Article at a Glance
Did you struggle with breastfeeding? You are not alone. A recent study shows that less than one-third of mothers who were planning on exclusively breastfeeding for the first three months were able to met that goal.
It would seem that the problem isn’t convincing mothers that breastfeeding is the best option, but rather in the support we give those who have decided to breastfeed.
Doctors recommend breastfeeding because it is so beneficial for babies and mothers. It can lower the risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, respiratory diseases, earaches, and asthma. It also boosts your baby’s immune system and changes as your baby grows to match his needs. It also carries a number of benefits for mothers. It lowers your blood pressure, decreases your risk for certain kinds of cancer, and helps you lose weight.
So if there are so many benefits, why isn’t breastfeeding more common? Generally it is because of a lack of support. Breastfeeding isn’t easy and often we spend more time telling mothers what they should be doing and not enough time helping them do it.
Here are four of the most common reasons mothers stop breastfeeding and what we can do to help.
We worry that our baby isn’t getting enough to eat
Ironically, although our culture struggles with obesity, we constantly worry about our children getting enough to eat. And newborns definitely don’t make it easy. They have extremely tiny stomachs, they want to eat all the time, and they can’t tell you if they are full or not. And then there is the hope that if your baby’s tummy is full, maybe you will get a little extra sleep at night.
We turn to formula because it is an easy way to see how much our baby is eating and how that compares to all the graphs we find in our parenting books. But we really don’t need graphs to see if our baby is getting enough to eat.
The best way to know if enough food is going in is to watch how much is coming out. If your baby is wetting about 6 diapers in a day and pooping regularly, then she is probably getting enough to eat. Regular weigh-ins at your well baby check-ups can also show whether or not your baby is getting enough food. If you are worried that you are not producing enough breast milk, check with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant before you start supplementing with formula. And remember, you will start to become more confident with experience.
At first breastfeeding is hard—really, really hard
Once you get in the swing of things, breastfeeding can make a lot of things easier. But at first it can be a bit rough. Not only does your baby need to figure out how it all works, but so do you. Sore nipples and being totally exhausted also doesn’t help.
We sometimes think that breastfeeding is just instinctual, but it isn’t. Mothers often need a little nonjudgmental guidance and support. A lactation consultant or a friend with experience breastfeeding can help with tips, advice, or even just perspective.
Support from the hospital is also crucial. According to the study, one of the most important factors is whether or not the hospital offers supplemental feedings. Unfortunately about 78 percent of U.S. hospitals give formula to healthy, breastfeeding infants.
We need to encourage more hospitals to follow the UNICEF and WHO Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative. The initiative helps support mothers who want to breastfeed by providing education, helping to establish breastfeeding within an hour after birth, not providing supplemental feedings, and allowing mothers and babies to stay together 24 hours a day.
Breastfeeding in public is often uncomfortable
In most countries breastfeeding in public is considered normal and acceptable. Unfortunately, our culture often sees breastfeeding in public as inappropriate. It can be very hard to breastfeed your baby if you have to sneak away to some private place every time your baby is hungry.
If we are going to support breastfeeding, we have change our feelings towards breastfeeding so that women can feel comfortable breastfeeding where and when they need to.
Juggling work and breastfeeding is hard and sometimes impossible
We definitely don’t make it easy for mothers to work and breastfeed. Most workplaces don’t offer mothers the time or private areas to pump breast milk. And then storing it and transporting it can be hard—not to mention how much breast pumps costs.
Employers can support breastfeeding by making it easier for women to pump at work. And insurance policies should help pay for breast pumps. If women need help learning how to use a breast pump, a lactation consultant or your pediatrician are great people to turn to.