Basically All Moms Have Trouble Breastfeeding, Says Study

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breastfeeding in progress signLadies who have decided to breastfeed and have enjoyed a cake walk are a rare bird in motherhood, according to an albeit not very large study. To mothers who feel alone in your breastfeeding struggle, some data reveals that you are certainly and most definitely not alone.

NPR reports that, “The majority of new mothers try to breast-feed. But it’s not easy.” UC Davis Medical Center researchers surveyed 418 first-time mothers about breastfeeding, nearly all of whom were set on breastfeeding. The survey reportedly spanned from the time these ladies were pregnant to when their babies were two months old. The results mirrored that of similar studies in that only a small portion of these women (13 percent) were able to breastfeed exclusively for the gold standard recommendation of six months. Problems and issues regarding breastfeeding arose right away for nearly all the women surveyed:

…as you might expect, the moms who have trouble with breast-feeding in the first week with a new baby are the ones most likely to give up, a study finds…Three days after giving birth, 92 percent of the new mothers said they were having problems breast-feeding.

Half of the mothers reported problems with getting the baby to latch on to the breast, or other feeding issues like nipple confusion, when a baby may prefer a bottle. And 44 percent said pain was a problem. And 40 percent said they felt that they weren’t producing enough milk.

The most commonly reported problems during the first week were also the ones that made it more likely that a mom would give up.

Because there were reportedly no physical exams of the mothers and babies, researches can only surmise that these new mothers were mistaking their baby’s cues (i.e. “mistaking fussiness for hunger”). Nevertheless, the UC Davis team thinks that these ladies were unable to breastfeed for the same reason ladies are generally unable to exclusively breastfeed (not lack of maternity leave, but good guess). Nope, these ladies need supportive lactation counselors, STAT:

Still, they think the biggest reason that women struggled is that once they left the hospital they lacked access to lactation counselors in that critical first week. Two months after birth, 47 percent of the mothers said they had used formula, and 21 percent said they had stopped breast-feeding.

Just 34 of the women said they had no problems breast-feeding at day three. All but one of them were still exclusively breast-feeding at two months. Those women tended to be younger than 30, Hispanic, had an unmedicated vaginal delivery and said they had strong support for breast-feeding.

Another huge take away from this study is that the researchers didn’t offer the participants a list of answers to pick from when offering their responses. These ladies reportedly “answered[ed] in their own words,” making the common sentiments/experiences all the more telling.

The study’s authors concluded that more support for breastfeeding mothers within the first week of delivery could boost our exclusive breastfeeding numbers.

But you knew that already.

(photo: anderdo)


  1. Mel

    September 23, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    I had zero problems breastfeeding my daughter (partly due to the midwife visiting me twice a week for 8 weeks which is paid for through public health care in Germany). So for 4 years I was super smug about and was one of those ‘she didn’t try hard enough’-assholes. Yep, them I had another baby and good god! I was bleeding after two days and after 1 week I would scream out in pain everytime anything came even close to my boobs. After I tried everything, I finally gave up after 4 weeks.

    • Personal

      September 23, 2013 at 4:08 pm

      Hi Mel!
      Also in Germany here…
      My midwife helped me tremendously with her home visits with my first child when I got mastitis (OH MY GOD THAT HURTS and feels like the flu!). She told me that when it goes wrong, it’s almost always because the baby doesn’t latch on correctly and not because the mom is doing something wrong.
      With my first, my nipples were too sore to wear clothes. I waited for that with my second but it never happened. So I kind of believe her now.

    • Mel

      September 23, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Oh definitely has a lot to do with each baby being different. I got hin to latch on within the first few minutes after being born, but when I eventually saw the intensity he showed when emptying his bottle, it became clear, that was the problem. Oh well, 4 months and I’ve thankfully stopped beating myself up about it…

  2. kay

    September 23, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I kinda hate the whole “lactation consultants will fix everything!” rhetoric. I am sure that there are awesome ones but seriously, both of the ones I saw were awful. They discouraged me, told me my baby would need formula, had me giving her bottles (of pumped milk) at a week old. At home on my own I felt fine with breastfeeding (and my 3 month old is still exclusively breastfed), but I would leave lactation wanting to cry. I talked to another mom who shares my insurance. I asked if she hated them and she replied “I’m using formula. That kinda sums up my experience”

    To me hearing so often that lactation consultants were the key to all of this, it made it hard for me to trust myself. I was so sick of seeing them (my baby was giant, and lost 10% which is why we were in so much-it takes time to gain back 15 ounces-the whole “if you have IV fluids baby can come out extra waterlogged” was never mentioned), by the last appointment I told my husband I’d feed her formula before I’d go in again. (The last visit, where I’d ignored all the things they’d told me about giving her pumped milk, my needing to pump constantly, waking her up all the time? She had gained at twice the rate she had when I was stressing)

    This isn’t to say there’s zero value to lactation-I’m switching health insurance next time to a provider where I’ve heard amazing things about their lactation so that I will have it as a resource. But when you’re told “THIS FIXES EVERYTHING!” it makes it harder to ignore them when they suck.

    • kay

      September 23, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      (not that there’s anything wrong with formula. but using it should be because it’s the best choice for you and your baby, not because you hate the lactation consultants with a fiery passion)

    • Koa_Beck

      September 23, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    • NicknamesAreDull

      September 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm

      I agree. One of my LCs subtly shamed me for getting breast implants and suggested that I tried Reglan so I didn’t have to use formula.I told her to leave, and asked for another one. My second LC was really nice, helpful and supportive.. but she didn’t fix my problem.

    • Rachel Sea

      September 23, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      It’s not unlike any other medical help. If the provider sucks, it’s almost as bad as no treatment at all.

  3. Beth

    September 23, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    I had great lactation consultants in the hospital. Little one had a hard time latching and they helped a lot. They would sit with me and work with me, even when I was so upset and exhausted. Finally, they would just let me sleep and give me encouragement. They set me up with a pediatrician for my daughter who was also an LC, and an appointment for the day after I left the hospital. The night we left the hospital I was in tears because she wouldn’t latch. I sent my husbadn to get me nipple shield, which helped, but still she wouldn’t latch. Then FINALLY my milk came in and that, combined with the LC pediatrician (who was so supportive) and the nipple shields, led to success. I still had problems, like anyone, but it wasn’t unmanageable because of that support.

  4. NicknamesAreDull

    September 23, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    My daughter latched very well, but she was a ferocious eater, and I didn’t make a ton of milk. That led to her being frustrated, but I figured it out because I wanted her to have some titty time. Ultimately, I decided to stop because it hurt too much and breastfeeding made me feel really trapped.

  5. personal

    September 23, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I definitely had trouble breastfeeding my first. Mastitis 2 times in the first few weeks, cracked, sore nipples that the fires of hell burned out of, you name it. But it went away and she kept drinking. In fact, she was absolutely addicted.
    When she was 2 years 10 months old, I was finally able to wean her. I was 2 months pregnant. As soon as her brother was born, she was back at the breast with the same vengeance and with her newfound verbal skills, explaining and demanding.
    Heaven help me. I am keeping her to once in the morning and once at night, but, as long as I’m bfing her brother, find it impossible to completely refuse her. She’s 4 now. I never thought I’d still have her bfing.

  6. allisonjayne

    September 23, 2013 at 4:48 pm

    I have to say, I didn’t really have any problems. I think I’m just lucky, though I am so grateful to my midwives though….6 weeks of aftercare is the number one reason I recommend midwives to anyone who asks, because my midwife showed me how to nurse while lying down and it basically changed my life.

    • Koa_Beck

      September 23, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      Amazing Canadian healthcare strikes again. Was this covered?

    • allisonjayne

      September 23, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      Yep. Midwives in my province are fully covered by the provincial health care system. They COME TO YOUR HOUSE 2 days after you give birth. And again some number of days after that. Or something. I can’t remember the exact schedule but yeah. It’s awesome.

    • Koa_Beck

      September 23, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Are you US ladies hearing this? I really need to get started on my immigration. I hear Canada fast tracks you if you speak French. Is there any truth to this?

    • allisonjayne

      September 24, 2013 at 9:35 am

      I have no idea but it seems plausible. You’d probably have to live in Quebec. Which has $7/day daycare. Do you speak French? I wish I spoke French. I took French all the way through high school and all I can do is badly order food and name stuff you’d find in a classroom.

    • the_ether

      April 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      Things I can say in French: I’m a Sagittarius, I would like a cat, I love you, I’m hungry, have you seen my brother?

    • staferny

      September 23, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      Just checked it out and in Alberta, midwife care including prenatal, labour and birth, postnatal care of mother and baby up to 6 weeks, including 24 hour availability’ is covered under Alberta Healthcare. You also have the options of a birth center, home birth or hospital with most midwifery practices.

  7. Amber

    September 23, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    All the lactation consultant I had did was shame me and encourage me to starve my son.

  8. S

    September 24, 2013 at 8:04 am

    I’m still nursing at almost 4 months but it’s been a huge struggle and I still often consider quitting. We still have to use a nipple shield because he doesn’t want to latch. I partially blame the awful nurses we had that would come in when we were trying, would shove him at my boob till he would get upset then throw up their hands saying he was an angry baby and leave. What baby know how to be angry after a few hours? They also made a lot of unhelpful comments to me that killed any confidence I had. I.e. Me: “I think he’s almost figured it out.” Nurse: “not really.” *walks away*.
    It’s also a bit because he might be lazy. That probably sounds horrible but he will latch without the shield but after a bit will keep popping off till it’s on. I should probably not give in but it saves tears from happening for both of us.

  9. historychick79

    September 24, 2013 at 8:31 am

    I remember sooo clearly how three days after coming home from the hospital, I was in tears and miserable over breasfeeding. My breasts (large to begin with) were engorged, my tiny son was having trouble getting a latch, I couldn’t figure out how best to hold him, and I swore I was starving him; and the exhaustion made everything seem worse. My husband secretly called my best/oldest friend, who had an 8month old daughter at the time and she is an adamant breast feeding supporter; she always says it’s the most unnatural natural thing you’ll ever do. She came over with chocolate and support, and spending 40 min with her did amazing things with boosting my confidence and giving me some tips that made all the difference. Those first few weeks of parenting/motherhood are incredibly difficult between the lack of sleep and newness of everything, and neither mom nor baby automatically know how to breastfeed. Now that women are rushed out of the hospital, possibly rushed back to work in the middle of growth spurts and ‘wonder weeks’ (I went at 9 weeks, barely feeling like breastfeeding was established and made sense), it’s no wonder it is often falling by the wayside when you’re struggling with everything else; you just want to feed your child and formula does work. Society needs to firmly support (somewhat fragile) new mothers if they truly take breastfeeding seriously–and if women find it is not the right option, whether it’s medical/biology or just not feeling comfortable with it, they need to know that’s okay too!

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