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Keep On Nursing!

Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that women nurse until at least their baby's first birthday, only 14 percent of moms are still exclusively breastfeeding by the 6-month mark. Why do they stop? Because while "the breast is best," it's not always easy. But with a little preparation and expert advice, you can stick with it. Here's how.

Q: I'm going back to work when my baby is 3 months old. How can I continue nursing?

A: It's a challenge, but you can do it with the help of an efficient breast pump and a fridge at the office to store expressed breast milk. At least a month before returning to your job, start stockpiling breast milk in your freezer. "If you haven't already, you'll also want to get your baby used to drinking from a bottle by 6 to 8 weeks," says Katy Lebbing, a board-certified lactation consultant with La Leche League International and manager of their Center for Breastfeeding Information. Once you return to work, you'll probably breastfeed just before and after work, and pump every three hours (midmorning, at lunch, and midafternoon). If pumping this often at work isn't feasible, cut back to twice a day and pump once at night. Another option is to replace one feeding with formula.

Q: Ouch—my 7-month-old is teething! Is there a way to nurse him without getting bitten?

A: "As soon as your baby bites you, take him off the breast," says Lawrence Gartner, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics committee on breastfeeding. You should then look him in the eye and in a firm but gentle voice say "no." Let him latch on again, but repeat this process if he continues to bite. Your baby will soon get the message that nibbling on you means an interruption in his meal.

Q: I enjoy breastfeeding, but the five or more sessions a day are wearing me out. Is it okay to supplement with formula?

A: "The fact is, some breastfeeding is better than none," Lebbing says. So, if it will keep you nursing longer, consider replacing one feeding—or more—a day with formula. You'll want to sandwich your bottle-feedings between those at the breast to keep up your milk supply. As long as you consistently nurse two, three, or four times per day, you should be able to continue breastfeeding indefinitely.

Q: All of a sudden, my 6-month-old wants to nurse all the time. I think my milk's running out?

A: Relax—chances are your baby is going through a growth spurt, which often occurs at 6 weeks and 3, 6, and 9 months of age. These periods of rapid growth make babies very hungry, which means they want to breastfeed more. "Breast milk works on a supply-and- demand basis," Dr. Gartner says. "So the more your baby nurses, the more milk your body will produce." As long as she continues to have approximately the same number of bowel movements and wet diapers throughout the day as she did before her feeding frenzy began, she's getting plenty of milk. If you're still concerned, talk with your pediatrician.

Q: For the past few days, my previously enthusiastic nurser has refused to breastfeed. Is she ready to wean?

A: Your baby is most likely on a nursing strike, rather than ready to quit. Nursing strikes are common and happen for a variety of reasons, from changes in schedule to illness—or for no reason at all. The best approach is to keep offering the breast every few hours; try nursing in a quiet spot with minimal distractions. If your baby doesn't appear to be taking in much milk, you might have to pump to keep up your supply and feed her from a bottle. If a week passes and your baby still prefers the bottle to the breast, chances are she's ready to wean.

Q: My mother-in-law thinks nursing my 10-month-old is weird. How can I get her to back off?

A: Many moms hear negative comments from uninformed friends, family members, and even strangers. How you respond depends on your comfort level with the person involved. If your mother-in-law asks whether you're still nursing, one option is to look her in the eye and say, "Yes, our pediatrician recommends I nurse her until she's at least 1." Keep in mind that your mother-in-law may simply be uncomfortable with breastfeeding because she doesn't know enough about it. Try telling her why it's so beneficial, then ask for her support. If she still makes rude remarks or gives disapproving looks, do your best to ignore them.

Copyright © 2005. Reprinted with permission from the February 2005 issue of Parents magazine.