in public spaces and on the job if they saw more women around them doing the same.

Respondents in a survey last year by baby supply company Lansinoh were asked about their common breastfeeding challenges and what would help them feel more confident breastfeeding as new mothers. The top solutions listed included more realistic portrayals of breastfeeding (and postpartum) in media and social media (53%); increased prenatal breastfeeding education (37%) and improved family leave benefits (35%).

The World Health Organization and UNICEF maintained in a joint July 3 statement that “fewer than half of all newborn babies are breastfed in the first hour of life, leaving them more vulnerable to disease and death.”

Meanwhile, racial/ethnic disparities in breastfeeding continue to persist, according to the Centers for Disease Control. As reported by the ACLU, systemic racism contributes to a low breastfeeding rate among Black women and infants, thereby negatively affecting their health outcomes.

According to the CDC, 73.6% of Black mothers initiate breastfeeding with their newborns; the least of any racial group. In-hospital formula introduction is also more common among Black mothers, which is associated with lower breastfeeding rates. In fact, “approximately one in six infants born in 2019 did not receive any breast milk,” the CDC estimates.

WHO and UNICEF are “calling on governments, donors, civil society and the private sector,” the statement continues, to “prioritize investing in breastfeeding support policies and programmes” and  “equip health and nutrition workers in facilities and communities with the skills they need to provide quality counselling and practical support to mothers to successfully breastfeed.”

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