A new worldwide study has concluded what many new moms already know: breastfeeding ain't easy.
Though nearly all of the 13,000 pregnant and first-time moms polled in the 2015 Lansinoh Breastfeeding Survey said breast is best, going the distance is a whole other story. That's because just like your carefully crafted birth plan, any intentions to breastfeed for six months (or longer!) sound good in theory, but may be nearly impossible to pull off once baby arrives. This was the case for moms in the U.S. and any of the other nine countries included in the survey.
Consider the facts: Nearly two-thirds of women polled considered six months or longer the idea length of time to nurse. Yet only 62 percent of moms worldwide were able to pull it off, compared with 49 percent of American moms.
The main reason for the attrition rate? Pain. Women in all but one of the 10 countries surveyed it was the biggest issue they faced. (Only moms in China disagreed, saying waking up in the middle of the night was a bigger gripe for them.) Two other common reasons nursing moms quit include learning how to breastfeed and figuring out how often to feed baby.
This isn't too far off from the top three concerns pregnant women had about nursing: that baby won't latch (26 percent), that they won't be able to breastfeed for the recommended six months or longer (17 percent), and that nursing will hurt (14 percent).
I don't know about you, but many of these stats reflect what I felt as a first-timer. I spent much of my pregnancy poring over articles about breastfeeding—I was a parenting editor—so I thought I knew what to expect. I know, I know. Stop laughing. Obviously, much of my experience didn't go by the book. I was surprised at how much letdown hurt, even after months of nursing; how messy it was; how hard it was for me to tell my pediatrician exactly how much my baby was eating. (It's not like my breasts had ounce markers on them.)
On the flip side, I was also floored at how much I enjoyed nursing. Sure, it was boring or uncomfortable sometimes, but it was also a pretty spectacular way for me to bond with my boy. I loved watching him fall asleep in my arms, belly full with milk my body somehow miraculously made. No one bugged us, no one expected anything more from me than what I was doing at the time. And it was heaven.
Of course, I'm not the only fan out there. Here in the U.S., 67 percent of women said breastfeeding was "perfectly natural," up 10 percentage points from 2014. And only 7 percent said they pumped to avoid feeding in public, down a whopping 19 percentage points. Still, that doesn't mean doing the deed out in the open is easy-peasy for moms here. A staggering 25 percent admitted they've been criticized or mistreated for nursing in public, compared to 18 percent of women in other countries who say they've experienced prejudice.
But as this study found, moms strongly believe in a protected right to breastfeed. Some 86 percent of U.S. mamas said they believe the workplace should offer a time and a place to pump, while 87 percent responded that breastfeeding should be legal. This is heartening news as we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, which focuses this year on supporting the working mom who breastfeeds. While surveys like this point out stubborn places that need to be improved, they also showed that, slowly but surely, some strides are being made for all nursing women.
Don't forget to sign up to receive our free Parents Daily Baby newsletter!
Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow is a New York City-based writer and editor who traded in her Blackberry and Metro card for playdates and PB&J sandwiches—and the once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch her feisty, funny son grow up. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.
Photo of breastfeeding baby courtesy of Shutterstock