Breastfeeding isn’t always an easy journey, and as a first time mom, I wish someone told me that might be the case beforehand. Several challenges can present themselves along the way, but they should never make you feel inadequate or be cause to stop breastfeeding if you don't want to. There are moms, however, who feel that after giving it ago, breastfeeding may not be the right choice for their family but aren’t sure when they should make that decision. So, how long should you try breastfeeding? We asked a few International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) for their expertise.
First of all, it's important to note that there is no black and white answer to decide when to stop trying to breastfeed. Each case is different, each mother is different, and each baby is different. However, there are a few facts about breastfeeding that might help you decide if it's the right time to stop if it just doesn't seem to be working out. “It's important to understand that your supply is most firmly established in the first two weeks,” IBCLC Tera Hamann tells Romper. “If you have issues and struggle, it's so important to get help and pump to protect your supply while you get things figured out.” Also, keep in mind that the first two weeks can be the hardest, not just when it comes to breastfeeding. Hormones are all over the place, sleep is scarce, and you’re trying to get in a groove with a new life in your hands. Don’t let that discourage you or scare you away from continuing to breastfeed, because you are not alone. Instead, Hamann shares that this is when you should use the resources around you to understand realistic expectations and set attainable goals. Keep moving forward in your breastfeeding journey.
In an interview with Romper, IBCLC Sarah Lester says that she asks moms “what their goal was when they were pregnant,” as opposed to when they're having a difficult time. That's an important perspective to keep in mind when you're thinking about how long you should try breastfeeding. She adds that it's helpful to take it day by day, and to "never quit on your worst day." As with any major challenge, it's not uncommon to feel discouraged or lose site of the bigger picture. But don't let that discourage you from trying if that's your ultimate goal.
Luckily, breastfeeding gets much easier past six weeks, according to IBCLC Rachel O'Brien. She strongly encourages families to get that far before making the decision to reassess and potentially stop trying. "Breastfeeding doesn't work if it's not working for the parent and the baby," says O'Brien. She adds that if a parent is miserable or resenting the baby, it might not be worth it to them. And that's OK.
On a positive note, however, if you reach the six-week mark and still have challenges, keep in mind that there's really no magic period of time for how long breastfeeding moms should try. Every individual is different and has unique struggles. With the right help and information, you can continue your breastfeeding journey if you desire, regardless of what week, day, or month you've reached.
IBCLC Leah De Shay of UCLA and Growing Healthy Together Pediatric Clinic tells Romper that how long a new mom may try breastfeeding isn't a cut and dry timeline but instead depends on several other aspects, including...
"what resources they have available to them, if and when they return to work, and if they have access to a provider who can actually figure out why their mammary organs aren't functioning fully, and then offer solutions to that."
Unfortunately, moms always know about the resources they have available to assist with breastfeeding, and this can often make it difficult to address any underlying issues that may prevent a mom from continuing to try. Shay shares what a lot of women may not realize – they're covered for three pregnancy visits with a lactation consultant under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Additionally, breast pumps should be covered by the ACA too, according to Today. So if you do want to continue breastfeeding but are worried about underlying issues or challenges, there are resources you can utilize to continue trying.
Shay also emphasizes that breastfeeding doesn't need to be all or nothing. Just because a woman may not produce a full supply, doesn't mean she needs to stop. "Literally every drop of breastmilk makes an impact on gut and physiology development, regardless of what other supplementation is either necessary or chosen," Shay says.
In the end, breastfeeding is your choice, and no two situations are alike. You can try breastfeeding, generally, for as long as you want, and with the right resources, many issues are conquerable. IBCLC Angie Natero wraps up the question of how long you should try breastfeeding beautifully by sharing, “Ideally the longer the better of course, but when the mom has given it her all, obtained IBCLC assessment support, and then the time comes that she 100% knows she's done, she should be proud of the gift she's given her baby and herself.” Additionally, if you have challenges but your goal is to keep going, you should never feel that you have to stop trying.
Whatever you choose to do, whether you power through the pain even after weeks of discomfort, decide to stop breastfeeding right away, or opt to pump instead of feeding directly from the breast, there is no right or wrong way to approach the breastfeeding process and you will find the method that works best for you.
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