latchME: An Innovative, Mobile Way To Get Mothers Breastfeeding Support
We all know that breastfeeding a baby exclusively for the first six to twelve months is the healthiest way to go. Breastfeeding boosts infant immunity and prevents rampant conditions like asthma, diabetes, and obesity. It also prevents heart disease and cancers in mothers.
What most people don’t know that it’s not easy, and most women don’t make it past 2 months. According to UNICEF, breastfeeding could prevent an estimated one million childhood deaths under the age of five in the developing world, but only 36 percent of these children under six months of age were breastfed exclusively in 2012. Even women in developed countries struggle to keep exclusively breastfeeding; in the U.S. only 16 percent of women reach 6 months!
As a pediatrician and breastfeeding advocate, I’ve seen too many breastfeeding mothers give up when high expectations met little to no support at home. Mounting pressure to breastfeed from doctors is not accompanied by robust breastfeeding support systems in so many of our cultures.
Systematic roadblocks from delivery to discharge, at home and at work, make breastfeeding exceedingly difficult for new mothers. Hospitals and clinics openly market formula with “free” formula bags, undermining mothers’ choices. Thanks to aggressive formula company marketing and slow-to-evolve healthcare systems, an entire generation of new grandmothers did not breastfeed themselves so feel ill prepared to help their daughters latch a baby. Antiquated maternity leave policies force mothers to choose between their finances and their baby. Women in many countries are shunned in public for doing the natural, healthy thing and breastfeeding their hungry infant.
Discrimination against breastfeeding extends beyond face-to-face interactions. I tried to promote breastfeeding on Facebook with an image of a woman breastfeeding, no nipple shown, and the post was rejected. Yet photos of women in bikinis fill Facebook’s News Feed. Advocates from the 4th Trimester Project to FB vs. Breastfeeding are taking social media to task for this hypocrisy.
It’s clear that lack of support for breastfeeding leads mothers to stop breastfeeding, depriving infants of the myriad benefits of breastmilk. What’s less clear is how to address it, as public health efforts, though helpful, have been difficult to scale.
Enter latchME and a new era of shared breastfeeding support responsibility
About a year ago I decided to tackle breastfeeding barriers by creating a healthy support system for breastfeeding mothers on their mobile devices. With the help of lactation experts and colleagues, I developed a free, crowd-sourced app called latchME which connects breastfeeding moms with a host of nearby resources. latchME resources make mothers feel supported and help them achieve their feeding goals. The app maps nearby businesses that welcome breastfeeding and local professionals who can address any concern. Moms add and share resources and answer each other’s questions in a virtual support group, called latchCHAT.
latchME is more than just a way to help mothers overcome barriers to exclusive breastfeeding, (which it does really well). It’s about equality too. latchME helps all families access quality care and make better-informed decisions about nutrition, regardless of income. That’s why we made latchME free and work with only WHO Code-compliant sponsors and partners to grow.
In its report Breastfeeding on the Worldwide Agenda, UNICEF calls for a unified voice for breastfeeding education and a “mobilized” initiative that is not just “policy-rich but implementation-poor.” Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin echoed this in her Call to Action, urging everyone from professionals to mothers to entire communities to step up and support breastfeeding. latchME can be this unified voice bringing people together for the singular goal of helping mothers succeed.
It’s my hope that latchME will inspire mothers everywhere to rise up and collectively help each other. Our rapidly growing resource map and endless email contacts speak to the thousands of engaged mothers and professionals already on board who believe in this cause. We need you to add resources in your area for other mothers today. We also need you to download the app and guide mothers on latchCHAT with your experience. Five minutes of your time can help a mother and baby succeed at breastfeeding. It really can, I’ve seen it!
Yes, our support of breastfeeding in this global village of ours is still evolving. But latchME offers us all a way forward that’s fun, innovative, and most importantly, helpful to all new mothers. Join us and let’s do away with every barrier to breastfeeding so all of our children have the healthiest start to life.
With greatest appreciation for mothers everywhere,
Jonathan Goldfinger MD, MPH, FAAP
President, Goldfinger Health, A Professional Corporation
Assistant Professor of Community Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, USC Keck School of Medicine