Moms need more support to breastfeed exclusively
June 4th, 2012
01:41 PM ET

Moms need more support to breastfeed exclusively

Judging by the ruckus that followed TIME magazine's cover story of a woman breastfeeding her 3-year-old (while standing up), one might think that mothers are nursing young boys and girls all the time.  But the statistics show the opposite is true.  

According to the latest CDC statistics 75% of new moms start out breastfeeding their new babies,  but by 6 months, only 44% still are and only 15% are exclusively breastfeeding. By the time a child is a year and a half old, only 8%  are still being nursed.  Now a new study sheds some light on why many moms are not meeting their goals for exclusive breastfeeding.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, finds that many women plan to exclusively breastfeed their babies, but once the baby is born, they can't do it as long as they had hoped.  Researchers asked 1,457 women who were in their third trimester if they intended to exclusively breastfeed. 85% said they planned to do so for at least for 3 months.

"All of these women that we focused on, all said they wanted to exclusively breastfeed.  Only 32.4% met their goal," says lead-study author Cria Perrine, an epidemiologist in the CDC's division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

One striking statistic is that 15% of these women gave up before leaving the hospital, which is on average only a 2-day stay.  One contributing factor is that 40% of moms reported their baby's feeding was supplemented with formula during the hospital stay.   Recommended guidelines for hospitals highlighted in a  CDC report last year discourages this.

More than half of mothers in this new study stopped exclusively breastfeeding before 2 months, which is when working mothers usually return to their job and only 15% of the moms were exclusively breastfeeding their babies at the 6-month mark.  The study is the first of its kind to track mothers from their last trimester through the first year of their newborn's life.

 The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life.  That means that aside from vitamins (or medications if needed),  infants should only be fed mother's milk (not even water).

The AAP as well as other organizations further recommend that babies be breastfed for at least a year or longer.  Mom's milk provides baby with valuable nutrition, calories, immune protection, while also helping reduce eventual obesity and ear infections. Breastfeeding also is beneficial to mom's health and saves money too.

Last year,  the CDC published a report on how hospitals can do more to help increase the number of mom's who successfully breast feed.  In this new report, researchers looked at a woman's intention to breastfeed before the baby was born and then how successful they were.  The obstacles remain the same.

Perrine says because the drop-off in breastfeeding exclusively continued in the in first month, it's not just the hospital, it's also work and the community that aren't offer enough support to moms.  If new moms start off breastfeeding (and not all moms can), they need help and encouragement from family members and maybe even pediatricians to stick with it, even when it is difficult.  When working moms return to their job, they may find it impossible to pump breast milk, either due to lack of time or proper facilities to do so.  While this study didn’t look at how comfortable mothers are breastfeeding outside of the home, Perrine believes that too many women experience negative reactions when breastfeeding in public, and overall more needs to be done to move towards broader social acceptance and support of breastfeeding to help mothers meet their goals.

A 2010 study in Pediatrics found that if most new moms breastfed their babies for the first 6 months of life,  it would save nearly 1,000 lives and 13 billion dollars (for health care costs and parents time away from work) each year – which doesn't include the savings on formula expenses.

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