An Open Letter to Pediatricians

So a child walks into your office. Hopefully, in this circumstance, the child is old enough to walk. I’ve heard stories from mothers that their pediatrician told them to stop breastfeeding their infant, but that’s another topic for another time (Come on! It is so highly unlikely that an infant is allergic to breastmilk and if the infant truly is, it’s also most likely allergic to formula also. Sheesh!)

So this child walks in and you’re having your regular check up. Maybe the child asks to nurse. Maybe you directly ask the mother if she’s still nursing. Either way, you find out that their relationship continues on beyond the recommended minimum according to the AAP. So you’ve decided to tell the mother it’s time to quit. There’s obviously something wrong with breastfeeding beyond one year, right? Wrong!!!

One may think that, as a medical professional, you would have some facts about the health benefits of breastfeeding at any age. Yeah, one would think. The problem is that most pediatricians are grossly misinformed about the benefits of breastfeeding. Either they don’t want to upset a mom who chooses not to breastfeed or possibly they just don’t have enough information, but either way it’s a big problem. Many moms go to their pediatricians for breastfeeding advice because it makes sense that their baby’s doctor would have a little knowledge about how to feed said baby. Yeah, that would make sense, wouldn’t it?

The problem is that pediatricians aren’t lactation consultants. (Actually, you can go ahead and add all the nurses on the postpartum floor in most hospitals to that list too, but don’t tell them that because they certainly think they are experts.) Many new moms don’t realize this. Many new (and not-so-new) moms see their pediatricians as an authority figure, which comes along with not questioning them and thinking they have all the answers.

The problem is that they don’t know all the answers. Hopefully, in the case of full term breastfeeding, that is what this post is attempting to remedy. So here we go

Dr. says: Breast milk doesn’t have any nutritional value beyond X months.

Facts: Breast milk changes as a child grows. Breast milk changes day by day depending on what the child needs. That’s the beauty of a supply and demand relationship. During the connection of nursing, that baby’s saliva actually communicates with the mom’s milk production. The simple act of actually nursing more often increases the mother’s supply within 24-48 hours.

In the case of nursing a toddler, the fat content actually increases as the child grows. You know how it’s recommended that children drink whole milk because they need that fat to grow? Guess what? Breast milk is whole human milk.

And what about the picky eaters? Virtually every toddler goes through at least one stage of not wanting to eat much or only wanting to eat certain things. Peanut, for example, will only eat noodles if whatever you put in front of her has noodles in it. I have to actually tell her “Take one bite of that (pointing to the food she’s shoved off in the corner to get to more noodles) and I’ll give you more noodles.” If she weren’t nursing, I’d be a lot more concerned about her getting all the nutrients she needs. As of now, she doesn’t take any sort of vitamin and is growing like a champ.

Dr. says: There are no immunological benefits of breastfeeding beyond X months.

Facts: Antibodies are in milk always. Every. Single. Time. You nurse, your kiddo gets the antibodies your body is producing. So when I’m at school and I catch a cold bug from another student, before I even get sick my body is starting to fight it. Probably pretty much simultaneous to me passing it to Peanut, I’m giving her the antibodies to fight it. Before even an adult system, let alone a immature system of a toddler, would produce antibodies, she already has them coursing through her system.

Toddlers get sick a lot, but in general, breastfeeding toddlers get sick less often. When they do get sick, it’s generally not as severe or as long. In industrialized nations like ours, this may be taken for granted, but in countries that still don’t have regular access to medicine, it can be life-saving.

Dr. says: Breastfeeding beyond X months harms a child emotionally.

Facts: Breastfeeding will never harm my child. I really, really hope no doctors ever say this. I feel it still needs to be discussed though because so many people who are against full-term breastfeeding bring this up as an argument.

You are putting sexual connotations onto our breastfeeding relationship that imply that it could harm my child. That is your association that you are imposing onto our relationship. It is simply not a fact. When my child falls down and is crying her eyes out and nothing can calm her, I offer her my breast. She is soothed. She immediately stops crying. Most of the time, she absolutely forgets about her scraped knee. How can something that makes her so incredibly happy damage her emotionally? How can that even make sense?

Even if it doesn’t benefit her emotionally (though studies have shown that it does), it certainly doesn’t harm her. So why tell a mother to stop? If you’re telling a mother that her breastfeeding is damaging her child, I think you need to go talk to someone professional, because there’s obviously something wrong up there.

So, I hope that helps set some of the facts straight. I hope that none of you are ever confronted by a medical professional about breastfeeding. I hope that doctors and nurses learn the facts and who to refer mothers to when they have questions. I hope that there will be a day where breastfeeding is such a norm where the doctors that tell a mom to quit is chastised for the fools they are.

I’d like to mention that not all pediatricians have this problem. Not all pediatricians are grossly misinformed about breastfeeding. There are many that are incredibly supportive of breastfeeding and beyond that, many that just don’t care enough to try to interfere with a breastfeeding relationship. The problem is that there are any pediatricians (or nurses in pediatrician’s offices for that matter) that spread such awful lies about breastfeeding and actually attempt to make a mother quit breastfeeding. For more information and links to the studies mentioned in this post, visit kellymom.com or llli.org.

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7 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Pediatricians

  1. Can you give a reference on that whole saliva communication thing? I’ve never heard of it before, but it sounds interesting.

  2. First, let me tell you how thankful I am to have come across your blog! I’m loving reading it. 🙂

    I encountered a pediatrician who told me to stop giving my 15-month son breast milk. Our regular pediatrician was out on maternity leave, and the male replacement told me that I needed to switch to cow’s milk and give him a multi-vitamin because my breast milk had no nutrition for him. I went home from that appointment in TEARS because I was so confused. My son had never nursed because he had a sucking disorder, so I had been pumping all that time, assured that it was the right thing to do. Luckily, I have a support system of people who told me the doctor was nuts, and I disregarded everything he said.

    I did tell our regular pediatrician about my experience later, and she assured me that it is not her policy to recommend a mother ever stop giving breast milk to her child. Now I have a 2-month-old son who is able to nurse, and it’s such a wonderful experience! I always encourage women who are struggling to hold on to any positive influence in their life, because that support is so vital, and often society in general does not appreciate what mothers do for the benefit of their children.

    • I’m very happy that you did your own research and figured out that pediatrician is wrong. Did your pediatrician tell that one he needs to stop saying that to mothers because it’s completely and entirely wrong? If not, you should request she does.

      • I do not know if she said something or not, but she did say she’d take care of it. I think the man is still a good doctor, and my older son has had to see him since when he was sick and our doctor wasn’t there. I tell others who are going to him about my experience so they can be fully informed. His is certainly a strange view for the very pro-breastfeeding area I live in.

  3. Love this! My only suggestion that would actually make this even far more powerful (especially if you actually intend on mailing this a doctor) is to cite your information.

    My last pediatrician never actually told me to quit nursing, however she did tell me that my breast milk was nutrionally void past 12 months. I was so stunned that she even said this, I did not even respond to her. But I immediately went home to do my research. What I discovered was that breastmilk has been tested for nutritional value up to 24 months. There hasn’t been any research beyond that on mother’s milk. However, the milk nutritional content changes, as you say here, as the baby grows. Fat content picks up a little, then declines, protein content increases as the toddler grows. And there is always the lovely immunilogical content.

    It is reasonable to assume then, that human milk does not decline in nutrition, as a trend would start to show past 12 months. This clearly is not the case.

    I let it go until my next pediatrician appointment, where she kept subtlely suggesting that I replace my milk with a cow’s. When I really started to wrap my head around this, I wondered how this made sense at a very basic level. Why on earth would another animal’s milk be more appropriate for my growing toddler than my very own??

    I’ve since changed doctors. Thank you so much for this great post!

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