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Baby formula shortage sparks breastfeeding debate

BOSTON — As parents continue to scramble to find baby formula because of a nationwide baby formula shortage, some have taken it as an opportunity to encourage more women to take up breastfeeding.

Local moms who we spoke with say they feel judgement from all sides, as they navigate what’s right for their families.

Christine Anastasia of Wrentham has been exclusively breastfeeding her 4-month-old Alexander since before the formula shortage hit. She says it motivated her to keep going.

Christine is juggling nursing with raising her two other young kids, and running a successful business as a Mom Coach and Consultant.

“It’s physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting,” admitted Christine.

Katie Burns of Walpole also nursed her 13-month old, Noah, but supplemented because of low milk supply. She says she’s still on the formula hunt... now for her friends.

“I’m like ‘ok I see this formula at Walmart,’ or ‘I see this at Wegmans,’ said Katie.

The formula shortage has added another layer of stress for parents of young children who say they’re already stressed by the challenges of the Pandemic.

Social media is only heightening that tension.

76-year-old actress Bette Midler recently Tweeted: “Try breastfeeding! it’s free and available on demand.”

That angered a lot of moms, including Katie and Christine.

“Oh if only it was that easy, Bette Midler” said Katie. “It’s not as simple as magically - it’s not like turning a pump on. It doesn’t just come out. And that’s what I think a lot of women [and men] don’t understand,” said Katie.

And even if a woman does want to breastfeed, she may not be able to, for a variety of reasons, from logistical reasons to medical issues.

“Sometimes there’s a latch issue. Sometimes there’s a food allergy. Sometimes you’re exhausted in that first month. You’re probably not just home on the couch trying to work it out,” said Christine. “There are so many working moms like me and we have this other pressure that when you’re away from your baby for 8 to 10 hours a day, you have to produce that milk. So there’s a pump, there’s parts, that you’re bringing that to work. I mean it was only like 3 years ago that I was going into Boston for work (with several kids under 3), and all of my pumping parts on a commuter train and I’m like ‘wow is this what every mom does?’ " said Christine.

Dr. Melissa Bartick, an internist at Mount Auburn Hospital and an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School, says research shows breastfeeding lowers a mom’s risk of everything from diabetes to breast cancer and is associated with healthier babies with higher IQ’s. The World Health Organization advises mothers to breastfeed until a baby is up to two years old or older.

“Breastfeeding is better for mothers and infants. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk is of diabetes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. And it’s better for babies because it’s associated with lower infant mortality,” said Dr. Bartick.

But she says no mom should be shamed for not doing it.... and says support is severely lacking in this country.

“There are more things that companies should be doing or could be doing. Providing lactation spaces is one thing, and making sure those spaces are convenient for their workers and allowing mothers to work from home, so that they can breastfeed their children at home,” said Dr. Bartick. “We do need paid leave in this country, that would be the most helpful thing. But in the absence of that, giving flexibility to new mothers would be very, very important,” she said.

After we posed the question on Facebook about whether society needs to do more to support breastfeeding moms, the consensus was moms need more support - period, whether they’re breastfeeding or not.

“Like one of the things for me in that first month was I just wanted someone to say ‘it’s ok to give your baby some formula,’ " said Christine.

Recent stats show in the United States 84% of women start out breastfeeding, but by the end of the first year of a baby’s life, only about 35% of women are still nursing. Only 6 out of 10 women meet their breastfeeding goals, again, underscoring the need for more support from family, friends and society.

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