Before having my first child, I was asked at a breastfeeding support group what I was most nervous about when it came to nursing my baby. I spoke about how many stories I’d heard of moms being unable to breastfeed compared to only a few success stories. I’d never seen anyone breastfeed, let alone exclusive breastfeeding, and no one in my family talked about it. I started to wonder if successful breastfeeding was even possible.
But sure enough, I gave birth to a healthy baby girl and watched as each month passed, breastfeeding my daughter well past her first birthday. Now, as I pass the six-month mark for my son, I realize exclusive breastfeeding is possible. Both times, it was challenging, and I couldn’t have done it without support. But despite the challenges I faced, I was able to meet my breastfeeding goals, and you can, too!
What is Exclusive Breastfeeding?
Exclusive breastfeeding means breastmilk is all your baby is consuming.1 While some moms may supplement with formula for various reasons, exclusively breastfed babies only consume breastmilk. There’s no formula or solids at this point in their growth.
The World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans all recommend babies are exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months of life.2 But, despite its many benefits, some moms are still unable to breastfeed, and others choose not to. So, what are the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, and how can moms reach their breastfeeding goals?
Benefits of Exclusive Breastfeeding
Despite the developments of formula, breastmilk remains the ideal food for babies. Exclusive breastfeeding means babies get that perfect meal every feeding session, which is better for their overall health and digestion.
Breastfeeding itself has numerous benefits for your baby, including:2
- Lower risk of asthma
- Fewer ear infections
- Reduced risk of SIDS
- Fewer gastrointestinal infections
There are benefits of breastfeeding for moms, too. Moms who breastfeed their babies have a reduced risk of certain cancers, diabetes, and high blood pressure.2
But does it matter if babies are exclusively breastfed, or is it the same if they have formula and breast milk? One of the most significant factors that may be affected by supplementing with formula is your milk supply. The more frequently you nurse, the more milk your body will produce.
When you exclusively breastfeed, you’re more likely to have a solid milk supply and continue breastfeeding beyond six months. If you choose to supplement with formula, you’re likely not nursing as much, leading to your milk supply dwindling.3 For moms who have to supplement with formula, it’s essential to pump when you would typically be feeding your baby.
According to the CDC, 60% of moms don’t breastfeed their babies as long as they intend to.4 Many factors contribute to moms no longer breastfeeding their babies, such as issues with latching or concerns about their baby’s weight.4 Here are some exclusive breastfeeding tips that helped me reach my goals:
Having support is the key to having a successful breastfeeding relationship. Breastfeeding is natural, so many moms expect it to be easy. But this isn’t always the case, which leaves new moms in pain and feeling defeated after only a few weeks of feeding their babies. Support to you may look like a pediatrician or lactation consultant. Or if you’re struggling with the demands of breastfeeding, it might look like a family member or a trusted friend. Whatever you do, find help and support, and don’t suffer in silence.
Stick With It
In the early postpartum days, everything feels difficult. Your body hurts, you’re sleep deprived, and if your milk has just come in, your breasts may be engorged and full and painful. It may be tempting to give up if exclusive breastfeeding has been challenging, and I don’t blame you for wanting to. But it does get easier with time. If you can make it through the most challenging part, you’ll be glad you pushed through to reach your goals.
Find a Community
The only people who can truly understand what you’re going through are other breastfeeding moms. That’s why community is so important when you’re struggling to feed your baby. Find a local mom group or, if there’s one near you, a breastfeeding support group. Sharing your struggles with moms who understand your feelings will make you more likely to push through the challenges.
Know What’s Normal
Even if your baby has a great latch, exclusive breastfeeding isn’t easy. However, it’s essential to know what’s a typical challenge and what requires a call to a lactation consultant or pediatrician. As a new mom, you may feel some pain and soreness when your baby starts nursing, and that’s normal. If the pain does not go away, or your nipples are cracked or bleeding, seek the help of a lactation consultant right away.
Remember Why You’re Doing It
Exclusive breastfeeding demands a lot of you. You may get touched out by your baby constantly nursing. You may have to avoid certain foods or alcohol. You may be the only one who can comfort your baby, and you might feel like you can’t ever leave their side. When the sacrifices you’re making seem overwhelming, remember who you’re doing this for. Breastmilk is the best food you can give your baby, and the sacrifices are worth it for your baby.
There’s no way around it: breastfeeding is a challenge! It’s also the best way to provide nourishment for your little one and create an incredible bond between you. There are many reasons women are unable to or choose not to breastfeed. But don’t be discouraged if you have breastfeeding goals and are worried about the outcome. With help and support, you can have a successful breastfeeding journey.