When it’s a viable option for the mother, breastfeeding is strongly recommended by healthcare experts. Breastmilk is a great source of nutrition for babies, providing fat, protein, vitamins, and antibodies, as well as boosting the baby’s immune system. Many healthcare professionals recommend that if possible, it’s ideal to exclusively breastfeed your baby for six months before introducing other foods.
Though it is natural, breastfeeding is not without its challenges. These obstacles can become a major source of anxiety or guilt for new mothers. If you find yourself in this situation, remember you are not alone and help is available. Doctors, midwives, and the lactation team at your local hospital can be a great source of information and training.
Here are a few of the top identified challenges that breastfeeding mothers face and some solutions:
1. Nipple Pain, Soreness, and Irritation
Pain is the top reason that breastfeeding mothers quit. If you’re experiencing pain during or after nursing — or both — it could stem from several causes, one of which is sore nipples. During the first few weeks of breastfeeding, mild soreness is normal as your baby and body get used to nursing. However, the pain should never be intense, nor should your nipples ever look damaged.
Babies nurse by pressing their mouths around the areola, not on the nipple itself. Poor latching, or when your baby can’t properly attach to your breast, is the main cause of pain. To remedy this, experiment with different things: try using a breastfeeding pillow, make sure your nipple is positioned correctly, and tilt your baby’s head back a little. If that doesn’t work, speak with a lactation specialist right away. Don’t try to force yourself to continue in pain, as this may only perpetuate the issue and cause frustration.
If your nipples become itchy, red, and swollen or there is a strong burning sensation while nursing, that’s a potential warning sign you and your baby may have contracted thrush, a type of yeast infection. Seek treatment immediately for both you and your baby to avoid passing it back and forth.
2. Sore Breasts
If your breast tissue is sore, swollen, and feels uncomfortable when touched or moved, your breasts may be too full; this is called engorgement and can happen anytime during the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Placing cool compresses on your breasts, using your hands to manually express milk for comfort, and supporting your breasts during feeding can ease the pain as your breasts adjust.
If there is a red, sore spot on your breast, you may have a plugged milk duct. This means milk isn’t draining properly from that area. Try massaging toward the nipple while nursing to clear it up; you can also try applying moist heat to the area. If neither treatment works or you start to develop a fever, see your doctor right away — untreated plugged ducts can lead to mastitis, an infection that requires antibiotic treatment.
3. Milk Problems
Another milk problem many women face is a strong milk-ejection reflex, also called a forceful letdown. If your baby sputters a lot or chokes when you begin feeding, your breast may be releasing too much milk at once. You can use your hand or fingers to slow down the flow of milk, or unlatch your baby and let the excess flow onto a cloth. You can also try a side-lying position for feeding.
More worrisome than too much milk is too little milk — new babies should be feeding 8-12 times every 24 hours. Your breasts should also feel softer after feeding. If these things aren’t happening or your baby isn’t gaining weight, speak with a doctor to assess the cause. There could be many reasons why you’re not producing milk, including:
- Not getting enough rest, water, or food
- Not breastfeeding often enough
- Poor latching
Your doctor will be able to evaluate you and your baby and offer targeted advice on how to increase your milk production, whether that’s recommending herbal supplements or changing your routine.
If you’re struggling with breastfeeding and feel like you want to give up, remember many women are facing the same challenges you are. Reach out to the Tri-City Lactation Support Services team to get the help you need today. For more info on your journey as a new mother, check out Tri-City’s Mother Baby eBook.