Breastfeeding? Moms Say It’s Too Much Trouble

Breast-feeding isn’t easy. At least for me it wasn’t the natural love-fest between mom and baby that I naively expected it to be. And, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal, I’m not the only one who found it difficult. A Scottish study( that interviewed 36 mothers said that the recommendation to breast-feed babies for 6 months was “unhelpful” and unrealistic for their families.

Breast-feeding recommendations exist because scientific research supports that breast-feeding is the healthiest option for mother and baby. When I think back on my own experience with my first child, I can still feel the pain, frustration and humiliation of trying to get it right. It was physically painful at the beginning — not what I expected. I kept trying, clinching my jaws through the excruciating pain until I got it right because I knew it was the best thing I could do for my baby and I was stubborn. As I think back, if I hadn’t had the support of my husband, mom, a couple of friends and my doctor, I wouldn’t have kept going. After my first child, the other two were easier. But I knew what to expect. I knew that it would take maturity from me, support from others and a certain acceptance of embarrassing things happening like my breasts leaking in the middle of teaching an evening humanities class.

I hope that once the information about this study starts leaking out (pun intended), that we don’t attack the messenger. The study doesn’t say that breast-feeding is a negative thing, causing breast-feeding advocates to get all worked up about that. I hope the study will cause us to look at what new mothers need to support breast-feeding.

The women interviewed for the study felt that the expectations on them to continue breast-feeding were too high when the realities of life hit. If I had been working full-time when my children were infants, I honestly don’t think I would have been able to breast-feed for six months. Pumping milk did not go well for me. I wouldn’t have been able to leave work, feed my baby, go back to work….well, you get the idea.

And, at one point, I had a nurse at my pediatrician’s office tell me to wait longer in between feedings, which made things worse. It made things worse for the baby, who should be fed on demand, and it made it worse for me because I felt guilty for being a failure at not being able to wait. I always fed my infants on demand. Sometimes healthcare professionals will tell moms to breast-feed, but not go much beyond that. Women and their families need more.

So, I wonder, how much support are women getting? I hope that their pediatricians are supporting them and asking questions and listening to women’s concerns at those early visits. I hope that somewhere women are getting real information about breast-feeding and how to do it.  I hope family members are helpful and supportive, too.

Seventy-five percent of mothers in the U.S. say they are going to breastfeed, but only 44 percent are doing it at six months and only 15 percent are doing it exclusively. You have to wonder what is happening when the majority of new moms set out to breast-feed and then most fall by the wayside.

I have to believe that family-friendly workplaces and laws that support breast-feeding mothers are a critical part of this picture for keeping those mothers going. Knowing that breast-feeding is best for infants and mothers obviously isn’t enough. We need to bring everyone on board.

Categories: Editor’s Blog