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Breastfeeding Anxieties

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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Aug. 30, 2001 -- It should be the most natural thing in the world, and everyone knows it's best for your baby. But what if you have problems with breastfeeding? Many women who have tried breastfeeding and had to stop -- for whatever reason -- feel guilty.

"There's a lot of pressure on new mothers," says Andrea McCoy, MD, chief of pediatric care at Temple University Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. "But I'm very frank with them, that what's most important is that you're enjoying your baby and having a good time with it."

When a new mother has problems breastfeeding, it's often solvable, McCoy tells WebMD.

  • A mother's inverted nipples can be coaxed to become everted with inserts in her bra.
  • A simple surgical procedure, performed by a dentist, can help loosen the baby's frenulum (tissue holding tongue to the bottom of the mouth), helping the baby latch on.
  • Premature babies with very small mouths can lap milk from a small cup, much like a kitten.

Mothers sometimes think they must stop breastfeeding because they have to take medications. Talk with your doctor about it, she says. "Most of the time, it's OK to take medications."

Often, low milk supply is the issue, says McCoy. "And sometimes, a mother can work through that. But if she is physically uncomfortable with it, if she's feeling miserable, it may be time to stop."

When a new mother is ready to quit trying, she needs empathy from her doctor, her lactation nurses, her support group, McCoy tells WebMD. "If she isn't getting empathy, she should avoid those people. Some people can actually be dangerous, in pushing a mother to continue trying.

"Give yourself some credit," she says. "Even if mothers are only successful for the first few days, they give the baby a lot of good antibodies, good immunity, and get the baby off to the best nutritional start that they can.

"There are millions of bottle-fed babies in the world, and they do just wonderfully, and their moms love them just as much and they bond with their moms just as much," says McCoy. "Mothers can't beat themselves up about it."

Attachment -- bonding -- comes from cuddling, says McCoy. "Mothers, even dads, can cuddle the baby just as closely when they bottle feed them. They can still hold them skin to skin, to get the bonding."

In neonatal intensive care units, cuddling is called "kangaroo care," she says. "With skin-to-skin cuddling with mom, intensive care unit babies' heart rates come back to normal, their oxygen levels go up, their blood pressure is normalized. There's just a remarkable attachment that babies feel. Even for older babies, it's a good thing to be up against mom's skin."

Whatever the decision, whether it be to stop breastfeeding or to not even start, don't feel guilty, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University and chief psychologist at the Grady Health System, both in Atlanta. "Guilt implies they did something wrong, and that's not the situation. They're not bad mothers ... absolutely not.

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