Yes, breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby. That’s probably why it’s surprising to many new moms that breastfeeding is a skill that must be learned. For many moms and babies, it takes time and patience to get into the swing of breastfeeding. And often, when mothers face hiccups in their breastfeeding journeys, they don’t know where to turn for help.
Most problems with breastfeeding are short-lived and can be remedied with the right information and guidance from a knowledgeable support person. Here are a few of the most common nursing struggles, along with a possible solutions to help you move past the problems.
Problem #1: Nipple pain
Nipple soreness is normal in the first few days of breastfeeding, but if the skin around the nipple is broken or the pain is severe, this could indicate an issue with the way the baby is nursing. The most common cause of nipple pain is a shallow latch, which simply means that the baby doesn’t have enough of the nipple in the mouth.
Solution: A good, deep latch has most of the areola (the colored area around the nipple) in the mouth, and most of the pressure from baby’s tongue and gums is around the nipple, rather than the sensitive area at the center of the nipple. Check Baby’s latch, and make corrections if necessary.
Problem #2: Engorgement
In the first few days after delivery, your breast milk will come in and replace the colostrum, the thick, sticky yellow fluid that’s present at delivery. Once this happens, you might experience engorgement—hard, sore, hot, swollen breasts full of milk—as your body adjusts to making the right amount of milk to satisfy your baby’s hunger. It can be uncomfortable for the mother and can cause the baby to have more difficulty nursing, oftentimes resulting in a shallow latch.
Solution: Pump or hand express a little milk to relieve the pressure and soften the breast before letting baby nurse to assure a proper latch. And rest assured, if your baby is feeding frequently, engorgement typically resolves itself within 48 hours.
Problem #3: Low milk supply
Milk supply is a common worry for breastfeeding mothers. That’s because it’s difficult to tell whether your baby is getting enough to eat when you can’t actually see how much is being consumed.
Solution: Track the intake and outtake to ensure your baby is getting enough to eat. Most newborns feed eight to 12 times within 24 hours and should be producing around six wet diapers each day. Breastfed babies produce stool in various amounts and frequency, but it should appear seedy and mustard yellow in color. Ideally, your baby should return to his or her birth weight by 10 days of age.
If your doctor seems concerned about your baby’s weight gain, discuss whether the IV fluids you were given during labor could have affected the baby’s birth weight. Nurse your baby as often as possible to stimulate more milk production; pumping is not an efficient way to stimulate your supply.
Problem #4: Lack of information
It’s common for mothers to have questions and doubts concerning nursing. It’s also normal to experience nipple pain, engorgement and changes in feeding patterns. But because some mothers don’t know what’s normal, doubts and anxieties build up to make the entire process more stressful than it needs to be.
Solution: It’s important to understand that breastfeeding isn’t easy in the beginning. The best thing you can do is educate yourself ahead of time. Take a breastfeeding class with your partner, visit your hospital lactation consultant or WIC peer counselor, and read informational books or websites. You should also put together a great support system for yourself, whether that includes friends, family, co-workers, a local hospital or a La Leche League International support group.