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Getting Past Breastfeeding Barriers

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WebMD Health News

Jan. 24, 2001 -- A new study shows conclusively that breastfed infants are protected against intestinal infections and the skin condition atopic eczema. Despite these and other known health benefits, mother-infant bonding, and the brain development issues surrounding breastfeeding, just slightly more than 44% of new mothers breastfeed, and by the time the baby is 6 months old, only 13% of these women are still doing it.

Throughout pregnancy, women hear that "breast is best." In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least 12 months. In a policy statement, the AAP says breastfeeding is "primary in achieving optimal infant and child health, growth, and development."

So, why do the mothers often quit breastfeeding too soon?

It's not as easy as it looks, say many who have tried. Problems with sore nipples and mastitis, an inflammation of the mammary glands, are common factors. Also, giving babies pacifiers and formula in their early days seems to deter long-term breast-feeding.

The pressure of returning to work is another issue, although there seems to be a growing trend toward on-site day care and breast-pumping sites.

Doctors agree that any amount of breastfeeding -- even during just the first few weeks -- offers the baby a host of health and developmental benefits. To help new mothers get past the barriers to long-term nursing, WebMD sought advice from a lactation consultant and a pediatrician.

How can mothers know whether they are producing enough milk?

Lactation consultant Cynthia Garrison, BS, IBCLC, of Magee-Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh, tells WebMD: "We often send mothers home with a "feeding log," a real simple chart where they can keep track of the numbers of feedings, wet diapers, and dirty diapers in a 24-hour period, so they see that it's falling within the ranges of normal.

"Because what goes in must come out, we instruct mothers that if baby is having 4-6 wet diapers within the first day, increasing [along with the baby's milk intake] to 6-8, and they're having at least two dirty diapers every day, then life is going quite well. They can be a little more relaxed and understand that as the baby matures, they will start spacing feedings out; they won't need to feed as often. The babies' stomachs are getting bigger."

Babies' elimination habits can vary, adds Andrea McCoy, MD, chief of pediatric care at Temple University Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. "So even though the baby may stool with every feeding," she says, "I caution mothers not to be overly concerned if the baby doesn't stool every day."

A good medical follow-up is essential for babies, because assuring that they are gaining enough weight is the best way to be sure the mother has an adequate milk supply, McCoy tells WebMD.

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