A new study from the journal Pediatrics has created quite a buzz around the internet. Everyone from CNN to Mothering has something to say on the topic, and it even blew up a friend’s blogsite after her response to the study received thousands of visitors.

The shocking news? Breastfeeding saves lives.Well, of course!” you think. “In third world countries, where there isn’t accessible safe drinking water, we must suggest breastfeeding by all means.”
But get this. It’s here, in the United States. According to the study,

If 90% of US families could comply with medical recommendations to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, the United States would save $13 billion per year and prevent an excess 911 deaths.

Wow. That’s here, like in your state. If this many children were dying every year from lead paint on toys, could you imagine the uproar?

But breastfeeding is a prickly topic. We don’t want to create mom guilt. And that’s the thing: we allow the guilt to rest only on moms if they can’t or choose not to or even “run out of milk.”

I speak as a former formula feeder. My older son, Lucian, was supplemented starting at 5 months because as a single mom working full time, I simply wasn’t pumping enough. I didn’t have either the support or the resources at the time, and I couldn’t fathom where to begin looking. So I soothed my mommy guilty feelings by going for organic formula and continuing to breastfeed when we could until he was 10 months old.

Recently, I stopped breastfeeding my younger son, Elijah, at 21 months. What was the main difference in the two? My jobs. The first job, I absolutely couldn’t have Lucian on hand and was stressed enough that eventually only a couple ounces would trickle out when I pumped on premises.

Since Elijah was born, I have worked full-time from home, done freelance writing, and, more recently, brought him to work with me. My two-year-old is no longer breastfeeding during our shifts at On The Turtle’s Back, but I credit this woman- and child-friendly business for part of my breastfeeding success.

Currently, while our society knows that human breastmilk is healthier for our babies than the breastmilk of a distant relative (cows), we have a pretty hard time showing that. We mandate only 6 weeks maternity leave, and for many mothers, that is unpaid leave, so they scurry back to work as quickly as they can after baby arrives so they can make ends meet. We don’t give women the ample opportunity to breast pump in all work environments.

One pediatrician sounded like he agreed when he told the Associated Press,

We’d all love as pediatricians to be able to carry this information into the boardrooms by saying we all gain by small changes at the workplace.

We tell women they can have it all, and then guilt them into corporate society to find success, telling them that one formula is as good as another. But our bodies make this most perfect, natural formula. What could be wrong or inconvenient about that?

As a society of people who were once babies, we need to do better.

You know what we could do to make every breastfeeding relationship a success? Encourage it! We don’t need to say, “Breast is best” ad nauseum, but we could give all of the helpful hints that have helped us on our way.

That in mind, I’m passing along tips from my helpful friend Vijay, who also supplemented her first child with formula, then later became an “extended” breastfeeder (read: “whenever this girl is ready to stop”) with her second. Here are some of the hurdles she faced and how she leaped over them:

  • A baby who wouldn’t nurse right away. I would advise moms not to leave the hospital or birthing center (or not to let midwife leave your house) until baby has latched on and nursed well at least once. We left within hours of when Char was born even though she refused to latch, and thought that we’d all be more relaxed at home. But she still didn’t nurse well from the start and then things just got worse, and having someone on hand to help would have been great.
  • I thought it was just the most natural thing in the world, that you just put the baby to the breast, they suckle peacefully and drift off to sleep. So I resisted getting help, thinking that the strength of my commitment would get me through the soreness, the cranky baby, the sleeplessness, the stress and worry. But if I had started going to LLL while I was still pregnant I would have felt more comfortable going for help after baby came.
  • If you have a slow gaining baby, do not give bottles. There are supplementers that are kind of annoying, but allow you to increase your supply while supplementing, the opposite is true with bottles.
  • Don’t be afraid to NIP (nurse in public). Once Char was introduced to bottles at 8 weeks, it was such a relief to be able to just give her a bottle in public because nursing was such a struggle with her every time trying to get this screaming baby latched on in the middle of NYC with everyone watching. But our nursing relationship ended way too soon because of those bottles.
  • Just because things go a certain way for one mom/baby in one situation doesn’t mean they’ll go the same way for another. My poor nurser was born naturally in a birthing center, my champ nurser was born via c-section in a hospital. So go figure.

Interestingly, the new health care overhaul has a measure which requires large employers to provide a place for pumping mothers. That’s a start, but it companies don’t want to be forced to be family-friendly, they should come up with their own plan of action.

Because when it comes down to it, when we support breastfeeders, we are supporting a happy, healthy society.