News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Most Breastfeeding Mothers Stop Early
In a new survey, about 60% of new mothers who started breastfeeding said they had stopped before they planned. The study included 1,177 U.S. women. They responded to monthly surveys that began when their babies were 2 months old and ended at age 1 year. Women were asked each time whether they had stopped breastfeeding. If the answer was yes, they were asked whether they breastfed as long as they wanted. They also rated the importance of 32 possible reasons for stopping. Problems with breastfeeding ranked at the top of the list. These included difficulties with getting the baby to latch on, cracked or bleeding nipples and infected breasts. The other most common reasons were concerns about the baby's nutrition and weight, the mother's illness or need to take medicine, and the effort required to pump milk. The authors say mothers may need more professional support to overcome these problems and continue to breastfeed. The journal Pediatrics published the study online February 18.
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Suppose you are pregnant. There is so much to think about. One of the most important decisions is what to feed the baby -- breast milk or formula?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breast milk for all new babies. It is the best nutritional choice for infants.
In the United States, 8 out of 10 pregnant women say that they plan to breastfeed when their child is born. Many new mothers begin breastfeeding their infants at birth. However, some of these mothers stop breastfeeding earlier than they had wanted.
A new study in the journal Pediatrics looked at the number of mothers who did not breastfeed for as long as they had planned. The researchers wanted to find out why women stopped breastfeeding early.
More than 1,000 new mothers were included in the study. The women completed a survey each month. The surveys began when the babies were 2 months old and continued monthly until their first birthdays.
In the survey, the mothers were asked whether or not they had completely stopped breastfeeding or pumping milk. If they had stopped breastfeeding, they were asked whether or not they had breastfed as long as they wanted. These mothers also were given a list of 32 possible reasons for stopping breastfeeding. They were asked to rate how important each reason was for them.
The researchers found that a lot of mothers -- about 6 out of 10 -- stopped breastfeeding earlier than they had planned.
The main reasons new mothers gave for stopping their breastfeeding early were:
- Having a hard time with breastfeeding (lactation problems)
- Worrying about their infant's nutrition and weight
- Becoming ill themselves
- Needing to take medicine
- Feeling that the work needed to pump breast milk was too much
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Breast milk is the only "food" a baby needs for the first six months of life. Infants should be breastfed for as long as possible.
If you are a mother-to-be, talk with your doctor about breastfeeding. Breast milk is the best food for babies.
- It's nutritious. Breast milk is chock full of nutrients that promote development and help the brain grow. Breast milk naturally has many of the vitamins and minerals that a newborn needs.
- It's easily digested. Breast milk is the most easily digested food your baby can eat. Breastfed babies tend to have less diarrhea and constipation.
- It fights disease. Antibodies found in breast milk help fight germs and protect babies from illness. This protection is special. Babies can't get it from drinking formula. Breast milk helps protect against:
- Ear infections
- Breathing (respiratory) infections
- Meningitis (a serious infection of the coverings the brain and spinal cord)
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Breastfeeding also has long-term benefits for mothers. They include:
- Improving the relationship between a mother and her baby
- Helping new mothers lose weight
- Shrinking the womb (uterus), so the belly gets smaller
- Making mothers feel less stressed out
- Lowering the risk of some kinds of cancer
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
Expect your doctor to encourage you to breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding should continue for as long as possible, at least until your baby is 6 months old.
Lactation specialists and breastfeeding support groups are finding new ways to teach and help mothers to:
- Be comfortable doing it
- Make breastfeeding less demanding
These ways will be studied closely to figure out which are the best ways to help the most mothers to breastfeed. More and more new mothers are also receiving support for breastfeeding in the workplace.
Breastfeeding can sometimes be painful and challenging. Do not be afraid to ask for help! Some resources for breastfeeding mothers include: