SATURDAY, Nov. 3 (HealthDay News) -- More American women are choosing to breast-feed. That's the good news.
The discouraging news is that the percentage of women breast-feeding still falls short of national objectives, often because they experience problems or difficulties that are easily overcome, according to lactation experts.
Seventy-four percent of women who gave birth in 2004 initiated breast-feeding, up from 70.9 percent of women who delivered babies in 2000, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that was still a bit short of the objectives set by the federal government's Healthy People 2010 initiative, which had hoped to have 75 percent of new mothers breast-feeding in 2004.
The number of women who were breast-feeding exclusively was even smaller. Just 30.5 percent of the women who delivered babies in 2004 breast-fed exclusively through age 3 months of age, although the national objective was 60 percent.
So, why aren't more women breast-feeding and for longer periods? Experts say that even new mothers who know all about the benefits of breast-feeding for their baby -- including protection from lower respiratory and middle-ear infections as well as a reduction in the risk of childhood obesity -- can get discouraged and give up.
Some of the most common reasons cited for stopping breast-feeding include sore or cracked nipples, not producing enough milk, a baby having difficulty feeding, or the perception that the baby wasn't satisfied by breast milk.
But breast-feeding also provides the mother with benefits. It helps speed the recovery of her body after birth, and recent studies have suggested that breast-feeding may lower a woman's risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Here are some experts' best tips on succeeding with breast-feeding -- even if you're a beginner:
"Breast-feeding is not instinctive," said Katy Lebbing, a board certified lactation consultant in Villa Park, Ill., and a leader for La Leche League International, which promotes breast-feeding. "That's a myth. It's kind of like thinking all men can fix all cars."
Mothers who choose to breast-feed need education and support, agreed Karen Bonuck, associate professor of family and social medicine at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, who has published studies on breast-feeding practices.
Ask your health-care provider for information about breast-feeding early in your pregnancy, Bonuck advised women. Don't wait until you're six months or more along, she said. Too many other activities -- baby showers, getting the nursery ready, thinking about names -- take your attention during those final months of pregnancy.
Ask your doctor if your hospital has one. Or see a lactation consultant -- you can ask your doctor or the La Leche League for a referral. You should make these preparations before you'll be ready to breast-feed, Lebbing and Bonuck advised.
Just a few sessions with a lactation consultant can pay off, Bonuck said. "You will understand the normal physiology of how the milk is produced," she said. The consultant, working with a doll, can help women practice the best positions to breast-feed and get comfortable with the concept.
"Make your wishes known," Bonuck said. "Some [hospitals] have cards that say, 'Breast-feed only.' " That reduces the risk of confusion and your baby mistakenly getting a bottle of formula, Bonuck said. She also advises mothers-to-be to tell the hospital staff about other preferences, such as no pacifiers.
Breast-feeding immediately after birth -- even before the baby is cleaned up -- is preferable, Bonuck said. "Bring an advocate with you," she suggested. This person will help to make sure your wishes are carried out.
"Make your wishes known," Bonuck advised. She prefers keeping the baby in the mother's room, not in the nursery, because it gives mother and baby a chance to practice breast-feeding. "It's not a spa," she said of the hospital stay.
Enlist the support of family members or friends once you are back home, Lebbing advised. "You need someone to cook and help around the house, especially in the first month," she said. If you have other children, get some child-care help. Relieving some of the stress of a newborn can help new moms focus on the important task of breast-feeding, Bonuck and Lebbing said.
To learn more about breast-feeding, visit La Leche League International.
SOURCES: Karen Bonuck, Ph.D., associate professor of family and social medicine, Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York City; Katy Lebbing, La Leche League leader and international board certified lactation consultant, Villa Park, Ill.