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Whether you’re planning to, trying to or nursing your baby as you read this, we can all agree on one thing: Breastfeeding exclusively for six months—as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—is invaluable for the health of you and your baby.
According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stats, 74 percent of new moms agree and start out breastfeeding their babies. But, by the six-month mark, only 14 percent are still nursing exclusively.
What’s going on? According to a new study, there’s a mismatch between a new mom’s expectations and the realities of day-to-day life. When a mom’s weariness, discomfort and anxiety increase, her happiness—as well as that of her family—supersedes the goal of exclusive breastfeeding. “Women introduce formula or stop breastfeeding in an attempt to improve the situation, and this can lead to feelings of failure and guilt,” says Pat Hoddinott, Ph.D., lead author of the study and chairwoman of primary care at the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
Here’s an important point to remember: Any amount of breastfeeding confers vital health benefits to your baby. And, while experts strongly encourage exclusive breastfeeding for six months, at the same time, new moms shouldn’t be stressed out in order to meet this goal—nor should they be guilt-ridden if they decide to supplement with formula or stop nursing.
To that end, we present you with the most common breastfeeding scenarios with suggestions on how to make nursing work for you.
Returning to work is one of the most common reasons women stop breastfeeding exclusively or wean altogether. In fact, women whose maternity leave was less than six weeks are four times as likely to stop nursing than women who don’t return to work. Those with up to a 12-week leave fare a little better: they’re only twice as likely to stop altogether than moms who don’t return to work. “Going back to work at six weeks is really tough,” says Nancy Hurst, R.N., Ph.D., I.B.C.L.C., director of Lactation and Milk Bank Services at Texas Children’s hospital Pavilion for Women in Houston. “You’re just getting into a breastfeeding groove and then both mom and baby have to switch gears.”
See a lactation consultant before you return to work. She’ll help you find a super-comfortable, double-electric, hands- free pump that will allow you to express milk while you’re busy doing something else. “I know a doctor who performed general surgery while pumping her breasts,” says Debi Page Ferrarello, M.S.N., M.S., I.B.C.L.C., director of family education and lactation at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. Plus, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies must now provide coverage for breastfeeding support, supplies (including breast pumps) and counseling.
Buy at least two sets of pump attachments—as well as bottles, caps and nipples—so you always have a clean set.
Practice pumping a few weeks before returning to work and build up a reserve in your home freezer.
Watch our video: How to Use a Breast Pump >>
Find a friendly child care center. According to a new study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, continuing to breastfeed at the six-month mark was significantly associated with a nursing-friendly child care setting. Find one that allows you to breastfeed before and after work.
Use the right flange Women’s nipples come in every shape and size, so make sure you use a flange that’s the perfect size for you. “When your flange fits properly, you’ll express more milk,” says Katy Lebbing, B.S., I.B.C.L.C., R.L.C., a La Leche League leader who served on the expert panel for the 2011 Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Using the wrong size will not only result in getting less milk, it can also be painful and inefficient. Best bet: get flange-fitted by a certified lactation consultant.
Be flexible. If pumping proves to be too much of a headache, breastfeed your baby before and after work and tell the babysitter to feed her formula during the day. Again, it’s important to remember that any amount of breast milk is better than none.