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Why Women Don't Nurse Longer

You've heard it by now: A mom should breastfeed her baby for at least the first year of life, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Today, more new moms than ever try to nurse. In 2004, the most recent year for which government statistics are available, about 70 percent of U.S. mothers reported that they had tried breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's up from 55 percent in 1993.

But then consider this: At 6 months, only 36 percent were still nursing. At 12 months, the number dips to 17 percent - fewer than one in five mothers. While moms know that breastfeeding gives babies the best start in life, legions of them find it difficult - if not downright impossible - to nurse longer than six months, let alone up to the one-year milestone.

Whether it's a baby who has trouble latching on, a work schedule that doesn't allow time for pumping, or a lack of support at home, the forces that conspire against women who want to breastfeed are far-reaching in their scope. And despite the medical establishment's wholehearted endorsement of breastfeeding, the general public hasn't gotten the message. A full 57% of Americans disapproves of public breastfeeding (according to a recent survey by the American Dietietic Association). Breastfeeding moms are stared at, get rude comments, and are even asked to leave restaurants and stores. For many women, the public disapproval is the last straw when they're having other breastfeeding difficulties....so they give up.

Many moms who plan to nurse are caught off-guard by the challenges breastfeeding can present. In fact, according to a nationally representative Babytalk survey, 46 percent of moms said that breastfeeding required more time than they'd expected and 56 percent wished that they had been able to nurse longer than they did. Here's what's undermining women's efforts, and how you can get the support you need to keep going.

Nursing problems
Experts agree that much of breastfeeding success hinges on getting off to a good start. After delivering, however, many women only take a single hospital class or secure a brief session with a nurse or lactation consultant. Odds are that a new mother is home by the time her milk comes in and problems arise.

Frustrated, exhausted, and panicked that her child isn't getting enough to eat, a mom can lose confidence and quit nursing. "I breastfed my firstborn for about a week and then gave up. He wasn't latching on properly, and it hurt so much that I'd cry every time," says Diane Burdick of Pensacola, Florida. Like Burdick, nearly half the moms in Babytalk's survey stopped nursing because they had trouble getting the baby to latch on correctly, felt that they didn't produce enough milk, or had other problems, such as clogged ducts.

If you're having trouble, it's critical that you get help as soon as possible, before your milk supply decreases. A lactation consultant can help (find one at http://www.gotwww.net/ilca/),as can a free breastfeeding support group (visit http://www.lalecheleague.org/ to locate one). Your child's pediatrician may have advice, too - and should let you drop by to weigh your baby as often as you want to make sure she's eating enough. You can also read Babytalk's award-winning story You Can Breastfeed. But don't beat yourself up if it doesn't work out, says breastfeeding expert Marianne Neifert, M.D. "Success isn't always related to the amount of effort a mom puts in."

Katherine Kam is a journalist in Northern California.

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