Breastfeeding: How Your Family Can Help

By Stacy Whitman

As a vegetarian passionate about healthy eating, Kira Kim was determined to provide her firstborn, Soren, with the very best nutrition—which, of course, meant breastfeeding. But after a traumatic emergency C-section, Kim’s milk didn’t come in for three weeks and she was forced to supplement with formula. “I was completely crushed,” says Kim, a Boston native living in China. Fortunately, her husband came to her aid, renting her a hospital-grade breast pump, finding her a lactation consultant and offering words of encouragement. With his help, Kim was able to start breastfeeding exclusively when Soren was 6 weeks old—and now, eight months later, “we’re still going strong,” she says. “I wanted to quit so badly at times, and without my husband’s support, I probably would have,” Kim confesses.

Many first-time moms expect breastfeeding to come naturally—and for some, it does. But for others…well, it’s a little more complicated. From positioning the baby to getting the proper latch, there can be a lot to figure out—and not all mothers and newborns get it right from the get-go, sometimes leading to problems like sore nipples and low milk production. Heading back to work early and introducing bottles too soon can interfere with the process, too. And let’s face it: Around-the-clock nursing sessions can be exhausting for any new mom. Given those facts, it’s no wonder so many women give up after just a few weeks or months despite recommendations to stick with it for a year.

But that could be different, experts say, if more new dads learned about breastfeeding and did what they could to help out. “Studies show that mothers with helpful and supportive partners are more likely to be successful breastfeeding,” notes Wendy Fery, RN, IBCLC, an inpatient lactation consultant at Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside in Portland, Ore.

While breastfeeding can be challenging at first, it usually gets much easier once Mom and baby learn the ropes. Meanwhile, there are many incredible reasons to give it a shot, says Ruth A. Lawrence, MD, medical director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University of Rochester in New York. Breast milk is brimming with nutrients that are crucial for a baby’s brain development as well as antibodies that can guard him against allergies, ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and other diseases. Nursing moms get big health perks, too, including a lower risk for breast and ovarian cancers, and possibly osteoporosis, later in life. Since breastfeeding burns calories like crazy and shrinks the uterus, it also can help new mothers get their prepregnancy figures back faster. The longer a woman continues to breastfeed, the greater the benefits—although any amount of nursing is certainly better than none.