Breastfeed Longer: The Whys and Hows

1 year (or more) of custom-made nutrition is best

When it comes to feeding your baby, “breast is best” — but it isn’t easy. Even if you’ve been nursing for three, six or nine months, it’s not always smooth sailing.

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Gone are the early days of latching problems and discomfort. Instead, you’re confronted with potential supply issues, time constraints and one-too-many judgmental comments of the “Oh, you’re still nursing?” variety.

It’s no wonder so many women quit breastfeeding long before the minimum one-year mark the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends — or the two years the World Health Organization advocates.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Nancy Feldenkris, RN, BSN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital. Since breastfeeding offers tremendous benefits — from custom-made nutrition and increased immunity to helping you lose weight and protecting you against breast cancer — it’s worth trying to overcome any hurdles with the following strategies:

Prepare, prepare, prepare!

The biggest challenge many moms face is that dreaded reality: returning to work.

“As if being a new mom isn’t hard enough, being a new working mom imposes even more stress,” Ms. Feldenkris says. “It’s absolutely vital to prepare thoroughly, especially figuring out where you’ll pump and how you’ll need to adjust your schedule.”

With the Affordable Healthcare Act, insurance now covers breast pumps, so it’s easier to get one that’s effective and fast. Workplaces with more than 50 hourly employees must provide both the time and a place to pump. 

Try tools such as hands-free nursing bras, smartphones or tablets if you must work while pumping. After all, stress and milk are natural enemies. “When stress levels go up, usually milk levels go down,” Ms. Feldenkris notes.

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“When stress levels go up, usually milk levels go down.”

Seek help for supply issues

If you see your supply dwindling, don’t despair. Take action.

“Many moms see their supplies drop, and mistakenly assume it won’t return,” Ms. Feldenkris says.

Learn how supply works so “false alarms” won’t rile you. Talk to a lactation consultant. She can explain supply’s natural ebbs and flows, including during growth spurts — and how your body adjusts over time.

If a supply boost is needed, options include:

  • Nursing more – Add sessions as long as your baby will nurse. If you work outside the home, try early evenings, mornings or weekends.
  • Pumping strategies – An extra session or several short “power pumping” sessions (of five to 10 minutes) throughout the day for several days in a row will tell your body that more milk is needed.
  • Breast massage and compression – Easy-to-learn techniques can improve drainage when nursing or pumping.
  • Take care of yourself – Reduce stress, rest when possible, hydrate, and eat a balanced diet — with an extra 500 calories a day to support breastfeeding. Don’t lose more than 1 pound weekly if you are still trying to shed baby weight.
  • Galactogogues – These supply helpers such as oats, fenugreek, blessed thistle and alfalfa can increase milk output.  Speak to a lactation consultant to see which one or combination is right for you.

Develop a tough skin

Breastfeeding isn’t the norm for American moms. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 46.2 percent of infants are exclusively breastfed through three months. This rate drops to 25.5 percent at six months.

“In the United States, breastfeeding has been unusual – that’s been the culture for generations. It’s hard to change that dynamic,” Ms. Feldenkris says. “When women look to their peers or communities, they don’t see many breastfeeding moms.”

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Breastfeeding has made modest gains over the past decade. But a cultural change won’t happen unless women take steps such as:   

  • Finding other pro-nursing moms for support
  • Spreading the word about its benefits
  • Overcoming fears of breastfeeding in public, if desired — try a nursing cover or a simple scarf

It’s not all or nothing

As a mom, it’s best to do what works. If you can’t exclusively breastfeed, you’ll still boost baby’s immunity by combining breastfeeding with formula.

“There’s not one way written in stone,” Ms. Feldenkris says. Even working moms who can’t pump at work can still partially breastfeed. Your body will regulate its supply to be available when you’re with your baby.

Likewise, Ms. Feldenkris stresses exclusively nursing moms need to be open-minded about their breastfeeding goals. Don’t let others discourage you from so-called “extended nursing,” or nursing longer than a year.

“If you’re surprised with how well it’s going, continue as long it works for you both – for however long you want,” she says. 

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