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To Succeed At Breast-Feeding, Most New Moms Could Use Help

The majority of new mothers try to breast-feed. But it's not easy.

Only 13 percent manage to breast-feed exclusively for the six months that are recommended for a baby's health. And, as you might expect, the moms who have trouble with breast-feeding in the first week with a new baby are the ones most likely to give up, a study finds.

Researchers at the UC Davis Medical Center surveyed 418 first-time mothers about breast-feeding, starting while they were pregnant and continuing until the baby was two months old. Almost all of the women said they intended to breast-feed.

Three days after giving birth, 92 percent of the new mothers said they were having problems breast-feeding.

Half of the mothers reported problems with getting the baby to latch on to the breast, or other feeding issues like nipple confusion, when a baby may prefer a bottle. And 44 percent said pain was a problem. And 40 percent said they felt that they weren't producing enough milk.

The most commonly reported problems during the first week were also the ones that made it more likely that a mom would give up.

The researchers didn't do physical exams of the moms and babies, so they don't know what was happening for sure. But they speculate that some of the first-time mothers may have misread the babies' cues, mistaking fussiness for hunger, for instance, or thinking the babies weren't getting enough milk when they're doing just fine.

Still, they think the biggest reason that women struggled is that once they left the hospital they lacked access to lactation counselors in that critical first week.
Two months after birth, 47 percent of the mothers said they had used formula, and 21 percent said they had stopped breast-feeding.

Just 34 of the women said they had no problems breast-feeding at day three. All but one of them were still exclusively breast-feeding at two months. Those women tended to be younger than 30, Hispanic, had an unmedicated vaginal delivery and said they had strong support for breast-feeding.

The study is a bit unusual because it didn't use a checklist that restricted the women's choice of responses; it let them answer in their own words. That makes it all the more striking that their responses were so similar.

Giving new mothers more help with breast-feeding problems in that first week home with the baby could help a lot, the authors conclude. The study was published online in the journal Pediatrics.

This study presents a gloomier view than a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back in July, perhaps because this new study used exclusive breast-feeding at the measure of success. The CDC study found that almost half of babies were being breast-fed at least some of the time at 6 months, up from 35 percent in 2000.

Health officials urge women to feed babies breast milk because it reduces the infant's risk of ear infections and diarrhea, and promotes better health into adulthood.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breast-feed for 12 months and the World Health Organization backs breast-feeding for up to two years.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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