The Extra Challenge of Breastfeeding

Woman nurses young baby while toddler smiles at camera

Breastfeeding a newborn is a full-time job: 

  • 8 to 12 nursing sessions per day. 
  • 15 to 45 minutes each session. 
  • All day and all night. 

That’s if everything is going well and if you’re with your baby all the time. If you’re separated, then you need to pump and store milk. If you’re struggling with milk production, then you may need to pump after each nursing session and then feed the expressed milk to your baby (triple feeding). 

“It’s really hard to explain to someone what breastfeeding is like since the experience for each person is different,” says Nicole Marshall, M.D., perinatologist at the OHSU Center for Women’s Health. “And it’s so hard to prepare during pregnancy because the baby isn’t there yet. It’s like trying to learn to ride a bike without a bike.”

Needless to say, breastfeeding parents need a lot of support. They need access to education and help from their medical provider or lactation experts exactly when they need it. A newborn baby can’t wait.

“Breastfeeding is a partnership between parent and baby. Each of them need tools to be successful,” Dr. Marshall says. “For some pairs, breastfeeding works well without much help but for others, a whole village of support may still not mean it goes exactly how the parent wants it to.” 

At OHSU, we work with breastfeeding parents to help them meet their goals. But we know that medical support alone is not enough. Breastfeeding parents also need their partners, families, friends and employers all to be on board.

For many women, going back to work and getting support from their employer is a daunting challenge. Dr. Marshall’s advice? Know the law, talk to your employer about what you need, and be prepared to advocate for yourself. 

“More and more employers in Oregon see the value of supporting breastfeeding parents,” says Dr. Marshall. “Breastfed babies are sick less often, so their parents need fewer sick days.” And that’s just one benefit to employers.