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Thursday 20th June 2019

Why mothers give up breastfeeding

5th June 2012

A new study has found that only one third of new mothers are able to breastfeed their babies for as long as they had intended to.


Researchers writing in the journal Pediatrics said that two-thirds of mothers who set out to nurse their newborn babies give up far sooner than they had originally wanted to.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, mothers should aim to breast feed for around six months, during which time their babies should receive only breast milk and medications or micronutrient supplements, but no other liquids or solids.

In the US, few mothers achieve this goal, but previous studies have been unable to determine specifically whether this was by choice or not.

In a recent study carried out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant women were asked about their intentions for exclusive breastfeeding.

While 85% of the mothers they interviewed planned to breastfeed for at least three months, just under a third actually ended up doing so.

The study found that those who breastfed within an hour of birth had a higher chance of continuing for longer, as did those who already had a baby and were married.

The CDC's report, entitled "Baby-Friendly Hospital Practices and Meeting Exclusive Breastfeeding Intention," found that 85% of mothers who planned to breastfeed exclusively intended to do so for at least three months. But only 32.4% of mothers said during follow-up interviews that they had done so for as long as they had intended to before giving birth.

Mothers who were obese, smoked or had a longer intended breast-feeding duration were less likely to meet their intention, it said.

Researchers also discovered that mothers' chances of hitting their own breastfeeding goals were reduced in cases where hospitals distributed dummies and infant formula to new mothers on post-natal wards.

The report called on hospitals to support mothers to breast feed exclusively while in hospital, so as to help more mothers in meeting their goals.

Meanwhile, recent studies in the UK have questioned whether expecting new mothers to meet WHO breast-feeding guidelines is putting too much pressure on them, amid staffing shortages.

Experts say that breast milk provides babies with essential nutrients, and that breastfed babies have a lower risk of diarrhoea and vomiting, as well as fewer chest and ear infections. They are also less likely to suffer from constipation or to become obese.

A difficult start is often a major factor in mothers giving up on breast-feeding, including sore nipples, late nights and a lack of sleep.

Some mothers start to supplement breast milk with formula because they are afraid their baby is not getting enough food, which eventually leads to a decline in breast-milk production.

Others are put off by the awkwardness of nursing in a public place and the lack of comfortable alternatives to public toilets.

Mothers who are returning to work eventually produce less milk, even if they are expressing for their baby's consumption while they are away. The baby fed expressed milk will be used to feeding from a bottle, making the switch to formula more likely, once the mother is no longer doing the feeding.

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