Beyond the lack of sleep that you're far from used to, breastfeeding is often one of the most challenging parts of being a new mom. Images of breastfeeding moms often make it look like a peaceful experience that allows for a special bonding between mom and baby. And it certainly can be that! But initially, the process can be overwhelming. Moms need to know that this is normal and that they aren't doing anything wrong. Even moms that have a good experience from the get-go can find the process to become a chore after days on end of countless round-the-clock breastfeeding sessions.
Even though the act of breastfeeding is innate for your little one, it doesn't mean that it comes easily. This is why many moms understandably turn to formula bottle-feeding or decide to exclusively pump instead. But there are also moms who want to work through the challenges to make breastfeeding with their baby work. For most moms, if you can get through those initial weeks, the process becomes much easier and one you look forward to.
Overcoming these challenging steps will help you take your breastfeeding journey for as long as you want it to go.
1. The Latch
Right out of the womb, your baby will be ready to eat. And your milk-producing hormones are immediately ready to work. In fact, your precious newborn can even instinctively "breast crawl" to find your nipple. It's all pretty amazing!
The World Health Organization recommends that babies breastfeed within the first hour so they can receive the benefits of colostrum (the initial breast fluid released before breastmilk is released) right away.
In order for this to happen, your baby has to latch on. With the instinctive nature of your baby to breastfeed, you'd think this would all be pretty straightforward. And sometimes you might think you have your baby latched on well when suddenly your cracked and tortured nipples tell a different story.
Firstly, I strongly recommend taking the opportunity to work with the on-site lactation consultant before you leave the hospital after birth. One will probably come and see you, but ask early on if it hasn't been mentioned to you.
Beyond that, these steps can help you get your baby latched on properly:
- Use your nipple to tickle your baby's lips. This will help them know that it's time to eat so they open their mouths wide.
- Hold your breast over the nipple and aim it towards your baby's upper lip.
- Aim your baby's lower lip away from the base of the nipple. Once he is beginning to latch, gently pull their chin down a little bit to help with this. Both of your baby's lips should now be turned away from your breast - making him look like a little fishy.
This should not hurt! If it does, break your baby's latch with your finger and try again. Have the nurse or lactation consultant watch you do this. They will be a huge help in letting you know if your baby's mouth is in the right position for a perfectly latched feed.
2. Pain and Engorgement
Sore or cracked nipples, engorgement, plugged ducts/mastitis, and fungal infections all fall in this category. Here is a little information about each as well as tips to combat these difficult and uncomfortable issues that are all too common when it comes to breastfeeding.
Sore and Cracked Nipples This is a common ailment when just starting to breastfeed. Your nipples, after all, are not accustomed to a baby being attached to them. Some soreness is par for the course. But a bad latch will just make your nipples worse and sometimes to the point of cracking and bleeding. This is why getting the latch is so important. If you get home and have this issue, be sure to call a lactation consultant right away. She will be able to help you correct the problem at the source. Additionally, using a warm salt-water rinse and then applying lanolin to the nipple afterward will bring a lot of comfort.
Engorgement Initially when you breastfeed, your baby will only be taking in colostrum. Within a few days, your "milk will come in." Your breasts will be full, firm and round - and this is what you want! What happens sometimes, though, is that your baby doesn't empty your breast. This is when uncomfortable engorgement can happen - especially if this is going on repeatedly. To help this, we recommend moist heat as well as breast massage. Additionally, you'll want to make sure your baby is feeding a minimum of 8 times in 24 hours - and don't be afraid to add a couple extra in to help get more milk out of your breasts. Hand expressing or pumping some of the excess milk will also help a lot!
Plugged Ducts and Mastitis A clogged milk duct can be painful. This is when milk gets backed up in one area of the breast and you'll notice a hard, tender swelling. You'll likely notice redness and there will often be a white spot on your nipple at the top of the plugged duct. This can happen when breasts are not being fully drained. Moist heat can loosen the plug, but ultimately, you'll likely need to nurse more from that breast to unplug it. Holding your baby to nurse differently than they usually do often does the trick. And once it unplugs, you'll feel immediate relief!
Mastitis can result if the plugged duct is not taken care of quickly. The tell-tale sign is a fast developing fever and flu-like symptoms. You need to reach out to your doctor immediately if you have these mastitis symptoms.
Fungal Infections Thrush is a yeast infection that can develop on the breast. Burning nipple pain and flaky, shiny skin around the nipple are the most obvious signs. Your baby may also get it - noted by patches of white on their cheeks and tongue. If you notice these symptoms on you or your baby, you'll need to contact your doctor right away so that breastfeeding can continue and you both can get relief. You will likely receive medication. Beyond that, keeping your nipples clean and dry as well as eating a diet low in sugar and refined carbs will help prevent the return of another infection.
3. Low Milk Supply and Anxiety Over if Your Baby is Getting Enough
It is such a common concern of moms to wonder if they're giving their baby enough breastmilk. I think the reason so many moms have anxiety over this is because you just can't see how much your baby is drinking when they breastfeed. On top of that, when your baby is nursing so often, it makes you wonder why they're getting so hungry so often. Could it be that my milk supply is low, you wonder?
Chances are that your milk supply isn't actually low. Your baby's frequent need to breastfeed is very normal and doesn't usually signify an issue with your breastmilk supply. A lack of let-down sensation and softer breasts are also not generally a cause for concern. Often it's just human nature for a mom to worry that she's giving her baby all the nutrition she needs to thrive.
This is why taking your baby to all of her regular doctor appointments is so important. Regular weigh-ins are the biggest help in determining if your baby is getting enough milk. If their growth is on track, then that means your milk supply is as it should be!
If it is determined that your baby needs to gain more weight, discontinuing breastfeeding isn't usually necessary. Working with your doctor or a lactation consultant during this time will be important in your breastfeeding success as well as being sure your baby is getting enough milk.
Feeding on demand, offering both breasts during every feeding, and not switching between breast and bottle are some of the easiest ways to combat this issue.
4. The "Nursing Strike"
The issues listed above are most common in the earliest weeks and months of breastfeeding. Once well established, breastfeeding usually moves forward without a hitch. (Though changes to your routine like going back to work, etc. can affect milk supply.)
But as your baby becomes more aware of the world around him, he may suddenly seem disinterested in breastfeeding. On your end, it may look like a refusal to nurse. You might wonder if this is your baby's way of showing that it's time to wean. But this isn't usually the case.
These instances are referred to as "nursing strikes" and are usually temporary. Sometimes things like sore gums from teething or an illness may make your baby react this way. This means they'll be back to breastfeeding as normal as soon as they feel better.
Other times, your baby is simply distracted and needs to be redirected in order to latch and complete a feed. These are the best tips to relax and calm your baby so they can focus to complete a breastfeeding session:
- Swaddle your baby or place them in their sleep sack. Even if you haven't had to do this previously for breastfeeding, you might need to now. Utilizing a comforting sleep sack like this weighted one from Dreamland Baby will help your baby to naturally relax.
- Go to a quiet, distraction-free zone. It's normal for your baby to want to interact with their new surroundings. By making feeding time as boring as possible, your baby will be able to get their meal in much more easily.
- Cover your baby with a shawl if you can't find a quiet, dim place to nurse. This will take your baby's eyes away from the excitement around him so he can focus on the task at hand.