The challenges of breast-feeding can surprise even moms who’ve been to this party before. But with the right approach, you’ll find that coping with most feeding concerns is much easier than sterilizing bottles!
These six tips will help you overcome common obstacles faced by nursing moms.
1. Get attached to latching
Women frequently experience nipple tenderness in the early weeks of breast-feeding. If nursing goes beyond just discomfort, though, there could be a problem, such as thrush, poor latch or a physiological issue. Working with a lactation consultant or other breast-feeding support service will help ensure that baby gets enough milk and mom doesn’t suffer nipple trauma.
“If there is any discomfort beyond 30–60 seconds, it is not right,” says Jennifer Enich, a lactation consultant at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “If the nipple hurts or looks damaged or misshapen after nursing, likely something is not right. There is usually a solution to pain that is way better than forgoing all the beauty that can come with nursing our babies.”
Bottom line: If it hurts, get some help!
2. Nip biting in the bud
Many mothers assume that once a baby has teeth, the nursing relationship is over. In reality, a baby cannot bite while breast-feeding because her tongue gets in the way of her teeth. Sometimes babies bite before or after nursing, but usually these episodes are fleeting.
Betty Fitzsimmons, a leader at La Leche League of Tacoma, who breast-fed her 11 children, offers this great tip: “Keep your little finger ready to go into the corner of the baby’s mouth to stop the bite when you feel it coming on. Biting does not have to be the end of a good nursing relationship.”
3. Respect the laws of supply and demand
It’s common to worry that your baby isn’t getting enough milk. Fret not: “Primary insufficiency is exceptionally rare,” says Barbara Orcutt, R.N., M.N., a lactation consultant at Beyond Birth Seattle. “Delayed lactation is more common.” This delay may be caused by separation of baby and mother, poor assistance for first feeds, interruption of the mother while she is trying to feed, introduction of formula or pumping exclusively instead of nursing at the breast.
Because breast-feeding is a supply-and-demand system, the more you nurse, the more milk you make. “Newborns’ bellies are so tiny and breast milk is so easily digested, they need to feed at least 8 to 16 times every 24 hours,” says lactation consultant Emily Healy of Seattle Breastfeeding Medicine. “The first step to getting milk supply back on track is skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby.” This contact stimulates the hormones that help produce milk.
In rare cases when the milk supply is truly insufficient, the cause may be related to physical concerns, such as poor latch or hormone imbalances. In more extreme cases, prescription medications can help induce lactation.
Sometimes the opposite is true and milk comes in abundantly, leading to uncomfortable engorgement. Pumping can help, but again: Remember the rules of supply and demand. If you pump too often, you will make more than your baby needs, which can exacerbate engorgement.
So go gentle on the pump and soothe the pressure by alternating cold packs and warm showers. You can also try whole chilled cabbage leaves in your bra. Yes, you’ll smell a little like salad, but it really works.
4. Keep the milk flowing
To avoid plugged milk ducts, feed your baby often enough to empty the breasts regularly. If a plugged duct does happen, turn to massage, warm packs and changing your nursing position to remove milk from all areas of the breast.
Plugged ducts may also lead to mastitis, an infection in the breast. Mastitis is more common in mothers who are stressed. Breast-feeding is a lot of work for the body, and moms deserve good nutrition and some extra rest (ah, that elusive prize) when they’re doing it.
“A day in bed with baby is a perfect prescription for mastitis,” says Raissa Larson, also a leader at La Leche League of Tacoma. A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatories or antibiotics as well.
5. Get by with a little help from your friends — and a few professionals
Research tells us that social support encourages breast-feeding success. There are cases in which breast-feeding simply doesn’t work out, but that’s very rare.
North Seattle mom Melanie Burch remembers struggling through thrush and mastitis with all three of her children. “What kept me going was the resolve that I was just going to do it,” she says, and she also had incredible support from her family and community. Breast-feeding trouble may be as much an emotional issue as a physiological one, and nursing mothers need ample encouragement to move past it.
“It’s important to remember that it’s a process,” says Enich, who nursed her own three children and has supported countless families, and sometimes it takes time for everything to fall into place. “Each time a woman breast-feeds, both the mother and the baby have to learn how to breast-feed together,” Enich says. “It’s a unique situation each time.”
6. Don’t sweat the mixed messages
Perhaps most surprising to new mothers is the onslaught of breast-feeding advice; figuring out what to heed and what to ignore is part science, part art. Being on the receiving end of wildly different and even conflicting guidance is a common experience for nursing moms. All you need to do is keep trying new approaches until you find one that works, and don’t forget to tap into your maternal instincts — you know yourself and your baby better than anyone else does.
Tera Schreiber experienced a handful of common obstacles while nursing her children, and she is grateful for the amazing community of lactation support in the Puget Sound area.