Why New Mothers Stop Breast-Feeding

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While nearly all mothers start breast-feeding their newborns, about half stop after a few weeks. The latest study explains why.

A team of researchers conducted over 2,700 interviews with 532 first-time mothers multiple times after they gave birth, starting 24 hours after delivery and ending at 60 days postpartum, about their breast-feeding choices. They report in the journal Pediatrics that women who worried from the start about their ability to nurse their infants were more likely to switch to formula sooner than those who didn’t have these concerns.

(MORE: Is the Medical Community Failing Breast-Feeding Moms?)

By the third day after delivering, over half of these women were worried about their babies’ ability to latch on, while 44% were concerned about breast-feeding pain, and 40% about their capacity to produce enough milk to nourish their infants.

These results support earlier studies that found that new moms often don’t have proper support and education about breast-feeding, which can lead to anxiety and a greater likelihood of stopping nursing. In January, TIME reported that hospitals may not offer women the resources they need to encourage women and address their anxiety:

Lactation is probably the only bodily function for which modern medicine has almost no training, protocol or knowledge. When women have trouble breast-feeding, they’re either prodded to try harder by well-meaning lactation consultants or told to give up by doctors. They’re almost never told, “Perhaps there’s an underlying medical problem — let’s do some tests.”

When women have trouble breast-feeding, they are often confronted with two divergent directives: well-meaning lactation consultants urge them to try harder, while some doctors might advise them to simply give up and go the bottle-and-formula route. “We just give women a pat on the head and tell them their kids will be fine” if they don’t breast-feed, says Dr. Alison Stuebe, an OB who treats breast-feeding problems in North Carolina. “Can you imagine if we did that to men with erectile dysfunction?”

(MORE: 20 Ways to Make Breast-Feeding Easier)

The very public controversy over breast-feeding in public may also exacerbate matters, adding pressure on new mothers who struggle to get comfortable with nursing. The authors of the current study say that more efforts should be concentrated on the final days of pregnancy to answer women’s questions and reduce any anxiety they may have about the process. Building that confidence could help more women stick with breast-feeding, which has been linked to a lower risk of obesity, higher IQ and greater social status among children, and lower risk of cancer for moms.

75 comments
morebethanne
morebethanne

I tried breastfeeding both my children. The hormones surges from it made me miserable. I was always tired. It caused hypothyroidism. Neither of my children could latch b/c of tongue ties. Which caused them each to lose so much weight and get such bad jaundice; they almost had to be re-admitted into the hospital. Then our doctor out-right refused to refer us to a specialist to fix my second daughter's tongue tie. Even though we still couldn't get her to latch after working a lot with a lactation consultant. That left me only able to pump 24/7. If you think exclusively breastfeeding hurts try exclusively pumping! The culmination of all of this after 5 months straight left me half insane, 20+lbs heavier than when i gave birth,  exhausted, and not even able to properly care for my children. Finally I had enough. Putting my self, my body, my husband, and my children was NOT worth it! Especially just so I wouldn't have to worry about people judging me for not breastfeeding. I guess what I'm trying to say is I tried very hard and was very educated on the subject, and got tons of help. However sometimes breastfeeding just isn't easy and not conducive of the best possible environment for a baby and mother. 

WendyWagner
WendyWagner

@morebethanne  Every case is different, and you had some formidable obstacles to deal with. You should be applauded for your efforts. You were clearly dedicated to the effort.
One thing I would suggest is that you change doctors. I am quite unimpressed with a doctor who would not even give you a referral for such a simple procedure.

Kiya
Kiya

@morebethanne You did try very hard and was educated. I think your doctor could have done more to help but in the end your babies are fine and healthy. I did not reach my goals with my 2nd due to a lack of support after we encountered problems also. Sometimes its smooth sailing, #1 and #3 were. #2 and #4 were issue after issue but thankfully with #4 despite the issues I took control and advocated for myself despite no support from the hospital. The medical industry fails many mothers and its not fair to those moms like yourself who go through so much and are not able to reach goals. I felt so defeated because I truly wanted to breastfeed my son.

thankfulmom
thankfulmom

Everyone's situation is different, and NO mother should be judged. I was firmly convinced I was going to breastfeed my first (and consequently only) son and read everything I could get my hands on while I was pregnant. I had a midwife and arduously planned a home birth. I had a normal, healthy pregnancy and was 38 at the time. Shortly before my due date my water broke and I went into labor. I rode it out peacefully at home and then my labor stopped. Turns out I had somehow "re-sealed" and my labor was off and on and quite mild for about 3 days. On the 3rd evening, however, all Hell broke loose. I was having severe contractions with less than a minute in between. Midwife hustled right over, checked me, and discovered I was only at about a '2'. Impossible, I thought. I have a VERY high pain tolerance. I decided to labor on, sure I would progress quickly and have the homebirth of my dreams. 


I labored for hours in a state of pain so intense that I feel as if I "left my body" at times. But I never progressed beyond a '2' and we knew something wasn't right so I transported to the hospital. When they hooked me to the machines to measure my contractions they discovered I was at a level BEYOND what someone in the final stages of labor would experience. And I had been there for hours. Blood tests were done and turns out I had the beginnings of a uterine infection. The swelling was not letting me advance beyond a '2'. Essentially my body was fighting itself.


The decision was made to do a C-section, as I had begun running a fever and I was exhausted from the pain I'd been in for the past 16 hours. Still, part of me was screaming inside as they took my son from my body in the last way I wanted. I say that NOT to offend those who opt for C-section, but to make you understand that what was happening to me was the opposite of what I'd dreamed and planned for. 


Thank God my son was healthy. But I had a bad reaction to the epidural and had neck and head pain so severe I was begging the nurses for help. The result was that as soon as they took my son from me, the anesthesiologist injected me with a mega dose of pain killer and I passed out. And stayed passed out for the rest of the night. There was no holding my son that evening (he was born at 6:30 pm), no bonding, no breastfeeding. I was knocked out cold. I also had complications from the C-section due to my extreme labor and infection. I was on 4 antibiotics, one so strong it burned the veins in the arms it went into. 


When I was finally "with it" enough to hold my son the next morning he wouldn't latch on but I tried for a long time, with the help of my midwife. He never latched on at the hospital, despite my efforts and the efforts of the lactation specialists and my midwife. Add to that the fact that my morphine pump wasn't working for some time so I had no pain meds the first night. Even when the nurses came in to push on my newly cut body. No pain meds. I thought my pain was normal from a complicated C-section and was just trying to bear it. I was exhausted from the whole experience and could barely stay awake the entire time I was hospitalized. 


Worst of all was the unending grief I felt that my peaceful home birth, the loving bonding time with my son, had not happened. Yes, I was grateful my son was healthy, don't think I wasn't. But oddly, part of me felt raped. Yes, that's a strong word, I know, but that was how I felt. Something was taken from me that I could never get back and the feelings flooding my hormone-laden body were anything but euphoric. And for that I felt ashamed and guilty.


I was a mess when I went home. I cried unendingly and felt like a complete failure. My milk wouldn't come for days, and even then my son still wouldn't latch on. I couldn't sleep because of all the meds and hormones raging in me so my exhaustion was worse than ever. My body had been through hell and had had enough.


And so I finally, sadly, began feeding my son with a bottle. Do NOT think it was easy. Do NOT think it tore at my already delicate emotions. What was supposed to be a wonderful first few months with my son was one of the worst, lowest points in my life. I developed postpartum depression that stayed with me for a year. My son thrived while I was withering away. I stayed in a grieving state of my birth experience for about 3 months. No, I did not choose to be depressed. I tried my darndest to just "shake it off" and be thankful and grateful but I couldn't shake the grief. It didn't help when people silently judged me for bottle feeding my son. I almost felt I had to tell my story to make them understand. I was ashamed at my failure, which didn't help my depression.


It took me about a year to begin to feel like myself again. And I do not judge any mother's decision about bottle versus breast after what I went through. Unless you've walked in their shoes, you do NOT know their story.



HectorCruz
HectorCruz

Have you guys all seen Project: BreastFeeding?


www.facebook.com/ProjectBreastFeeding

www.twitter.com/ProjectBreast

www.projectbreastfeeding.com

Isabellamommy123
Isabellamommy123

Ok. I know that I am about to anger some people here but that is what gets the world thinking anyway. This country (USA) is the most backwards country and yes I am born American. It does hurt like hell to breastfeed. It does make you feel tied down and stuck to your baby at times and it does make you extremely tired at times.........SO WHAT! Motherhood is not suppose to be a day at the SPA, it is not suppose to be EASY, and it is not suppose to be a NAP! This is a responsibility and with it comes the BEST GIFT.....ENDLESS LOVE! I bleed at times, I have had Mastitis twice (its worse than labor), and I never get a REAL break but my baby has the ABSOLUTE BEST nutrition and bond from me that a baby could get. I too feel super blessed when I look into her eyes as she fills her tummy with the fruit of my breast....I AM SO DAMN LUCKY. And ....if I would have listened to 3/4 of the doctors and/or family/friends that told me it would be impossible......then, I would be missing out and so would my daughter. Wake up WOMEN.....IT STARTS HERE....DEVOTION, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, SACRIFICE, SELFLESSNESS, GENEROSITY.....ON AND ON I COULD GO! We are the teachers of these important lessons but unless we have experienced it for ourselves how can we teach it. QUIT GETTING YOUR NAILS DONE, HAIR DYED AND BUYING CLOTHES/PURSES/SHOES/JEWELRY THAT YOU DONT NEED....QUIT TALKING ON THE PHONE ABOUT OTHER WOMEN AND JUDGING WOMEN THAT DON'T BEAUTIFY THEMSELVES.....QUIT LOOKING AT MOTHERHOOD AS A MEANS TO AN END OR A HOBBY THAT YOU CAN PICK UP WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE IT! THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD TRANSMITS THE MOST PURE ENERGY AND IN ORDER FOR GOODNESS TO CONTINUE WE, AS WOMEN, MUST START WITH THE SELFLESSNESS......GET WITH IT! Oh, and by the way.....I am not a rich woman, in fact, I sacrificed my job and I was the bread winner. I decided that being broke was just fine if it meant that I was giving my daughter everything she needed. We struggle but it made us closer, my husband and I. Also, you would be surprised to see how it uplifts a man to his goal of "manhood" when he takes care of the mother of his children and allows for her to deliver the blessing of breastfeeding and motherhood. However, you have to sometimes accept that you will not have all the "unneeded conveniences" that you have grown accustomed to! It will fill you with a life that you never imagined!

HelenS
HelenS

@Isabellamommy123  You want women to stop judging others, yet your post is full of sanctimonious nonsense. Nobody ever got a medal for being a martyr, especially the ones that deprive their kids of a college fund so they can breastfeed. How dare you judge other women based on your own experience. Oh wait, I forgot, you're the ultimate wife and mother and everyone else is inferior to you. Jeez.

nwmidwife51
nwmidwife51

@Isabellamommy123  I have to disagree.  Breastfeeding SHOULD NOT hurt like hell.  That is a sign of something needing attending to by someone who can help - either a midwife, lactation consultant, knowledgeable nurse or perhaps. a cranial sacral therapist who can help a baby to open its mouth wider.  Women should not have to sacrifice her well being to feed a baby.  I am a Certified Professional Midwife and have helped hundreds of women to breastfeeding pain free and without it feeling like a huge sacrifice.  Yes, babies demand much of our time when we breastfeed.  That's a decision that each woman gets to make - if she has the time and the desire.  I urge women to seek help if they are struggling with pain or any concerns that the baby is not getting enough.  


By the way, 97% of women who have a planned home birth with a midwife are still breastfeeding after 6 weeks.

carlyrm84
carlyrm84

Isabellamommy123, You are BANG ON! The poor effort of other mothers angers me... They ALWAYS have an excuse. First mother I've heard, to have the same opinion as me. Good on you! Breastfed my first daughter 2.5 years until she'd had enough.... And second daughter now 8 months old until she is ready to quit herself. You push through the bloody nipples, throbbing engorged breasts, disgustingly painful mastitis and do what is right!

catswithstaches
catswithstaches

I just got home from getting my nails done AND I'm still breast feeding my 7 month old son ... This comment is confusing lol

Alicianoel
Alicianoel

I am a first time mom, I'm 22. My baby is almost 3 months and I'm still exclusively breastfeeding and plan on continuing to do so. I haven't had any issues so far. Of course I had fears that everyone else has such as the low milk supply, is my baby getting enough, etc. despite my fears I read and researched a ton. It was nonstop. I wanted to educate myself thoroughly about breastfeeding because it was very important to me. I'm glad that I did because honestly I think it's contributed immensely to my success with it so far. You have to educate yourself about it, and don't listen to people's crappy advice. I can't speak for everyone but it has not been difficult for me. There are just things people need to realize about breastfeeding. There's so much misinformation out there that makes people give up right away and it's unfortunate but it doesn't have to be that way. As for the breastfeeding in public being frowned upon, realllly? Wth is wrong with people today? Yes, let's just opt to feed our children something synthetic produced in lab because that is more socially acceptable and appropriate. I'm not saying formula is bad by any means and sometimes it is necessary. But breastfeeding should always be the first choice and route when feeding your baby. Period.

HelenS
HelenS

@Alicianoel Hm, I think you DID say formula is bad, because you said it's "synthetic produced in lab". Also, what you think women "should" do is irrelevant. You're young; I recommend reading some books on feminism and giving other women a break.

Isabellamommy123
Isabellamommy123

@Alicianoel

This is my story too. First time mom, filled with ridiculous advice and endless negativity about breastfeeding. I was worried about the baby not getting enough milk at first but I kept researching but only read positive articles. Good for you! Lets keep empowering women to enjoy this amazing gift and responsibility!

Kiya
Kiya

@HelenS @Alicianoel It IS synthetically produced in a lab but that doesn't mean its bad. The life saving medications that people take are synthetically produced in a lab and just like formula they have their place in society and can save lives.

AlyssaKeegan
AlyssaKeegan

Ha, try breast feeding twins who are preemies that don't latch after giving birth to one vaginally, having one turned in the uterus for 2 hours and then having an emergency c sec. All after being in active labor for 4 days. I feed one baby, burp, feed other baby, burp, change both diapers and then pump for 20-30 min. Btw my boobs are a size J and I'm only 5 foot tall 120 lbs. Woke up with mastitis today too. I was looking for forums that are for women who feel guilty that they just can't hang with feeding anymore.

Not all women have babies that can breast feed. Not all women have anatomy that allow for bf without extreme pain. Your assumptions are insane. Clearly you didn't have a NICU baby, your boobs are prob less than a DD and your birth was prob vaginal with no complications. Get over yourself Isabel.

FormulaFeeder
FormulaFeeder

This study was useful, and well done. But I'm disappointed in the conclusions of the research team, and of the experts who've weighed in since. The fact remains that these women were not examined physically, nor were their infants. We can't possibly know if there were legitimate reasons for the concerns these women were bringing up - it's plausible that a fair amount of them WERE suffering from primary lactation failure, or had other issues going on that made breastfeeding difficult. The answer is not simply "more support" or "more education" - the responsibility also falls on the shoulders of the breastfeeding experts and advocates who have been failing these women, to do better. We need better, holistic lactation care - care that allows for nuance and the possibility that not all women want to breastfeed exclusively after realizing what it does to them physically or emotionally. And we also need better research into why so many women are claiming that they aren't making enough milk, or feeling unbearable pain - rather than assuming they are doing something wrong or simply "uneducated/unsupported", maybe we should look into root causes and at least entertain the possibility that there is something physiological and REAL at play. 

http://www.fearlessformulafeeder.com/2013/09/can-breastfeeding-concerns-be-overcome-with-support-depends-on-what-support-means/

CerebralSmartie
CerebralSmartie

@FormulaFeeder  Excellent points. 

How often is lactation is considered a psychological issue, rather than a physiological issue? Where is the medical analysis? Where are the tests- blood tests-or any tests for that matter- to discover root causes? Is there ever any analysis of the blood? Ever? Are there issues with thyroid levels? TPO antibody test levels? Tests to measure adrenal function?  Did the mother have any level of hyperemesis gravidarum during pregnancy?  Does she or the baby have any medical issues that are measurable-  auto-immune disease or otherwise?  Is there ANY analytical effort to objectively discover the root cause of lactation difficulties? Lots of questions. 

ShonaGraham
ShonaGraham

@FormulaFeeder I agree, neither my gran or my mother were able to produce breast milk.  During my pregnancy I raised this issue and was ignored - what i wanted was information, was there methods or natural remedies that improved milk production.  I breast fed my son for three weeks every day he was weighed because my son continued to lose weight from birth I was told to feed him more often which I did, he was losing weight and I was in agony because of breast feeding so often.  When i switched to formula milk it was because I'd rather have a bottle fed baby than a dead baby.  When i told health visitor she was relieved because she was very worried but was not allowed to suggest switching to formula.  No new born baby should be sacrificed for an ideal.

ElizabethD
ElizabethD

I had one baby who latched on from the moment he was born; the other never did get the hang of it. Not sure what I did differently but without a doubt the breastfed baby has had fewer colds and allergies. I would have persevered with my smaller, less keen baby but she never latched on, cried for days and I was afraid she would starve...or I would go crazy. So my conclusion is that people who find breastfeeding easy just have easier babies. Judging mothers on whether they breastfeed or not is totally inappropriate - you have no idea what choices they've had to make.

CerebralSmartie
CerebralSmartie

Those who succeed at long term breastfeeding apparently do not have sleep deprivation due to having to feed constantly. The word constantly is not used here in a figurative way but is meant literally.


PatriciaCastro
PatriciaCastro

A newborn as a rule feeds constantly cant expect any different. I believe my success breastfeeding was mostly due to having my baby at my chest night and day

PatriciaCastro
PatriciaCastro

A newborn as a rule feeds constantly cant expect any different. I believe my success breastfeeding was mostly due to having my baby at my bare chest night and day. Dont have any family near only my husband. No one came bugging me offering unsolicited help or advice, it was just the 3 of us. My baby co-sleept and was fed on demand (wich can make a huge positive impact on milk supply) I had a c-section, have experienced nipple bleeding, mastitis, and a yeast infección. I agree that there are very valid reasons for a women not to breastfeed but feel saddened when I know of a mother that prefers to be comfortable first than to take responsability and love that little one enough as to provide him or her with their best care.

grandmajo
grandmajo

Breast fed all my children and enjoyed doing it. Had very little support but a husband that thought it was right. I let the baby pretty much lead the way. and nursed them until they decided to stop. all of them were around 2 years old. now 35 years later all my children have a special closeness to me and I would recommend nursing to every new mother.