The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization recommend that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first 6 months of life and then introduce additional food. Even though breast milk is the "normative standard for infant feeding and nutrition," only 75 percent of mothers initiate breastfeeding, and by 6 months only 43 percent of babies are still breastfed. Understanding the factors that affect a woman's decision to breastfeed can create a kinder environment for mothers and provide support.
Women's careers influence their decision to breastfeed. If women are away for prolonged time periods, they will need to express milk with a breast pump or hand expression to maintain their supplies. Some states do not mandate that employers allow breaks for pumping. Mothers may not wish to take a break if it interferes with job responsibilities. At other times, women's paychecks depend on their service, like a waitress. Jobs may require a great deal of traveling which would require extensive pumping; pumps do not empty the breast as well as babies do, according to La Leche League International.
Families do not always support a mother's decision to breastfeed. Fathers may fear that they will not bond well with the baby if they cannot participate in feedings. Family members may pressure the mother to formula feed as they did. Female family members may share their negative experiences with breastfeeding, discouraging the new mother.
Mothers may not understand breastfeeding and base their decision on incorrect information. Mothers may believe that formula is a replica of breast milk or that breastfeeding interferes with a sex life or the time to parent other children. Mothers may doubt their ability to provide food, or worry that the responsibility is too great. They may fear ridicule for public breastfeeding. Mothers may lack access to accurate information.
A mother who survived childhood abuse -- sexual or otherwise -- may believe her body is damaged and cannot provide nutrition. The physical intimacy involved with breastfeeding may bother her. Additionally, she may question what is normal with parenting and strive to meet that standard. If breastfeeding is not perceived as normal, she may reject it.
Second-time mothers may have previously tried to breastfeed without success. The inability to breastfeed can take an emotional toll. Negative experiences could include cracked or bleeding nipples, costly pump rentals, and inattentive breastfeeding counselors. Mothers may not want to experience those struggles again.
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