I love research.

I think it comes as part of the “I-have-an-anxiety-disorder” package that I research things obsessively. Getting a dog? Buy ALL the dog books. Having a baby? Spend hundreds of hours trawling through research study abstracts.

So when I saw a notice at the Reproductive Mental Health Centre looking for participants in a study on infant feeding in mothers with depression and anxiety, I volunteered. Why not give back?

Infant feeding and maternal mental health are slightly controversial topic. Research has shown that mothers with post partum depression are more likely to be formula feeders than breast feeders.

What no one really knows is which causes the other.

Does breastfeeding make you happier? Does formula feeding make you miserable? Or does post partum depression just wreck your chances of breastfeeding success?

This last possibility is supported by the fact that many women report the onset of PPD before the cessation of breastfeeding.

The researcher I spoke with was an OB-GYN. She wanted to know how doctors could support women in breastfeeding.

Of course she did.

The medical profession and the Canadian government have a lot of reasons to want women to breastfeed.

One of the quirks of living in a place with socialized health care is that the government really WANTS you to be healthy. Every time I go to the doctor, including my shrink, the government gets invoiced. A healthy population saves Canada money, so they really, really push the doctors to push breastfeeding.

The hospital where I planned to have my baby gave me a bunch of forms to fill out beforehand. I swear, there were at least three pamphlets on the benefits of breastfeeding. They also had a disclaimer form that I would have had to sign if I wanted to pursue formula feeding.  The gist of it was “Yes, I know that formula feeding EVEN ONCE will give him cancer and obesity and lower his IQ but I WANT TO DO IT AGAINST ALL MEDICAL ADVICE.”

I’m not the only one who finds it a little extreme. Hodgepodge over on the East Coast, who has breastfed all three of her children, is infuriated by the lactivist attitude of the public health sector.

Since the government foots our doctor bills, they are really motivated to endorse preventive medicine. Heck, the hospital where my son was born made you sign a waiver before they would let a bottle touch your baby’s lips.

Some women I know even feel that the hospitals are getting too pushy about it. It’s one thing to educate parents about the benefits of breastfeeding, it’s another thing to harass them about it, or to refuse to help mothers who cannot breastfeed for legitimate medical reasons (mastectomy, incompatible medications, etc).

So why is it that while almost all women at least start breastfeeding while in the hospital, only a quarter of them are still doing it by the time the baby is 6 months old? I don’t think the answer is “because we aren’t pushing them hard enough”.

  • Did I always plan to breastfeed?
  • How did the initiation of breastfeeding go?
  • Did I find it difficult?
  • Did I feel supported by the medical staff around me?
  • How could they have helped me more?

Their study was qualitative, rather than quantitative, so I wasn’t just a number. They were looking for answers. They wanted to know how they could help. And I had thought about this. A LOT.

Breastfeeding can be a touchy subject.

Some breastfeeding proponents (who I call “Lactivists”) can be extremely negative towards the formula-feeders of the world. This, in turn, makes formula feeders defensive.

I frequently see battles online between the Lactivists and the Formula Moms. So one day I ran a poll in my favourite online forum. This took place shortly after a big blow-up regarding the subject, and I started to want some answers.

So I asked women about their experiences with breastfeeding, and I discovered some interesting statistics:

  • Out of 70 respondants (most were from the United States or Canada), 98.5% at least tried to breastfeed. Some did it because they considered that the normal way to feed a baby – they had seen their mother do it, or someone else’s mother do it, or (like me) were simply told that that is how babies are fed. Others grew up thinking of formula as the “normal” way to feed a baby, but decided to breastfeed after they learned more about it. That tells me that the message is getting through.

In a way, this is good news.

It tells me that the “breast is best” message is getting through. People know that they “should” breastfeed. Even women who grew up thinking of bottle feeding as normal had their minds changed by their friends, their doctors, their prenatal classes, or their baby books.

But I discovered a more disturbing statistic:

  • Of those women who were raised to see breastfeeding as normal, a whopping 92.5% were successful in exclusively breastfeeding at least one child to six months of age and beyond. But women who grew up unaware of breastfeeding, or had gained a negative perception of it (thought it was weird, heard negative remarks from adults, etc), only 67% were successful with at least one child.

That’s quite a disparity.

The two groups of women were pretty evenly split down the middle, but their success rates were wildly different.

I think it is telling that almost all of these women, no matter how they were raised, still tried to breastfeed. But it seems that the attitudes you were raised with can really affect your chances.


The odd thing is, when asked why they had not been successful, 88% of women from both groups cited a difficulty with supply or the baby’s latch. Some (American) women found breastfeeding incompatible with working full time – they simply couldn’t pump enough, which again came down to supply. This wasn’t a problem among Canadians, since we get a year’s maternity leave.

So, if the primary reason for giving up breastfeeding is physical, why should childhood attitudes make a difference?

I think that if we knew the answer to this question, doctors would have the key to increasing the number of breastfeeding women in the world. Clearly they are currently going about it the wrong way.

Where do you stand on the breastfeeding spectrum? Why did you stop or why did you decide not to start in the first place?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our researching, breastfeeding, anxiety-prone mom in Canada, Carol, @If By Yes.

The image used in this post is credited to Raphael Goetter. It has  Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.

Carol (Canada)

Carol from If By Yes has lived in four different Canadian provinces as well as the Caribbean. Now she lives in Vancouver, working a full time job at a vet clinic, training dogs on the side, and raising her son and daughter to be good citizens of the world. Carol is known for wearing inside-out underwear, microwaving yoghurt, killing house plants, over-thinking the mundane, and pointing out grammatical errors in "Twilight". When not trying to wrestle her son down for a nap, Carol loves to read and write. Carol can also be found on her blog, If By Yes, and on Twitter @IfByYesTweets

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