"Breast is best." The concept is endorsed by parents and infant nutrition experts alike. And with good reason. The American Academy of Pediatrics "strongly encourages breast-feeding for virtually all infants as the exclusive feeding for the first six months of life, continuing with complementary foods for at least the first year of life. Thereafter, breast-feeding should continue for as long as mutually desired by mother and child."
According to recent figures, 50 percent of moms in the United States nurse their newborns. But in spite of the AAP's recommendation, by the time infants in our country reach 6 months, only 22 percent are still breast-fed. What happens?
For some moms, breast-feeding is more of a struggle than a joy. I know: my first baby was so uninterested in breast-feeding she was happy to suck my nose or any other flap of skin that happened to be handy. By the time Christy was 4 months old, bottle feeding was a welcome option.
When I conducted my doctoral dissertation research on breast-feeding, I found support, encouragement and information within the medical community practically nonexistent for nursing moms. Because breast-feeding often falls between the cracks of obstetrics and pediatrics, many nursing mothers don't know where to turn with questions and concerns. If nursing is difficult, it's often easier to simply throw in the towel than search for help.
Cultural attitudes also factor into a mother's decision to stop nursing before her child is 12 months old. Researchers tell us the worldwide average for weaning a child is 4.2 years. Yet in our society, some would consider nursing a preschooler to be inappropriate, if not vulgar.1