Unfortunately, many healthcare providers in the U.S. are sorely lacking in practical knowledge about breastfeeding. Despite government-funded public education efforts on the subject, many doctors and nurses seem to have somehow “missed a memo” on the needs of breastfeeding mothers and babies. A fair number of doctors are still basing their diagnoses on outdated information, such as infant growth charts based only on the expectations and standards of formula-fed babies. However, there are many pro-breastfeeding pediatricians who can provide informed and supportive care for breastfed babies.
Look for breastfeeding support groups in your area. Not only are these groups good sources of information on the practice of breastfeeding, they are usually well-informed about practitioners in the local medical community. Women in breastfeeding support groups will have already evaluated the doctors in your area, and will be able to help you identify those who will most effectively treat your breastfed child.
Interview Potential Doctors
If possible, this should be done before the baby is born. Having asked breastfeeding mothers in your regional area about their preferred pediatricians, you must narrow down your list of pediatricians and set up appointments to meet them. These “pre-interview” appointments are most often conducted free of charge.
Key Questions to Ask
There are several questions that are worth asking the doctor who will (hopefully) be your child’s primary care physician for a very long time. These questions should prove very helpful in selecting a pediatrician who will understand the growth patterns and needs of breastfed babies.
– “Do you have any written protocol or standard information that you give to patients about breastfeeding?”
– “Do you care for many breastfed babies? How many?”
– “Do you have training specific to breastfeeding? How current is it?”
– “Do you adhere to World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, or U.S. Department of Health breastfeeding standards?”
– “Can I breastfeed my child in the clinic?”
– “Do you use World Health Organization growth charts specific to breastfed babies?”
– “At what age do you recommend starting a baby on solid foods?”
– “How do you feel about extended breastfeeding?”
Your child’s pediatrician should be able to at least provide you with informative pamphlets on breastfeeding, and should have a history of caring for breastfed babies. If a doctor shows discomfort merely at the thought of a woman nursing her baby in the clinic, then s/he is probably not a good choice for a baby who will be breastfed.
The standards set by WHO promote healthy breastfeeding practices and detail the growth pattern differences between babies who are either breastfed or formula fed. Babies gain weight and grow differently, depending on how they are nourished. Many pediatricians are still using outdated infant growth charts that only reflect the norms of the average formula fed baby. When a doctor encounters a breastfed infant and holds them to formula-fed standards, inappropriate diagnoses and medical advice are often the result.
The U.S. Department of Health, UNICEF, WHO, and American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend that babies (breast or formula fed) should not be offered solid foods until they are at least six months old. It is important to note that “solid food” is any food that isn’t breast milk, water, or formula. If a doctor answers a question about readiness for solid food with any answer other than “not until six months”, a woman would do well to interview a different doctor. A breastfeeding-friendly pediatrician will try to encourage extended breastfeeding (nursing a baby beyond six months) whenever possible. If a pediatrician’s interest in the topic of breastfeeding is lukewarm or non-committal, then it would be in the baby’s best interest to select a doctor more interested in the practice.
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