Breastfeeding is hard work. Whether it’s getting your little one to latch on or trying to boost your milk supply—or you’re exclusively breast pumping like I did—what’s so good for us can also be difficult.
But here’s another reason to keep breastfeeding if you can: There are more benefits for your health, not to mention that of your baby.
A new study found that breastfeeding for six months or longer cuts your risk in half for developing type 2 diabetes during your childbearing years. Compared to those who didn’t breastfeed, women who breastfed for at least six months had a 47 percent reduction in their chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Those who breastfed for under six months had a 25 percent lower risk. The study was on just over 1,200 women.
Want to make it to that six-month mark? Be prepared to work hard and encounter obstacles. But stick to your goals and adjust them as needed.
“I believe women struggle to breastfeed past six months and beyond for multiple reasons,” said Laura Sarantinoudis-Jones, an international board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) with Lucky Baby Lactation in New Jersey. (Full disclosure: She was my lactation consultant, and I love her approach because she encourages women to work toward their own feeding goals—whatever they are. That’s why I thought she’d be a great source to comment here.)
Here are a few obstacles that make it tough to keep going—and ways to overcome them so you can get in on all the great advantages of breastfeeding.
You’ve gotta work.
Many mamas start out breastfeeding by way of nursing, pumping or supplementing—or a combination of those. But when maternity leave runs out and you can’t be there to nurse the baby on demand, you’re left with relying on the pump or turning to formula. “One of the biggest issues is that women are forced to return to work too soon,” Sarantinoudis-Jones said. “Mothers are not provided the time to pump, they feel negative feedback from coworkers for taking pumping breaks, or there is too much work to take the time to pump.” If you can nurse on the off-hours and use the pump to ensure baby gets breastmilk, that can help you keep lactating. Don’t forget it’s okay to supplement with formula, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop giving the baby breastmilk all together. Do what you can, she advised.
The pump is killin’ your supply.
The pump can be a life-saver, or a complete pain in the…boob. Not only can it be painful, but it does not provide suction as good as your baby. “Often since moms have the stimulation from the pump and not the baby, it has a negative effect on their supply,” Sarantinoudis-Jones said. But if the pump is the only thing keeping your supply going, let it. There are also supplements and foods you can eat to boost your supply.
You’re listening to the naysayers.
Sarantinoudis-Jones said some caregivers can overfeed infants and insinuate that a mother isn’t making enough breastmilk. Your pediatrician may claim that breastmilk loses nutritional value as the baby gets older, but that’s not true either, she adds. When that gets into your head, you may be tempted to give up. Give the baby as much breastmilk as you can—there are benefits even if he or she isn’t drinking your milk exclusively. Supplementing isn’t bad, but Sarantinoudis-Jones said that many moms are told to rely on supplementing and therefore do not take measures to protect their supply. If you can’t give your baby breastmilk exclusively, it’s perfectly fine to supplement—just do what it takes to keep your supply up.
Of course these aren’t the only challenges that can keep women from breastfeeding for the duration they want to. Whatever kinds of challenges you face, there are resources to help you.
“In order for moms to be successful, support is essential,” said Sarantinoudis-Jones.
Check with your insurer, which may cover visits with a lactation consultant. There are also local groups that can provide great tips to help you keep your supply flowing, your body feeling good and your baby growing.