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MD Mama

Spreading the word on breastfeeding

Adapted from the MD Mama blog on Boston.com.

Of the many reasons women who want to breastfeed end up stopping, lots of them are reasons we can’t fix.

But way too many women stop for reasons we can fix. And that’s not OK.

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In a really interesting study just released in the journal Pediatrics, researchers interviewed more than 500 first-time moms before they gave birth and then at regular intervals through 2 months. They found that women who had at least one concern about breastfeeding at day three (which is when most moms are going home from the hospital) are seven times more likely to give their child formula and nine times more likely to stop breastfeeding altogether.

This is hardly a shocker.

Despite the media depictions of blissful, peaceful moms with babies at the breast, the inconvenient truth is that breastfeeding hurts at the beginning and takes both mom and baby some time to learn.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that while 75 percent of new mothers start out breastfeeding, only 13 percent do it exclusively for six months, which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. This is a shame, because breastfeeding has all sorts of health benefits for baby and mom, and can help with bonding.

In the study, the women were most likely to stop when they had trouble breastfeeding or when they were worried about having enough milk. That’s what makes me the most sad, because with some trouble-shooting and support most problems can be worked through — and most of the time when mothers are worried about not having enough milk they actually have plenty. Breastfeeding is different from bottlefeeding — breastfed babies like to be at the breast a lot, both because the milk is so quickly digested and, well, because for them the breast is just about the best place in the world. Too many mothers think that their babies want to nurse all the time because they don’t have enough milk, when it’s actually normal.

That’s the problem: We don’t do a good enough job of teaching women about what’s normal for breastfeeding, let alone supporting them when they hit the inevitable bumps in the breastfeeding road. We need to do a better job of both.

We could, and should, make teaching about breastfeeding part of prenatal care. We also need to make lactation support easily available for any mother who needs it.

We need more baby-friendly hospitals, where mothers are actively supported in breastfeeding — and babies aren’t given formula unless it’s medically necessary. We need more workplaces to give mothers the time and space they need to pump, so that they can breastfeed after returning to work.

I think it would help, too, to have more breastfeeding in the media, and more public breastfeeding. If we made breastfeeding more ordinary, it might make it more likely that people would talk about it, ask questions about it, and learn about it.

Not everyone can breastfeed, and not everyone wants to. That’s fine. But the mothers who can, and want to, should get the help they need.

Read more of this blog at www.boston.com/mdmama.
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