Breastfeeding rates fell during the pandemic, experts said. Now, with a shortage of baby food, mothers are once again looking for help and resources.
CONNECTICUT, USA — When the formula shortage recently became a concern, the advice for mothers soon became “just breastfeed the baby rather than bottle-feed”.
But that path isn’t an option for some moms who aren’t breastfeeding yet or can’t breastfeed.
The bottle-feeding shortage has worsened in the past two years as breast-feeding rates have fallen dramatically. Much of that decline can be attributed to COVID-19.
With so many staying home during the height of the pandemic, many assume more mothers would breastfeed, but that was not the case, experts said.
“Unfortunately, the opposite is true. At 30 days postpartum, only 54% were exclusively breastfeeding, while before during the pandemic, 76% of women were still breastfeeding after 30 days. So that’s a significant drop,” explains Robin DeGemmis.
DeGemmis is a lactation consultant and mother of six children. She has helped mothers and babies on their breastfeeding journey for the past 35 years.
The 22% drop in two years is a big drop and reverses a decades-long trend.
DeGemmis says the drop is most definitely related to COVID-19 and the loss of critical support for mothers.
“Mothers went home [from the hospital] and had no access to at-home lactation help, lactation consultations were canceled – I know I personally had a weekly mother group, which has been a lifeline for many mothers to get together with other mothers and get that support. It was almost a weekly therapy for many mothers,” explains DeGemmis.
DeGemmis also saw drastic personal changes as a result of the pandemic. She lost her job at a hospital and medical group because face-to-face consultations were eliminated.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that infants exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months with continued breastfeeding for one year.
“The longer a baby gets breast milk, the greater the benefit, but anything is better than none,” explains DeGemmis.
While the AAP said breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for significant health and developmental benefits for both child and mother, the number of one-year-olds who breastfeed has also fallen during the pandemic.
In 2020, 34% of mothers nursed their one-year-olds, but by 2022 that percentage dropped to an estimated 14%.
However, DeGemmis believes that the current shortage of formulas will encourage mothers who are now breastfeeding to stick with it longer.
‘They are afraid. It’s all over social media — moms are desperate to bottle feed their babies,” DeGemmis said. “So if you know you have an infinite supply of your own milk for your baby, and you don’t have to worry about it. .. that’s a huge relief.”
For mothers looking to breastfeed in the near future, breastfeeding support available through health care providers and an in-person lesson is the best way to prepare.
“And then, after you have your baby, you have to find your village,” DeGemmis said. “Mothers need mother-on-mother support. They need professional help. Lactation experts are back in person [sessions] now. So if you have any problems, the support is there. And that keeps mothers busy.”
If you would like to learn more about DeGemmis’ services, go to her website.
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