Breast-feeding success requires knowledge

Teach women how to know when to seek help

Women need to be educated about breast-feeding, says Melissa Vickers, MEd, IBCLC, a lactation consultant and La Leche League leader in Huntingdon, TN.

The female body is built to breast-feed, and the milk is designed to meet the nutritional needs of the human infant for proper development, she adds. Yet often breast-feeding is not encouraged or promoted, because it might make mothers who choose to bottle-feed feel guilty. This is the wrong approach to education on breast-feeding, says Vickers.

Clinicians don't worry about guilt when they tell parents to put their babies in properly installed car seats or to lay their babies on their back in a crib. These are health and safety issues, and breast-feeding should be viewed the same way.

"The mother will need to make a decision on her own, but the more support she gets from all aspects of society, the more she will move in that direction," says Vickers.

Making a decision to breast-feed begins with good information. Vickers says the United States is a bottle-feeding culture, and that is what children see growing up. Bottle-feeding is a different mindset, she adds. A feeding with a bottle ends when the milk is gone, but the end of a feeding at a mother's breast ends when the baby pulls away from the nipple. The baby is in control of the feeding, says Vickers.

Also, the feeding position is different. Babies bottle-feed lying on their backs, yet when feeding at the breast, babies are turned to face the nipple and lay on their side.

Mothers need to learn how to breast-feed, how to determine how much milk they have, and how to know when to feed the baby, according to Vickers.

In addition, women who choose to breast-feed need support from family members, their physicians and nurses, as well as society in general. For example, the father of the baby often is led to believe that being a good parent includes participating in the feeding. Yet caring for babies is also holding them and playing with them, so there are other activities in which a father can participate, she says.

Health care providers need to know how to support, encourage, and help mothers breast-feed successfully. Also, they need to know when they have reached the limits of their training and where to send the mother for help, Vickers says. The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE) is the official certifying organization for the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

"Unfortunately, anybody can call themselves a lactation consultant, but the IBCLC after someone's name means they've gone through extensive training and have passed a rigorous exam at least once every 10 years, and recertified by continuing education credits at the five-year mark between sitting for the exam," says Vickers.

There are also La Leche League leaders and other support people in the community, says Vickers. La Leche League meetings are a good place for women to go for support, because a variety of women attend - some are pregnant, some have newborns, and some toddlers, she adds.

Women don't breast-feed for a number of reasons, and it is good to be able to address these issues. Some believe it will tie them down, some do not find the thought of putting a baby to their breast appealing, and others think it will hurt. Women may be influenced by friends who found bottle-feeding worked best for them, or they may not have received the support they needed when they tried breast-feeding their first child.

The decision must be made by providing women with good information and dispelling myths, says Vickers. For example, many women think they will have sore nipples, but if a baby has correctly latched on, breast-feeding will not hurt. A source of pain is a warning sign that something is wrong, she adds.

To educate women to successfully breast-feed, help them address the problems they foresee, and then empower them by giving them information and instruction so they recognize when they are breast-feeding correctly and when they should seek help, Vickers advises. Also, provide information on where to turn for help.

"Breast-feeding is not just a lifestyle decision - it is a health decision for both the mother and baby. Getting that word out is not easy but it is important," says Vickers.

Editor's note: La Leche League has information on its web site that can be used for educational purposes. Following are a few categories listed.

• Breast Problems and Pain

• Feeding Frequency

• Nipple Problems

• Nutrition specific to breast-feeding mothers

• Proper Positioning and Latch

• Public Breastfeeding

• Working


For more information about educating women about breast-feeding their babies, contact:

• Melissa Vickers, MEd, IBCLC, lactation consultant and La Leche League leader, Huntingdon, TN. E-mail:

• International Lactation Consultant Association,

Web site: (Search for a certified lactation consultant by zip code on this Web site.)

• La Leche League International, P.O. Box 4079, Schaumburg, IL 60168-4079. Telephone: (800) 519-7730 or (800) 525-3243. Web site: