Welcome to our leadership blog series! This month, Janice Joerges-the Chapter President of National University of Health Sciences – discusses the current societal challenges of having a baby in the 21st century and the importance of breastfeeding.
In Honor of World Breastfeeding Week
Mothers are undervalued in our society. Although I am an American woman, I still feel shocked when a pregnant woman tells me her plan is to return to work six weeks after delivery because she cannot afford a longer maternity leave. I have even known some women who view additional maternity leave time as a benefit to having a cesarean section. Society does not recognize the burden women carry, and consequently women are not treated with the care and respect they deserve; this extends to healthcare as well.
After giving birth, a woman is discharged from the hospital and typically not seen again by her obstetrician until her six week check-up. Women are told what signs and symptoms to watch for, but that is often where their support ends. We used to live in communities with multi-generational co-housing, so women were exposed to all stages of life, and fully supported during each. Now that families are living farther away from one another, it is common for a new mother to not know anyone who has successfully breastfed. Typing that sentence is hard for me. What a preventable shame.
Human milk is the perfect source of nutrition for a child, and it comes in a soft, warm, and comforting package. Exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and then continuing until no longer mutually desired by the mother-child pair, is the gold standard of breastfeeding(1). However, how many women ever hear that? Common misconceptions, formula companies, and ill-informed medical providers are doing a disservice to these mother-child pairs by impeding their success.
I am a breastfeeding advocate and educator, former La Leche League leader, and naturopathic medical student. In my mind, these blend perfectly together because human milk is part of optimal health for a child, and lactating has benefits for the mother as well. I choose to put my support where my beliefs are, and even as a busy student and mother of 3, I am assisting and guiding anywhere from 1 to 4 lactating women each month.
Most of the calls I receive are from women who just need support. Who does a woman call when there is no obvious problem but she is concerned because her baby is eating so frequently, or she is struggling to pump enough to meet her baby’s needs while she is working, or her baby doesn’t sleep for longer than 2 hours and she is exhausted? Many mothers learn quickly that their obstetricians and pediatricians are not breastfeeding experts. Along with the potential for outdated or otherwise incorrect information, mothers are often dismissed or told to feed supplemental formula. Lactation consultants, particularly international board certified lactation consultants, are a wealth of knowledge and very experienced but often do not have a close relationship with the mother. We as future naturopaths can support mothers, encourage them, praise them, and remind them to trust their maternal intuition. We can listen to these women, let them tell their stories, empathize with them, and offer the gentle guidance and kindness that they deserve.
One of the Healthy People 2020 initiatives is to increase breastfeeding rates in the United States (2). The goal of increasing breastfeeding rates will not change by wishing or hoping. However, every one of us can have a positive impact on breastfeeding. The first step is to become educated on the laws protecting breastfeeding mothers and the benefits of breastfeeding. You can access information regarding each state and their laws here. When you see a woman feeding her child in the most natural and mammalian way, smile at her. If you overhear someone saying derogatory comments to a breastfeeding mother step in and speak out about the benefits of breastfeeding, and her legal right to feed her child.
You are powerful and capable of making a positive change in the world.
CHAPTER PRESIDENT, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF HEALTH SCIENCES
Janice is a 2nd year Naturopathic student at NUHS in Illinois. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences with a concentration in Integrative Holistic Medicine. While earning her undergraduate degree in Michigan, she was very involved with the birth and natural parenting community serving as a leader with La Leche League International, educator and mentor at a facility for homeless mothers, and administrator of an attachment parenting group.
This is Janice’s first year serving as an officer for the Chicago Chapter and she looks forward to increasing student’s awareness of the opportunities available to them, as well as overall member engagement. When she is not studying or building relationships with staff and students, she can be found performing spoken word and storytelling, playing board games with her family, or singing karaoke.