How can social media improve breastfeeding rates in USA?

Breastfeeding is important for both mom and baby. Breastfeeding has many benefits that are well known. For baby, the benefits are clear. Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for baby – an ideal combination of  vitamins, protein, and fat necessary for growth. Further, breast milk is more digestible by baby than formula. Breast milk leads to healthier babies, healthier kids, and healthier individuals. Breast milk contains antibodies and so breastfeeding lowers baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and diarrhea, fewer hospitalizations and fewer trips to the doctor. Breastfeeding is alo thought to reduce rates of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. Aside from health benefits, breastfeeding is also crucial for baby’s mental and emotional development as the the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact increase bonding and development.

Social media is a powerful tool – it has dramatically changed how marketing is done. Because of social media, the speed at which trends develop, circulate, and subside has markedly increased. In the digital age, a new phrase was coined – “gone viral” – and despite what many of us thought when we first heard the term, it is not a bad, but it is actually a great phenomenon for content.  News can travel fast. And content can spread like wildfire. In an almost exponential way, the total reach of content can quickly explode. What this means is that content has the ability to reach a vast number of people very quickly. Overnight a certain brand, content, video, or meme can be known by a substantial portion of a target population.

Social media can increase breastfeeding rates in the US because it has the power to reach a lot of people. Social media connects us across oceans and across the world – with social media, individuals are connected – virtually even if they are half a world away. Social media is especially useful to reach young and new moms in the 20’s who have the highest rates of social media usage, and who may have the most questions about breastfeeding or have the most barriers to successful breastfeeding (time constraints due to busy schedules, unable to pump at work to to being earlier in their career or working in sectors that do not provide accommodations [such as service sector as opposed to office jobs], being self conscious, etc).

Social media can increase breastfeeding rates because it has the power to reaffirm the subjective norm that breastfeeding is good and is something that all moms should do if possible. It can further normalize breastfeeding. When moms see other moms online sharing their experiences with breastfeeding – both the positive aspects and the challenges – it encourages moms to start or keep breastfeeding. This is based on the concept of social proofing – which is a psychological phenomenon where people take on or perform the actions of others in an attempt to reflect correct behavior for a given situation. Its well know that people give more validity or weight to ideas that are stated by multiple sources – so when women or parents see that multiple friends or social media accounts either have / are breastfeeding or are posting about the benefits of breastfeeding, they will be influenced and encouraged to breastfeed also. Seeing your friends and social contacts engaging in a behavior or talking about the benefits of that behavior is also powerful because as it has been studied, people are more susceptible to peer influence from horizontal than vertical sources. This means that people are more influenced by friends than superiors. This is because when a person perceives themselves as similar to the people around them, they are more likely to adopt and perceive as correct the observed behavior of these people. One way that social media can do this is if, for example, Electric Breast Pump Reviews or another organization or company, starts a social media campaign encouraging moms to share their breastfeeding experiences online – such why they breastfeed, why they enjoy it, why baby enjoy it, and now they have overcome any challenges. Mom can share using a hashtag such as #BreatisBest #MommaMilk #WhyIBreastfeed – which allows moms across the country to join the conversation.

Social media can increase breastfeeding rates because it provides new moms with a support network. Breastfeeding is worth it, but as any woman who has breastfed knows, it’s also hard. It takes time, it controls your schedule, it’s painful, there’s definitely a learning curve to it, and many times, try as you might, your baby has difficulty latching on. These obstacles can make many moms feel demoralized or like they are failing as moms. Many moms may not have someone they ask for help or advice. Or more likely, many new moms may feel embarrassed about asking for help because they feel they should be having no issues in breastfeeding and if they are having issues it reflects on them as a mother. Which of course, is not true, as many new moms face difficulties. Social media in this sense is useful in two ways. First, moms can use social media – such as facebook groups or other social networks – to ask for help or advice in a way that feels safe and non judgemental. Second, through social media, they can see that they are not the only ones who are facing challenges and it normalizes these challenges that many moms may face.

Speaking as a student pursuing a degree in public health – I know that health communication is a proven way to promote healthy behaviors in people. Social media is a powerful communication channel that can be used to promote health messages. Health communication is the use of communication strategies to influence individual and community decisions that enhance health. These communication strategies must be based on health behavior theories – which  illustrate the motivations and factors that lead  individuals to perform or not perform certain health behaviors. A health behavior theory called the Health Belief Model is very illustrative in showing how social media can increase breastfeeding rates. the Health Belief model says that health behaviors are controlled by of perceived severity of not performing the behavior, perceived susceptibility of not performing the behavior, perceived benefits of  performing the behavior, perceived barriers or costs to performing the behavior, self-efficacy (confidence in one’s ability to successfully perform the health actions), and cues to action (external influences that can activate the readiness to act). Social media can effectively address 3 portions of this health behavior theory. First, it can increase perceived benefits by having mom’s see and read about the positive experiences that other moms had with breastfeeding, how they enjoy the experience of bonding, and how they had healthy, happy babies. Second, it can reduce perceived barriers by providing a support network for advice and by showing how it’s normal to have challenges, and how if you don’t give up, it will be worth it. Third, it can increased self-efficacy if social networks such as health organizations and other non profit entities have social media campaigns where they share tips for breastfeeding – so that moms feel more equipped to handle any challenges. Forth, it provide cues to action. These cues to action can be tweets, facebook graphics, etc that encourage mom to breastfeed, share benefits to breastfeeding, share tips, and share real stories of moms that are breastfeeding while working, going to school, taking care of their other children, etc.

In conclusion, social media can increase rates of breastfeeding in US thought several ways, including by providing a support network, building community among nursing moms, increasing acceptance of breastfeeding through social proofing, communicating the benefits of breastfeeding, and by providing cues to action.

Find more information here: http://electricbreastpumpwomen.com/

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