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Common breast-feeding concerns deterring first-time moms

Breast-feeding is frequently linked to health benefits, but doctors are constantly trying to find ways to convince women to stick with the practice.

Researchers interviewed more than 500 first-time moms, and found those who report having concerns about breast-feeding during the first days that follow birth are almost 10 times more likely to quit within only two months.

It was especially troubling because the researchers found that 92 percent of moms reported having at least one concern by the third day of their child's life.

"Breastfeeding problems were a nearly universal experience in the group of first-time mothers in our study, with some of the most common problems also being the most strongly associated with stopping breastfeeding," Dr. Laurie Nommsen-Rivers, a perinatal at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the study's lead investigator, said in a statement.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says babies should be breast-fed exclusively for about six months, and then given supplementary breast-milk for 1 year or longer.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in August that only 7 percent of new moms breast-feed their babies, with only half doing so for the recommended six-months. A separate CDC study found 40 percent of kids are introduced to solid foods when they were only 4-months-old, months before they should be.

Women were interviewed at the start of pregnancy and five times after their kids were born at days three, seven, 13, 30 and 60.The researchers received thousands of reports of problems with breast-feeding.

The most common concern reported by 52 percent of moms was the infant's behavior, namely that he or she was not "latching on" properly. That was followed by pain when breast-feeding (44 percent of moms) and concerns over milk quantity (40 percent of moms).

The largest association with stopping breast-feeding was seen in moms with latching concerns by day seven, and those with milk quantity concerns by the fourteenth day after birth. Concerns reported at days three and seven were strongly associated with the subsequent stopping of breast-feeding, which the researchers say may correspond with the time that most moms leave the hospital to go back to their homes.

As for the 8 percent of moms without concerns about breast-feeding, some factors may have contributed to their beliefs. Many of these women were younger, had unmedicated vaginal births, had strong social support and had more "self confidence" about breast-feeding prior to birth.

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The researchers called for more hospitals to develop strategies to reach concerned moms early on into the postpartum period.

"Our findings indicate helping mothers meet their breast-feeding goals requires a two-pronged approach: Strengthening protective factors, such as prenatal breastfeeding education and peer support, and ensuring that any concerns that do arise are fully addressed with professional lactation support, especially in those first few days at home," said Nommsen-Rivers.

The study was published on Sept. 23 in Pediatrics.

One pediatrician not involved in the study said these concerns are nothing new, and recommended worried moms keep a close relationship with their pediatrician and lactation counselors.

"Most moms know that breast-feeding is best for their baby, but it's hard work ... and the milk supply doesn't come in for three or four days," Dr. Cliff Nerwen, medical director of pediatrics at Cohen Children's Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said to HealthDay. "Most of these impediments can be overcome with reassurance and by spending time with medical professionals."

Breast-feeding has been linked to a whole host of health benefits for both moms and their babies. Recent studies have found breast-feeding moms may be less likely to develop Alzheimer'sand may also be protected against breast cancer and heart attacks.

Breast-fed babies have lower rates of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, Type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia and a type of skin rash known as atopic dermatitis. Recent studies havelinked breast-feeding to higher IQ and social boostsfor babies.

If the benefits are not enough to convince moms, what can hospitals and community centers do?

SomeNew York City hospitals are limiting formula access by making nurses sign it out for moms that request them, whilehospitals in Mass. no longer give away infant formula gift bags to new moms.

A May study in Pediatrics found giving small amounts of supplemental formula during the first few days to infants who have lost weight may lead to an increases in breast-feeding duration.

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