Celebrity moms Amanda Peet and Zoe Saldana have both spoken out publicly about their breastfeeding troubles, as reported recently by Parents magazine, providing a contrast to an idealized vision of breastfeeding that can make some women feel inadequate when breastfeeding does not go as planned.
Peet told talk show host Ellen DeGeneris about the "excruciating pain" she experienced due to breast engorgement, sharing a funny photo of her attempt to use cabbage leaves to relieve the pressure. Saldana, a new mother of twin boys, used Twitter to ask for advice about relieving the pain of breastfeeding.
Most mothers understand that "breast is best," and breastfeeding is widely supported by parenting experts, health experts and the general public. Even Pope Francis spoke out in favor of breastfeeding recently at a baptism service for 33 infants.
Breastfeeding boosts babies’ health, immunity and even IQ. For mothers, it promotes post-pregnancy weight loss and increases oxytocin, which increases baby-mother bonding and helps the uterus return to normal, according to the website WebMD. Breastfeeding is cheaper and in many ways easier than bottle feeding, with no bottles and nipples to sterilize and no formula to buy.
Despite widespread understanding of the benefits of breastfeeding, problems like those experienced by Peet and Saldana often cause mothers to stop breastfeeding before the infant reaches 12 months, the age recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The CDC reports that 79 percent of babies receive some breast milk, but only 27 percent are breast-fed for 12 months.
Parents magazine has tips for the four most common breastfeeding challenges:
• Leaking — Leaking breast milk is harmless but annoying. Place disposable nursing pads in your bra to absorb excess milk. Avoid plastic lined pads, because they trap moisture. If you need to stop the flow of milk, folding your arms to put pressure on your chest is an inconspicuous gesture that might work.
• Engorgement — It’s common for breasts to feel overly full, achy and hard during the first few weeks of nursing. Nurse more often if you can, and express milk between feedings. Some doctors recommend using a warm compress while nursing and a cold compress between feedings.
• Nipple confusion — Babies may become confused when switching between bottle or pacifier and breastfeeding. Try to avoid giving the baby a bottle or pacifier until three to four weeks after birth.
• Sore nipples — This often results when the baby has not latched on correctly. Trying different breastfeeding holds might help. If the problem is caused by sensitive skin, try to keep the area dry between nursing sessions. Applying a little milk or purified lanolin cream might help.
If these tips don’t help, Womenshealth.gov offers a more extensive list of 10 common breastfeeding challenges along with solutions to try. In any case, you may want to consult a pediatrician or lactation consultant.
Not all breastfeeding problems are simple, and 45 percent of mothers discontinue breastfeeding earlier than they had initially planned, according to a study by Alison Steube of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Steube says breastfeeding is understudied because it is at a medical crossroads between pediatricians, obstetricians and lactation specialists.
"As a newly minted doctor and breastfeeding activist, I used to believe that all mothers could breastfeed," Steube wrote on her blog, Breastfeeding Medicine. "Now, after almost a decade of clinical experience, I know better. Sometimes, breastfeeding physiology just doesn’t work. And frankly, as medical professionals, we handle these situations poorly."
Marsha Maxwell is an online journalist, writing teacher and Ph.D. student at the University of Utah. She can be reached at aboutSLC@gmail.com.