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We Can Make a Difference

By Patty Marler
Androssan AB, Canada
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 17 No. 6, November-December 2000, pp. 207-208

Before I had children, I was very nervous about breastfeeding. I wanted things to go well and I wanted to nurse my children for as long as they needed. I attended La Leche League meetings before the births of each of my children and gathered helpful information for my husband and myself in case problems arose. We had a good idea of what to do, when to do it, and whom to call if we needed help.

Both children got off to a great start and both of them continued to nurse for a long time. But with the birth of my second child, I had noticed things in the hospital that were not helpful in establishing a good breastfeeding relationship. This bothered me. Several months later, a friend had her first child and described her experiences in the hospital to me. We had a discussion about what we thought hospital staff should be doing to help breastfeeding mothers and how some hospital procedures could have affected my friend's breastfeeding relationship if she hadn't known better and had had the support of other nursing mothers. I went home feeling frustrated and angry about the system, believing more should be done to help breastfeeding mothers.

In an attempt to work through my anger, I began writing a letter. I started by listing all the benefits of breastfeeding I could think of and why women should be encouraged to breastfeed. I wrote about how health care professionals could help mothers and what mothers should know about human milk and breastfeeding. I stated that I was making suggestions based on the research I had done, most of which came from the WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. Finally, I listed the breastfeeding support available in our community, complete with names and phone numbers, and provided a list of reference books.

When I was finished, I realized the letter had some really good information in it. I did some editing, making sure I offered suggestions and ideas with a positive tone. I added some personal comments at the beginning describing the things that went well with my own births. I located the names of the hospital's nursing supervisors, human resources administrator, and chief of staff, as well as the administrator of hospitals in our area. After some nervous second thoughts, I said to myself, "It's important they know these things," and decided to send copies to all of them and to my personal doctor.

Within two weeks, I heard back from the hospital. They thanked me for my letter and stated that they were looking into my concerns. I also heard from my local LLL Leader. She was ecstatic and awestruck. The hospital administrator had contacted her about serving on a committee to update hospital practices. Within months, the hospital stopped accepting donations of formula samples and soothers (pacifiers) and required all nursing staff to attend a breastfeeding training session that was presented by an LLL Leader. In a subsequent letter, I provided information on the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative and the hospital began working toward attaining official Baby-Friendly status. I couldn't believe the impact my two letters had. I realized it really is possible to influence policy and make a difference, no matter who you are.

While I've been writing about this experience, I've also been listening for my three-year-old, who has a hacking cough - one of those that makes a mother really nervous and anxious to hear. I've known today that I would need to nurse Bailey a lot. I am so thankful we are still nursing so she will receive antibodies from me that will help her fight off her illness. This is a gift I give my child. Now, I will concentrate on my sick child, knowing that other sick children in my community will also receive the benefits breastfeeding provides because our hospital is making the effort to promote, support, and teach breastfeeding.

The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI)

Started in 1992 for the purpose of improving the support of breastfeeding in hospitals. The newly printed Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative Action Folder 2000 (available from LLLI) gives more information about BFHI and tells how individuals can support it on the local levels. You can also check out the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA) web site at

Note: URL updated for web page.

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