Kathryn McNeil admits breastfeeding her 4-month-old daughter hasn't always been easy. "The first month was really hard. It hurt so much even a cotton shirt against your chest just hurts. It's awful."
She stuck with it but a new study shows most new mothers don't. Researchers found 85% of mothers planned to exclusively breast-feed their infants for three months or longer, but only a third of them actually met their goals. "Women who were less likely to be successful it was their first pregnancy, they were obese or overweight, or they were smokers," says Dr. Julie Gallombardo of NYU Langone Medical Center.
Doctors recommend mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their baby's life, then add solid foods.
Studies have shown that infants who are breastfed are less prone to infections, less likely to be obese, and less likely to develop chronic conditions later in life.
Researchers say three hospital policies really influence whether mothers are successful. "Not introducing the pacifier, starting initiating the breastfeeding within an hour and most importantly not introducing formula as a supplementation in the hospital."
McNeil understands why some women turn to formula. "Before you go to bed they say 'do you want us to take the baby overnight. We can feed her a bottle.' It's so tempting."
But she says breastfeeding does get easier and her daughter is thriving. "She's in the 95th percentile for height and weight."
She plans to keep breastfeeding for a year.
Doctors say there are times when formula supplements are medically necessary in the hospital, for example, if the infant shows signs of dehydration or significant weight loss.