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The Globe and Mail

Is there too much pressure on moms to nurse exclusively?

Yes, breast is best. But while some new moms take to nursing like La Leche League poster girls, others struggle to breastfeed their babies exclusively for the prescribed first six months. Maybe baby won't latch or was premature. Perhaps mom isn't a colostrum-producing machine or has to return to the work force.

Want to push an exhausted new mom past her last nerve? Ask her if she's experienced the so-called "letdown," the nirvana promised by lactation consultants if women just stick with nursing for the half-year prescribed by the World Health Organization.

To the relief of those whose mammaries have reached their limits, a new study published in the British Medical Journal's Open asserts that the exclusive six-month time frame is "unrealistic and unachievable" by many families.

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Describing the frustration as a "mismatch between idealism and realism," researchers from the University of Aberdeen and the University of Stirling wrote "unanimously, families would prefer to balance away from antenatal theory toward more help immediately after birth and at three to four months, when solids are being introduced."

While the La Leche League does provide advice for those wanting to supplement with formula, the breastfeeding advocacy group cautions that it can "sensitize some babies to milk allergies or intolerance" and "cause changes in the frequency, odour and consistency of baby's stool, as well as affect how the baby settles after a feed."

While exhausted new mothers may be relieved that it doesn't have to be all or nothing, the study's findings – based on 220 interviews with women, 26 partners, eight of the women's mothers, one sister and two health professionals – are already being criticized online. "Three of the four authors of the article receive funding from the baby food industry, but such potential conflict of interest was not declared in the article," an unnamed staffer writes on, who also took issue with the methodology used.

Do we put too much pressure on women to nurse exclusively for the recommended six months? Have you felt guilty about supplementing with formula?

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