Let me start by saying that I’m very thankful for doctors and know many wonderful doctors. Most of us put a lot of trust in our doctors, which isn’t bad. Like all humans, though, they can occasionally get something wrong, especially if the subject in question is not covered extensively in their training. I don’t know if doctors are required to have training in breastfeeding in the US, but they aren’t in the UK, to my knowledge. A dilemma can arise when a doctor unintentionally gives incorrect information about breastfeeding, then.
I have experienced this firsthand, both times when I was breastfeeding Kieran during my pregnancy with Charlotte. One GP advised weaning him at 2, but when I questioned why, his only answer reason was because of the arbitrary age. It didn’t really matter since I knew I needn’t wean him at an arbitrary age. Another was a midwife who told me I wasn’t allowed to breastfeed during the pregnancy. I argued the point, for I’d researched and knew that breastfeeding during pregnancy isnot normally a problem (there may be times when weaning is indicated, but it is not always, or even usually, necessary). Again, it wasn’t a problem for me, because I had researched enough to know otherwise, but do other mothers know?
I recently spoke with a young mother who asked me what kind of water her infant needed. She’s breastfeeding. I told her that her daughter doesn’t need anything other than breastmilk for 6 months. That was when she said that the pediatrician was the one who told her to give water! While I told her that wasn’t the case and went to print off the relevant information, I didn’t know if she’d believe me over her pediatrician. I told her that doctors sometimes do not know much about breastfeeding, and I know he isn’t intentionally misleading her. But I also wonder about the other mothers trying to breastfeed and getting misinformation from that pediatrician. I wonder if some even stop breastfeeding earlier than they planned due to this misinformation. Again, the doctor wasn’t intending to give misinformation, but since he wasn’t given much training in breastfeeding, he unwittingly perpetuated a breastfeeding myth (even though the AAP policy statement on breastfeeding explicitly states that breastfed children should not be given anything other than breastmilk). Please note that I am not advising anyone to disregard everything his doctor says, for doctors are experts in their particular fields of medicine. I am simply bringing up that breastfeeding isn’t generally given much time in their training, and so it is little wonder that some are not experts in that. I advise asking about their breastfeeding training and/or experience, and asking for references for any information. It never hurts to be informed, especially when it affects you and your child.
I also wonder about the bigger picture. In both the UK and the US, breastfeeding rates are rather grim. Surely this is a matter of national health? And so surely these mothers and babies would benefit from their doctors receiving breastfeeding training? Sites like Kellymom certainly help, but a mother needs to know about the site or to search for that. Of course, it would also help if breastfeeding were more accepted in society as a whole. If more women saw mothers breastfeeding, and heard it discussed openly, then some of the questions and myths would be taken care of in that way. There needs to be more information/education about it for everyone.