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Breastfeeding in Public: Where Do American Moms Really Stand?

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In 2012, breastfeeding entered mainstream American dialogue as either a polarizing or a unifying topic for a wide variety of mothers, parents, employers and public officials across the country.

Breastfeeding will continue to be a hot topic of conversation as we move into 2013. From attachment parenting and duration of breastfeeding to women's rights in the workplace and breastfeeding in public, the conversations being generated are surprisingly controversial.

Tipping Point

The tipping point for the media frenzy occurred around the now-infamous image that appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in May 2012.

However, public attention around the breastfeeding debate and how and when it's appropriate for children and adults to witness breastfeeding began in January 2012, when a group of parents petitioned for breastfeeding to be shown again on Sesame Street.

This was followed by activities across the country that helped further move our society toward embracing breastfeeding and supporting moms who breastfeed, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Latch On NYC initiative; the focus on breastfeeding in First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign; and the multiple nurse-ins across the country that were highlighted by the Great Nurse-In, which was held on the National Mall , in Washington, D.C. and attracted 600 moms.

Opinions Evolving

The fact is, breastfeeding advocacy and support for moms' choice to breastfeed in public, at work and in school have been building public interest and gaining support over the past decade.

The TIME cover simply brought the conversation to the water coolers and dinner tables of America. In general, I believe this is an extremely healthy discussion within our country, where our national community is still challenged with providing complete support for breastfeeding moms.

Following the TIME piece, dramatic accounts of moms' choices about breastfeeding were highlighted nearly every month in a broad range of news coverage. Stories highlighted our nation's struggle to agree about breastfeeding and feeding in public -- from the professor at American University breastfeeding her sick child in class to the Applebee's mom who was nearly dragged away in handcuffs to the Luvs commercial that featured a mom breastfeeding in a restaurant.

What Moms Think

It was amid this stirring of public discussion that a survey completed by Lansinoh asked mothers in the U.S. as well as in the United Kingdom, Germany and Turkey how they feel about breastfeeding in public, how strongly they connect breastfeeding to children's health and what motivates them in their feeding choices.

Some of the results were surprising.

The survey revealed that the biggest fear breastfeeding moms in the U.S. have is nursing in public. Forty percent of U.S. moms fear nursing in public. This ranked higher than concerns about breastfeeding-related pain (28 percent), baby not being able to latch (25 percent) or even the effect breastfeeding could have on their bodies (5 percent).

What was further uncovered was how differently American moms feel about breastfeeding compared with their counterparts in other countries. U.S. moms are the most uncomfortable with nursing in public. Moms in Turkey are the most comfortable, at 89 percent; moms in Germany are second-most comfortable, at 72 percent; and moms in the U.K. are slightly less concerned than U.S. moms are, sharing a similar level of discomfort at 38 percent.

Best News

The best news, however, is that moms across all countries overwhelmingly understand that breastfeeding has incredible health benefits, and cited babies' health as the No. 1 reason.

Within the U.S., however, there are distinctive differences across each region of the country. When we looked deeper at the data, the region that stood out to us as an example of what the rest of the country needs to achieve is the West Coast. Moms there have, by far, the highest positive ratings on breastfeeding awareness, comfort level and stamina.

West Coast moms, along with moms in the South, also ranked the highest for feeling supported by their healthcare professionals. Interestingly, TIME's article this week about breastfeeding challenges sheds light on the lack of breastfeeding education and awareness by mainstream medical professionals and the possible impact this may be having on mothers' breastfeeding success.

Onward and Upward

From nursing babies and toddlers to promoting breastfeeding directly after birth, it's clear that breastfeeding continues to inspire discussion. And with that we have the potential to gain a greater awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding and the support moms need to not only start, but to continue nursing past the first few weeks, when challenges are most likely to occur.

Though progress was achieved in 2012 through these important conversations in making moms more comfortable, educated and outspoken on breastfeeding, there is still much to be done.