Updated: Apr 10
Breastfeeding can be a controversial subject for new mothers, and one filled with mystery and confusion. In this article we will discuss the reasons breastfeeding mothers choose to breastfeed, and common challenges they face with reaching their breastfeeding goals. At the end of this article you should have an idea whether or not you want to try to breastfeed, and how to get started on making sure you have a positive breastfeeding experience.
Table of Contents
What is breastfeeding and why it recommended?
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Society
How long should I breastfeed?
Common Breastfeeding Challenges
Why is Breastfeeding So Hard?
Can I work and breastfeed?
Exclusive Breastfeeding Exclusive Pumping
Supplementing with Donor Milk
Supplementing with Formula
How to Prepare for Breastfeeding
Prenatal Lactation Consults
What is breastfeeding and why is it recommended
During pregnancy, you’ve likely noticed that one of the many changes in your body include breast changes. These changes are occuring to prepare your body to feed your baby. Like all mammals, humans produce milk for their offspring to nourish them during infancy. You have likely heard the term “breast is best” in an effort to promote higher breastfeeding rates. Most Labor and Delivery floors include specially trained nurses and Lactation Consultants to help new mothers breastfeed.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
There are many benefits to breastfeeding your baby. Logically speaking, babies were designed to breastfeed, so it makes sense that it would be considered the optimal nutrition for a growing newborn. But did you know that breastfeeding has a variety of benefits for both mom and baby?
Breastfeeding Benefits for Baby
Benefits of breastfeeding for your baby includes lower risk of allergies and asthma, type 2 diabetes, recurring ear infections, and other common childhood ailments and diseases. Furthermore, the live antibodies in breastmilk are always changing to meet your baby’s needs and help protect against illness, and more easily manage your baby’s health when they do get sick. Breastfeeding isn’t just good for their health, but breastfeeding helps the mouth and palate to properly develop through infancy, reducing the likelihood of needing orthodontics and having dental concerns.
This doesn’t even begin to touch on the psychological and developmental benefits that occur when mothers are forced to slow down and interact with their babies very intimately in this busy world. Breastfeeding brings a sense of comfort and peace to your baby and even works as a great fix for boo boos and ouchies. Additionally, breast milk has amazing healing properties and is great for mild skin conditions, pink eye, and even minor wound healing.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mom
Breastfeeding isn’t only healthy for your baby, it is healthy for YOU. First, breastfeeding is considered the natural follow up to the birth process. Breastfeeding your baby soon after birth during an uninterrupted period of 2-3 hours of bonding, helps to regulate the hormonal chain reaction occurring within your body as you shift from pregnancy to postpartum. Additionally, Breastfeeding is shown to help reduce postpartum mental health issues. While this topic is highly debatable (I’ll write another article sharing the ins and outs of that conversation for you), it is no doubt that not many things in life are more amazing of an experience than a positive breastfeeding relationship. Moreover, breastfeeding is shown to reduce the risk of female cancers including Breast Cancer, Ovarian Cancer, and Cervical Cancer. Breastfeeding also helps many women lose weight more easily postpartum (although many factors can impact this).
Another commonly referenced benefit of breastfeeding for mom and baby is the “cost and convenience” factor. Depending on the formula your baby uses, you could require around 5 cans of formula per month costing approximately $45-50+. This is around $250 each month, equalling around $3,000 for the first year, give or take. While many mothers may qualify for WIC, SNAP, or EBT to help offset the cost, access to formula can still be limited (like during the 2022 Formula Shortage).
Breastfed babies can be convenient, depending on your lifestyle, because they are easy to feed on the go (once you get the hang of things). If you travel frequently or go on long day trips out of the house, it can be a hassle to make sure you have enough bottles of formula made up safely to bring along with you, store safely, and then heat up (if your baby needs it) conveniently.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Society
You might be wondering how on earth breastfeeding benefits society. Let’s dive in for a bit. There are many public health crises that could be more easily managed with higher overall breastfeeding rates. For example, in localities where clean water is inaccessible for creating infant formula bottles, breastfeeding has been shown to literally save lives.
During a natural disaster, formula (and again clean water and feeding supplies) are often entirely inaccessible. It is difficult to carry large amounts of formula with you during an evacuation, and many babies end up hungry and even sick or even, unfortunately, dying.
Beyond the logistical reasons why breastfeeding is important for babies and mothers, neurologically, breastfeeding can help to lay down a really strong foundation and complements attachment parenting styles perfectly, leading to lower rates of mental illness in adults, which benefits all of society for obvious reasons. More functional, healthy adults = a more functional, healthy society.
How long should I breastfeed?
The World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months and continuing breastfeeding for up to 2 years, or until both mom and baby are ready to stop. While breastfeeding is recommended for 6-24 months, the truth is, most women stop breastfeeding or introduce supplemental formula by 3 months. This is often due to a lack of understanding and support regarding breastfeeding.
While all the benefits of breastfeeding sound great on paper, the reality is, breastfeeding doesn’t always come as naturally as we’d like. Breastfeeding can be difficult, emotionally taxing, and yes, even expensive and time consuming (especially in the early stages).
Why is breastfeeding so hard?
There are many factors that can make breastfeeding difficult. First and most impactfully, is the desperate lack of societal breastfeeding support. While there has been a huge push toward improving breastfeeding initiation rates, there is an entirely broken support infrastructure that leads to many women quitting on breastfeeding long before they intended. Concerns include insurance and cost barriers to lactation support, societal misconceptions about breastfeeding and lack of knowledge being passed down generationally, and poor overall support during the postpartum period including the expectation or necessity of women needing to return to work and not having emotional and physical support to heal well from birth. In addition to poor support, mothers and babies can suffer from a myriad of health conditions that can make breastfeeding more challenging. That’s not to say those challenges can’t be overcome, but when support is difficult to access, and our health care system rarely works to actually find a root cause to a complaint, then mothers are often left feeling broken with no choice other than to give up breastfeeding.
How can I reach my breastfeeding goals and go back to work?
Breastfeeding and returning to work is a major source of stress for many mothers. I have worked with many mothers who shared their goal was to breastfeed until they returned to work, and then begin bottle feeding formula, as their employer is not supportive of pumping and they don’t feel confident in their ability to maintain their milk supply. There are many state and federal laws on the books that help protect a mother’s right to pump in the workplace, but difficult job requirements, managers, and coworkers can make it harder than it needs to be. Even with supportive employers, the other concern is your infant’s childcare provider. It is very common that the person providing childcare for your baby during separations is not educated on how to support a breastfeeding baby with bottle feeding, and can create flow preferences when they don’t used paced bottle feeding techniques. They can demand more milk than is necessary for a breastfed baby because they don’t understand the unique differences in volume needs between breastfed and formula fed babies. And many babies will “reverse cycle” creating a stressful situation for both caregivers and mothers.
Reverse Cycling is when your baby decides they will not feed during your separation, and instead makes up for it with multiple, more frequent, longer feedings during togetherness, often including many overnight feeds.
While the decision to breastfeed is very personal and very controversial, the reality is, breastfeeding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Many families think they have to choose to either breastfeed or formula feed. But that’s not true!
Exclusive Breastfeeding is considered feeding your baby breastmilk solely from the breast, without the use of bottles or complementary feeding methods. Many mothers who pump and bottle feed breastmilk during separation times consider themselves to be exclusively breastfeeding as well.
Exclusive Pumping is when mothers never latch their babies, rather they pump their baby’s full feeding volume throughout the day and bottle feed breastmilk.
Supplementing with Donor Breast Milk
Some mothers who cannot produce a full milk supply choose to supplement with donated breastmilk to maintain the benefits of breastmilk for their baby while also meeting their nutritional volume requirements.
Combination Feeding: Supplementing with Formula
When donor milk is inaccessible, many women choose to supplement with formula, while still primarily breastfeeding. This can be done in a way that works well for both mother and baby, but should involve the support of a lactation consultant to ensure it is being done in a healthy way.
How to Prepare for Breastfeeding
Now that your head is spinning and you’ve decided you’d like to breastfeed, but your worried about it being harder than you expected, you might be wondering if there’s anything a pregnant mother can do to prepare herself for breastfeeding.
While many women want to jump straight to ACTION items like eating certain foods or taking certain supplements to ensure they can breastfeed, this isn’t the recommended preparation course. Instead you should work on creating a foundational knowledge of breastfeeding and create a strong breastfeeding support system.
Take a Breastfeeding Class
While google is free and full of great resources for breastfeeding, it’s also full of contradictory and confusing information. Create a strong understanding of the breastfeeding basics by taking an in person or online breastfeeding class.
Group Breastfeeding Classes
Group breastfeeding classes are often offered virtually, creating an opportunity for women to connect with other women in a similar stage and mindset. Furthermore, it allows the opportunity for discussion to occur. Discussion is when learning happens best! You can join Little Bear Lactation’s monthly online breastfeeding course Breastfeeding With Confidence here!
Self Paced Breastfeeding Class Online
Another option for busy mamas is taking a pre-recorded breastfeeding class. While there is less opportunity for conversation, discussion, and getting questions answered, this is still a fantastic opportunity to learn the basics and create a breastfeeding plan that you’re confident in!
Prenatal Lactation Consults
Similar to a breastfeeding class, a prenatal lactation is highly recommended for women planning to breastfeed. This private, one on one opportunity to ask questions and get persoanlized breastfeeding advice can make a huge difference in your breastfeeding experience. Check out this article on Prenatal Breastfeeding Consults with a lactation consultant.
As you can see, breastfeeding is a very personal decision and one that needs to fit a families needs, desires, and values. While breastfeeding is optimal nutrition for your baby, I struggle with phrases like “breast is best” or “fed is best” because I think they minimize the fact that INFORMED DECISION MAKING AND SUPPORT IS BEST.
If you are considering breastfeeding your baby, I recommend starting with the FREE Breastfeeding Success Guide. Here you will map out your breastfeeding goals, decide your why, figure out your support system, and create a game-plan for reaching your personal breastfeeding goals.
Jaimie Zaki is an IBCLC and mother of four dedicated to supporting women during their breastfeeding journey. Jaimie offers insurance covered breastfeeding classes, in person breastfeeding help in Wichita Falls, Texas, and virtual lactation consults via telehealth for mothers across America.