When Breastfeeding is a Struggle

Breastfeeding is natural, yes, but what happens if it doesn’t come naturally to you or your baby? You aren’t alone and there are solutions to the most common breastfeeding problems. Remember: Every mother and her baby have a unique breastfeeding relationship. Your journey doesn’t have to look or be like anyone else’s in order to be successful, rewarding, and healthy for both you and your baby. 

If latching is a struggle…

Nursing is a new skill for you and your baby, so be patient with your little one and with yourself. If you’re experiencing trouble shortly after birth, ask for help from the nurses or a lactation consultant. If you’re already home with your baby, seek out a breastfeeding counselor, lactation consultant or a support group, which can often be found through a hospital, pediatrician’s office, Breastfeeding USA or La Leche League. As you are positioning your baby, lay back with your baby on your chest, take deep breaths and consciously let your shoulders relax. Your baby can feel if you are tense; if you can stay relaxed, it will help your baby to do the same. Then, take your time. It can be tempting to try to hurry to latch a hungry baby. Keep your baby up close to the nipple and wait for your baby to fully open their mouth before latching. Speak softly or sing to your baby as they latch and nurse. Your heartbeat and your voice were the first sounds your child knew so don’t underestimate how powerful you are.

If medical complications arise…

Sometimes the unexpected happens, and mother and baby are separated or temporarily unable to breastfeed because of medical necessity. This doesn’t have to end your chance for breastfeeding. If you are going to be separated from your baby for a significant length of time shortly after birth, ask for a pump; early on, it’s vital to pump or hand express at least every two hours to signal to your body that it needs to make milk – even if the baby isn’t there to nurse immediately. You may not be able to pump much at first, but the consistent stimulation will help your milk to come in. Your expressed milk can be fed to baby using various techniques. If you’re able to be with your baby but unable to nurse, skin-to-skin contact has tremendous benefits and will help with your breastfeeding relationship in the long run.

If breastfeeding is painful…

Everyone’s body is different and everyone experiences the feeling of breastfeeding a little bit differently. Some moms worry because breastfeeding hurts when they’ve been told that it “shouldn’t” if they are doing it right. Even a perfect latch can, and often does, result in some sore nipples early on. This is temporary and the hormones that are naturally released while you’re breastfeeding will help with the pain. (Your body is truly amazing!) As your body adjusts, you can use expressed breast milk to moisturize and soothe sore skin in between feedings. If you still can’t find relief, have your baby’s latch evaluated by a lactation consult or speak with your doctor or midwife.

If family or friends aren't supportive…

Especially in the beginning, it is completely normal and healthy for babies to want to nurse very often. This means that if anyone visits for any length of time, odds are that they’re going to be around while the baby needs to eat. Let your comfort level and your baby’s needs dictate where you nurse them (with others present or alone in another room). Don’t make your baby wait to eat, as this will not only result in an unhappy little one but can also negatively affect your milk supply. If family members voice objections, be clear and polite, but unapologetic – you shouldn’t feel you must apologize for meeting your child’s needs in the most natural and healthy of ways. If someone hasn’t been around a breastfeeding mom, they may truly not understand the dynamic so this can also be an opportunity for you to gently explain the many reasons you are choosing to breastfeed.

If you’re worried about supply…

Many new mothers worry that their newborns aren’t getting enough milk when they nurse and the comforting truth is that babies aren’t supposed to get much milk at first. Colostrum, the early milk that a mother’s breasts produce after birth, is nutrient-dense and packed with the immunological support that newborns need. Whether or not your baby cries often, whether or not your breasts feel full, whether or not you can feel your milk “let down”– none of these are accurate indicators of milk supply. Baby's weight gain and the number of wet and dirty diapers are the most reliable indicators that your baby is getting all the milk that they need, so try not to overanalyze. The Breastfeeding Pocket Guide is a great visual guide to gauge whether a baby is breastfeeding well.

For more information about establishing and maintain a healthy breastfeeding relationship, check out the breastfeeding resources from Plumtree Baby.

Jennifer Stutzman, Freelance Writer

Disclaimer: All content provided is for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice. These statements are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease and no alterations in lifestyle should be taken solely on the contents of this website. Consult your physician on any topics regarding your health and pregnancy. Plumtree Baby, LLC does not assume any liability for the information contained herein, be it direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary or other damages.

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