June 4, 2012 -- Many moms who want to breastfeed exclusively for three months or longer fall short of meeting this goal, a new study shows.
More than 85% of new moms said they intended to breastfeed for three months or longer, but just 32.4% met their mark. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that mothers breastfeed exclusively for about the first six months of their infant's life because of health benefits for mom and baby.
According to the new report, 42% of moms who intended to breastfeed for three months or longer stopped in the first month, and 15% stopped before they even checked out of the hospital. The study was designed to see which steps in the "Baby-Friendly" hospital initiative help moms meet their breastfeeding goals. This 10-step initiative was developed by the WHO and the United Nations Children's Fund to help hospitals support breastfeeding.
Moms who were most likely to meet their goals were married and had given birth to other children.
They also started to breastfeed within an hour of birth, and their babies were less likely to be given formula or pacifiers during the hospital stay. Of these three findings, breastfeeding exclusively while in the hospital without giving supplemental formula was the most significant factor in reaching breastfeeding goals.
By contrast, mothers who were obese, smoked, or planned to breastfeed for longer durations were less likely to meet their goals.
The findings appear in the July 2012 issue of Pediatrics.
WebMD spoke with study researcher Cria G. Perrine, PhD, and several breastfeeding experts to find out what else moms can do to stay their course if they choose to breastfeed.
Embrace Your New Roomie
Moms do better when babies sleep in the same room as mom as opposed to in a nursery, says Perrine. She is an epidemiologist at the CDC in Atlanta.
"Breastfeeding in the first hour is likely to have an influence on whether it goes well," says Barbara Holmes. She is a lactation consultant at New York University Langone School of Medicine.
Don't Swaddle the Baby Right Away
Instead, "place the baby on the mom's chest and encourage skin-to-skin contact," she says. "Babies want to suckle and can find the nipple on their own many times."
Ask for Help
Breastfeeding is not for every mom. "We certainly want her to make a decision that works for her," Holmes says. "If she is saying, 'I changed my mind. I thought I would like it, and I don't,' of course, we give her formula," Holmes says. But "if she says, 'I am not sure. I don't think the baby is getting enough milk,'" I say, 'Let's look at how many wet diapers the baby has, evaluate her weight, and make a chart.'"
"If you are having trouble after leaving the hospital, talk to your pediatrician or another resource in the community," says Sahira Long, MD. She is a pediatrician at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and runs the Children's National East of the River Lactation Support Center. "Babies' first well visit is often several days to a week after coming home from the hospital, so this may be a good time to help women troubleshoot any breastfeeding issues they are having and meet their goals.
Choose a Breastfeeding-Friendly Hospital
Women who intend to breastfeed should make sure their hospitals provide breastfeeding-supportive cultures, Long says.
Take a Lactation Class Before Birth
Attending lactation classes before birth can go a long way toward educating soon-to-be moms on what breastfeeding really entails. "It will help a woman understand how to breastfeed, how often you breastfeed, and when milk comes in," says Melissa Goist, MD. She is an obstetrician-gynecologist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. "These processes, when understood, make things much easier."
It can be overwhelming to learn all about breastfeeding when you are also learning all sorts of things about taking care of your new baby. "Breastfeeding is a very natural and amazing process that is healthy for baby, but it will take some effort and work," she says.
It's worth it, adds Perrine. "There are numerous health benefits for the baby and the mother," she says. Babies who are breastfed may have a lower risk of diabetes, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. "Moms have reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer -- not to mention that it is free."