Is breastfeeding always natural?

Last week Medela presented their 12th international human milk and lactation symposium in Florence, here our in house  lactation expert, Sioned reports on one of her favourite pretentions…


As expected the guest speakers blew away the audience with their latest research and findings – breakthrough in cancer treatment, the evolutionary footprint of human milk, preterm infant sucking mechanics, family centred care in the NICU and practical talks of how important it is that parents are given support and information in initiating lactation when their babies are in NICU were all great to listen to. I was wowed all weekend, but one of the talks that really stood out for me with mums in mind was from  Prof Diane Spatz, one of the world’s most influential breastfeeding experts, most specifically her inspiring attitude towards supporting breastfeeding families.

“Is breastfeeding always natural?” is a question Prof Spatz asked… and her honest answer was truly brilliant. Yes, it is natural, but it does not always come naturally.

“It is hard work,” explained Prof Diane Spatz, an award winning Professor of Perinatal Nursing and she went on to say that “even a mother with a strong prenatal desire to breastfeed might face challenges that threaten her breastfeeding experience.”

Prof Spatz believed strongly that all health professionals have a responsibility not only to have an understanding of the basic anatomy of the breast and a good  knowledge base on how breastmilk benefits an infant, but also a duty to speak truthfully to mums about breastfeeding.

Prof Spatz spoke of the need to empower women to breastfeed and how important it is to share information. Research shows if women and their families understand why and how breastfeeding is essential, it will help them through the challenges. If parents are making informed decisions it will go some way to start increasing global breastfeeding rates.

It has been reported that only 5% [1] of women "might" be physiologically incapable of breastfeeding, the rest just don't get the support they need to get off to the right start and the consequences impact their entire breastfeeding journey. Therefore with 95% of women seemingly able to breastfeed, the dire breastfeeding rates urgently need to be addressed, and the support available to breastfeeding mothers around the world needs to increase.

Prof Spatz shared common sense thinking and some fantastic ideas – she presented the idea  that the global breastfeeding community should stop referring to ‘successful’ breastfeeding, “if we talk about success,’ Spatz explained ‘we are also talking about failure.’ Breastfeeding families should work with goals, monthly, weekly or even daily goals to support them – never success or failure.

Prof Spatz’s commanding presentation was met with an overwhelming reception from the audience of more than 450 healthcare professionals from around the world. Her commitment to increasing breastfeeding rates on a global scale is very clear and her work to date is truly making a differences evidenced by her Lifetime Achievement Award in the USA and her testimony which has helped to shape the US Surgeon General’s National Breastfeeding Call to Action.

[1] Neifert (2001) PREVENTION OF BREASTFEEDING TRAGEDIES, Paediatric Clinics of North America