(CBS News) The World Health Organization and many other government organizations recommend that mothers breastfeed their children at the very least for the first six months of life. But, according to one Scottish study, most women believe that request is unrealistic.
In the study, published March 14 in BMJ Open, researchers conducted 220 interviews with 36 women, 26 partners, eight maternal mothers, one sister and two health professionals about breastfeeding habits. All the women but one, who had previously nursed a baby, said they planned on breastfeeding their babies.
Interviews were conducted at four week intervals from the month before the baby was born and when the baby turned 6-months-old, and the researchers found that many of the women said they felt pressured by medical professionals to breastfeed, and felt guilty for stopping earlier than six months. The mothers also bemoaned the lack of advice given by medical professionals about various issues, such as breast pumps, and the lack of help their family provided by their family.
"The way it's kind of promoted sometimes, it's a lovely bonding experience and when you come home, then you feel guilty yourself because you think, well I'm not having this bonding and lovely experience, I'm having, you know, a kind of hard sore experience," one of the mothers said three weeks after she began breastfeeding.
The researchers concluded that women needed more resources right after birth to help the women breastfeed, and need help from professionals when introducing solids three to four months after birth.
"The overarching theme was a clash between overt or covert infant feeding idealism and the reality experienced," the researchers wrote. "This is manifest as pivotal points where families perceive that the only solution that will restore family well-being is to stop breastfeeding or introduce solids. Immediate family well-being is the overriding goal rather than theoretical longer term health benefits."
The researchers added that there needs to be more realistic than idealistic goals for breastfeeding women, and more attention is needed to be paid to emotional issues associated with breastfeeding. For example, doctors should have an open conversation rather than a "checklist approach" when it comes to talking with new moms, to help them know that there is more than one way to properly take care of their child.
According to the CDC, a baby can survive on breast milk alone for the first six months after birth, and all other foods are unnecessary. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months. The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.
The AAP says that infants who are breastfed for that period of time have a 72 percent lower risk of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infections, a 64 percent reduced risk for nonspecific gastrointestinal tract infections, a 58 percent risk reduction for the intestinal infection necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants, and a 27 percent to 42 percent reduction in allergic diseases in breast-fed infants, among other findings.
Breastfeeding has also been linked to higher intelligence and a lower risk for obesity.
The Center for Disease Control reported that in the U.S., almost 15 percent of mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months, and 44.3 still breastfeed (in addition to providing other food) at six months. They hope to raise that number to 25.5 and 60.6 percent respectively by 2020.