More women might breastfeed their babies if they got some advice and attention during and soon after pregnancy, a new study shows.

Physical discomfort and babies’ perceived response to breastfeeding are major reasons why some moms soon stop breastfeeding, write the CDC’s Indu Ahluwalia, MPH, PhD, and colleagues.

Pregnant women’s intentions about breastfeeding were also important. Those who intended to breastfeed were more likely to do so for more than four weeks, the researchers note.

The study appears in Pediatrics.

Breastfeeding Encouraged

Breastfeeding is widely recommended for babies’ health and for mother-child bonding. But breastfeeding isn’t always easy, as many women told Ahluwalia’s team.

Earlier this year, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement on breastfeeding. The statement, published in February’s issue of Pediatrics, says:

“Although economic, cultural, and political pressures often confound decisions about infant feeding, the AAP firmly adheres to the position that breastfeeding ensures the best possible health as well as the best developmental and psychosocial outcomes for the infant.”

Breastfeeding Study

Ahluwalia’s study included more than 32,000 moms in 10 U.S. states. The women were studied in 2000-2001, soon after giving birth. They answered surveys about their breastfeeding experience.

Here are the numbers on how many women breastfed, and for how long:

--About half breastfed for more than four weeks.

--Nearly a third never breastfed.

--About 13 percent breastfed for up to four weeks.

--Nearly 4 percent stopped breastfeeding after less than one week.

Most Common Reasons for Stopping

The most common reasons the women gave for stopping breastfeeding in less than four weeks were:

--Sore, cracked, or bleeding nipples

--Not producing enough milk

--Baby had difficulty breastfeeding

--Baby not satisfied with breast milk

The researchers write that women who never breastfed were more likely to be younger, with less than high school level education, unmarried, cigarette smokers, and women whose babies were delivered with low birth weight and whose babies were exposed to secondhand smoke. Women were also more likely to have participated in the WIC program (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), which benefits low-income women.

Intentions Mattered

Pregnant women who intended to breastfeed their babies were more likely to do so, the study shows.

Those women were also more likely to keep breastfeeding during the “vulnerable” time of their baby’s early infancy, write the researchers.

Ahluwalia’s team offers these suggestions in their study:

--Doctors should talk to their pregnant patients about breastfeeding.

--Lactation consultants can help moms handle physical challenges and questions about breastfeeding.

“Adequate interventions during pregnancy and soon after delivery will assist women in making the optimal infant-feeding choices for themselves and their infants,” write Ahluwalia and colleagues.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Ahluwalia, I. Pediatrics, December 2005; vol 116: pp 1408-1412. News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.