Thursday, February 11, 2010

Stopping breastfeeding

According to the CDC, about two thirds of new moms made some attempt at breastfeeding in 2008.  But as babies grew from newborns into young infants, breastfeeding rates dropped sharply.

Why?  One 2008 study of breastfeeding mothers showed that the most frequent reasons for stopping breastfeeding among those who stopped were latching problems or breast refusal (39% of moms), low milk supply (37% of moms), and pain (27% of moms).   Returning to work was cited as a reason by 20% of moms and satisfaction that the child was old enough to wean by 19% of moms (Lamontagne, 2008).  I interpret this to mean that weaning is more likely to be prompted by a problem rather than a lifestyle decision.

Most of the pregnancy books I read framed baby feeding as a lifestyle choice but emphasized that it’s generally accepted that breastfeeding is better for the baby.  But I don’t remember ever reading that breastfeeding problems could make the choice for us.  I’ve heard other moms say that they felt this seeming lack of information was intentional, a sugarcoating, so that new moms wouldn’t shy away from trying. I am not sure about this, but I do know that information given to expectant and new moms by medical professionals and experts is not always consistent (more on this in another post). 

These numbers would have surprised me before I had my own experience, but now they don’t at all.  I’ve been amazed at how many people empathized when I shared my breastfeeding difficulties.

The women in the study who were not able to overcome problems reported feeling “dissatisfied and disappointed.”  “My problem never really got solved,” said one mother who stopped breastfeeding at six weeks postpartum.  Some felt guilty or as if they had failed: “I took it as a failure, because I wanted to give this child the best of everything,” said another mom who quit at 2 months.  These mothers are left dealing with a range of emotions after trying and not succeeding to breastfeed for which many, like myself, are unprepared.  Sometimes, no matter how dedicated we are, breastfeeding doesn’t work.  If this happened to you, how did you feel about it?

1.  Lamontagne, C., Hamelin, A., & St-Pierre, M. (2008). “The breastfeeding experience of women with major difficulties who use the services of a breastfeeding clinic: a descriptive study.” International Breastfeeding Journal.
2.  Center for Disease Control. 2008 Pediatric Nutrition Surveillance,
National Summary of Breastfeeding Indicators,Children Aged less than 5 years. Retrieved from


  1. The "low supply" reason needs to be explored further by medical professionals and mothers I think. Many times I thought I had "low supply" but it wasn't true at all. A lot of moms think they have low supply, especially when babies start on solids and their milk decreases a bit. But it's not measurable like formula so it's hard to determine if it just feels like low supply or really is. Granted, there are moms who aren't able to produce enough. I found that pumping at work when Kian was 10 mos and on solids was way more difficult and produced less by pump, but he was always satisfied when nursing. I did have to give him a little formula at daycare, which I personally hated to do.
    And there's not enough assistance AFTER you leave the hospital for latch problems, etc. I like how other countries provide baby nurses to come to the HOMES after birth to assist the moms with these things!
    sorry i don't mean to take over your comments all the time -i'm a little passionate about this topic as well as child-led feeding and other healthy nutrition things =)

  2. I quit breast feeding because my boobs were too big and there was a risk of suffocation to my baby. I needed two hands to hold the breast, and that left no hands to hold the baby. Awkward, and slightly dangerous! So I pumped and fed breast milk from a bottle. But I had a crappy pump and was home alone with the baby all day, so I didn't have the time or patience to pump. I switched to formula after two weeks of breast milk, satisfied that he'd had the colostrum, which was most important to me. Other than the cost of the formula, I had/have no regrets about switching.

    I don't feel as if I was misled or uninformed about the difficulties of breastfeeding. The class I went to laid the facts out and I think she was really honest about it. And, I actually did have a nurse visit my home about 3-4 days after we were discharged from the hospital! It was part of the health insurance I had at that time!

    I think that one advantage I had over lots of first-time moms is that I had spent a couple of years working in a day care center before having my first baby. I was aware of a newborn's needs, schedules, bodily functions, development, etc. I had heard all sorts of stories from other day care workers and the parents, and I had taken child development and child psychology classes.

    When I did have to make the breast milk vs, formula decision, I felt as if the controversy was overrated. I knew from experience that we never looked at a baby and said 'that one gets breast-milk' or 'that one gets formula.' What was always DID say was 'that one comes from a loving family' or 'that one needs to have social services called.' (And that's not an exaggeration -- we had to call social services on several occasions.) I knew that although breast milk is considered to be a better choice, what really made a difference in a baby's life was the amount of love and parental involvement that a baby got -- or didn't get. I think that freed me of a lot of the guilt that other women feel when they use formula . . .

  3. i just laughed tabitha because i worked at a daycare too and one day i distinctly remember me and my assistant in the infant room discussing who was breastfed and who wasn't and comparing their skills haha. bad i know, but we were young!

  4. Thanks Krysten and Tabitha for your thoughtful comments! I presume anyone who is reading this falls into the "loving family" and not "social services" category, which is why we are talking about things like guilt, pressure, etc. Though class issues definitely play a role and is worth talking about.

    I may have been hindered by 1)not being around too many babes before Sam and 2) big boobs also. (It was almost humorous, his tiny little head and my enormous boob, him trying to grapple with wonder it didn't work!)

    I will also see what I can find on "low supply." I believe they diagnose this based on low or negative weight gain, but I am sure some moms supplement in a panic, which contributes to the supply problem more, etc.

    And, sadly, Tabitha's home visit by a nurse was probably the extreme rare benefit. It was not an option for me. That leads to yet another topic--why don't we provide this type of care in the US?

  5. Hi Lynne, (and Krysten -- nice to 'meet' you),
    I believe that the visit by the nurse was rare, as I don't know anyone else who has had it. It was Eric's insurance so I didn't have anyone else to ask about it, and he switched jobs before Kenny was born, so we didn't get a visit for him. It was really nice though -- she came and checked Aidan out (weight, reflexes, etc.), and then checked out my incision, blood pressure, and whatever else she needed to see. I was still nursing at that time but Aidan wasn't eating as much as I had been producing, so the milk had backed up into glands in my armpits. They made lumpy, painful, tumor-like things and she was able to give me some ideas to help out with that.