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From the backlash over the 3-year-old nursing on the cover of TIME to the controvery over military moms breastfeeding in uniform, nursing moms just can't get a break lately. Now, a new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that while 60 percent of mothers want to breastfeed their babies exclusively (and 85 percent want to do it for at least three months), the reality is that fewer than a third of those moms reach their goal. Even more shocking: 42 percent stop within the first month.
That means only a small fraction of babies are meeting the 6-months-of-exclusive-breastfeeding that the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. While the number babies this age who are exclusively breastfed at 6 months in the U.S. has increased, the number is just under 15 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "This to me says we as a society are not supporting mothers to feed their infants the way they want to," the study's lead author Cria Perrine, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity told msnbc.com.
Take me: I'm in full support of breastfeeding and the mom of two breastfed babies, but I did not meet my exclusivity goal. My first son was on breast milk alone the entirety of my 4-month maternity leave, but when I returned to work (need that health insurance!), I had to supplement with formula. I simply couldn't keep up even while pumping at work three times a day.
I had a decent first shot, however: The hospital my eldest was born at didn't offer my baby formula -- something research shows is key to helping new moms meet their nursing goals. (Moms whose babies are in the 40 percent who do not receive formula in the hospital were 2.5 times more likely to meet their breastfeeding goals than moms whose infants got formula.) Also working in my favor, according to the study: My baby roomed with me, was never given a paci in the hospital and I was given some breastfeeding support. Sure, they sent me home with three free canisters of formula, but at least they showed me the football hold, right?
I don't think our country will ever be able to meet its collective breastfeeding goals unless some big things change: New moms need more education and hands-on help in the hospital. Nurses need to stop doling out formula. Moms need more postnatal support and longer maternity leaves. And we all need to hold the judgement and the shaming of mothers who nurse -- regardless of how old their baby is, the uniform they're wearing while nursing or where they choose to breastfeed.
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