Leading health organisations such as the World Health Organization recommend babies are exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.
After the first six months, breastfeeding can continue alongside suitable complementary foods for two years and beyond.
The reason leading health organisations make this recommendation is because breastfeeding is so important from a public health perspective.
4 Reasons Why Mothers Stop Breastfeeding Early
Unfortunately, despite these well known recommendations, many mothers don't breastfeed at all or stop early. This can be due to many obstacles which can make breastfeeding more challenging.
A recent systematic review looked at different factors which influence breastfeeding mothers to stop breastfeeding before their baby reaches six months of age.
Here are four reasons the review found why mothers stop breastfeeding early.
#1: Young Maternal Age
There are certain issues young mothers face which may increase the likelihood of early breastfeeding cessation. For example:
- The risks of formula feeding may not be clearly understood, due to breastfeeding not being a cultural norm in many societies.
- The influential role social support network plays in providing breastfeeding information and support to young mothers. If these people aren't knowledgeable about breastfeeding, then the breastfeeding support they provide may be less than optimal.
- The lack of consistent and respectful breastfeeding support provided. This can be off-putting for some new mothers.
- The lack of clear and concise breastfeeding information given early in pregnancy. Also, since all new mothers face similar breastfeeding challenges, the information doesn’t have to be ‘young-mum’ specific as it can be quite demeaning for some young mothers.
#2: Returning To Work Within 12 Weeks Postpartum
Returning to work and continuing to breastfeed can be challenging.
In Australia, mothers who return to work before their baby is six months old are less likely to be breastfeeding at six months than mothers who are not employed.
In 2010, the Australian Infant Feeding Survey found while 60% of all babies were breastfed at age six months, only 52% were breastfed if the mother was employed at any time since the birth of the child.
Likewise, 42% of all 7-12 month olds were breastfed, but only 34% were breastfed if the mother was employed.
However, it’s possible to return to work and continue to breastfeed. Read more in Returning To Work And Breastfeeding – 8 Tips To Help.
#3: Giving Birth By C-Section
Although there can be some early challenges from a breastfeeding perspective after having a c-section (eg a possible delay in milk coming in), it’s important to note that there are many mothers who have a c-section and end up successfully breastfeeding.
For further information about breastfeeding after a c-section you can read this article Does A C-section Affect Breastfeeding – 7 Things To Know.
#4: Inadequate Milk Supply
The systematic review was unable to determine how many of the mothers had a true primary low milk supply, low supply because of poor breastfeeding management, or a perceived low milk supply. For more information on low milk supply, check out Do Low Milk Supply Issues Run In Families?
However, it’s not surprising some mothers with any of these possibilities had an increased risk of early breastfeeding cessation, particularly without optimal breastfeeding support.
Mothers with a true primary low milk supply may still be able to breastfeed. For example, if a mother has insufficient glandular tissue, she can make the most of any supply she does have with the use of a breastfeeding supplementer.
For mothers with a low milk supply due to poor breastfeeding management, there are things they can do to increase it such as removing milk from their breasts well and often, and possibly considering a galactagogue.
Knowing the reasons why mothers may stop breastfeeding early can help pregnant women be prepared with the knowledge about how to overcome possible breastfeeding challenges. There are many things that need to be done to enable more mothers to reach their breastfeeding goals.