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Why Women Quit Breastfeeding

May 4, 2012

If "breast is best," why don't we do it?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends women exclusively breastfeed for the first six months and continue breastfeeding (while introducing solid foods) for a full year. Hands down, breastfeeding provides the best nutrition and immunity support for babies and endless health benefits for mothers. Breast is best and most women start out strongly committed to doing their best. And yet, the majority won't make it to six months.

Read More: The latest expert advice on five common breastfeeding issues

Why do so many well-intentioned women quit breastfeeding? The top reasons relate to pain, work, low milk volume, illness and lack of support. When it hurts, you have to work, your baby is screaming for more milk than you're making, you get the flu and people keep saying "just give that kid a bottle;" eventually, giving that kid a bottle seems like a good idea.

Read More: The best ways to prevent and treat sore nipples

In other countries, mothers aren't expected to return to work within a few short months. They're expected to feed their baby. They're well supported get past some of breastfeeding's rough patches. Here in the US, when the going gets tough, we say, "give that kid a bottle."

At the risk annoying staunch breastfeeding advocates, I think formula has its place. Sometimes (and it should be the exception, not the rule), the only way to manage is with a little formula. Most American women can't stay home from work for a year. They don't have an arsenal of aunties to help them breastfeed. If something's got to give sometimes that means a bottle. Let's not be judgmental, shall we? It's formula, not whiskey.

First Foods: Breast milk or formula? Which solids and when? Our guide answers your questions

I breastfed all my kids the full year (while working), except my youngest. She got three months then I got chemotherapy. Judgmental women who made "breast is best" comments and gave me the stink eye when I gave her a bottle in public were unintentionally cruel. One even suggested I'd be a "better mommy" if I delayed cancer treatments so I could breastfeed longer. Idiot.

Stories like these from friends, patients and readers are all too common and represent the challenges many women face when trying to breastfeed exclusively.

Read More: How to Breastfeed

Do you have a breastfeeding story to share? Did you overcome breastfeeding hurdles? Or did you get flack from someone because you fed your baby formula? We want to hear.

Share your comments below.

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