Breastfeeding – it’s one of the most natural things in the world – and so it must be really easy. Right? Not always.
You might have been utterly sure that you would breastfeed your baby. You might have read all the books and attended NCT sessions about feeding your baby.
You might have been so sure that breastfeeding is absolutely the right choice for you. But then things didn’t go to plan and instead breastfeeding became a hugely stressful experience.
If you assumed that breastfeeding would just happen automatically, then it can be a real shock when it turns out to be harder than you thought.
If you struggle with breastfeeding you are NOT alone
For some mums (and babies) breastfeeding is a breeze and they take to it right away. But for many others it’s not that easy. It can take time, patience and support to get it established.
A study by The Baby Show in 2016 revealed that more than three quarters of new mums found breastfeeding a struggle.
In the study of just over 1000 mums, a massive 81% admitted that they found it challenging to breastfeed.
72% of mums sought help from a midwife or specialist.
So if you’re finding that breastfeeding is not as easy as you expected, then at least know that you are certainly not alone and not the first mama to feel like this. Don’t be afraid to seek help and support.
Here are some of the most common breastfeeding problems the new moms experience, along with some tips to help:
Breastfeeding Problem #1: How do I stop my nipples from hurting while breastfeeding?
Once your baby latches on correctly, breastfeeding should not be painful.
However it can take a few tries to get it right. In the meantime your nipples may become sore and cracked and each feed can be agony.
Cracked nipple treatment:
- Apply fresh breastmilk. Breastmilk has some antibacterial protection. Try hand expressing a few drops of your own milk at the end of each feed to massage on the nipples. Don’t do this if you are suffering from thrush, but otherwise this can be a good way to soothe the pain.
- Lanolin Cream. Many mothers swear by products, such as lanolin cream, to soothe and protect sore and cracked nipples. Apply a lanolin cream that is designed specifically for breastfeeding mothers. Gently rub it onto nipples after each feed and it can help the skin to heal.
- Avoid soap. Don’t use soap on your nipples as it can dry them out and make them sorer still. Instead rinse them off with warm water and pat them dry.
- Apply a warm compress. By dipping a flannel into warm water, draining and placing it on your breast, it can help soothe the pain.
- Dry your nipples after each feed. Make sure your nipples dry completely after each feed.
- Change nursing pads often. If you’re using breast pads, then choose those without plastic backings. Change them often so that your nipples are not left wet. Wetness can delay the skin’s healing.
- Wear the right bra. Wear a soft cotton bra which doesn’t irritate the nipples. Non-underwired bras work well when breastfeeding.
If your nipples are in agony every time you feed, then get help as soon as you can as there may be an underlying reason. It may be that your baby is still not latching correctly, or it could be a medical condition such as thrush, or that your baby has tongue tie.
La Leche advises that on-going nipple pain when breastfeeding may be caused by some of these anatomical problems, many of which are common:
- small mouth
- receding chin
- short frenulum
- high palate
- nipple confusion (between bottle teat and nipple)
- sucking problems
- baby retracting or improperly positioning their tongue during nursing
These issues may need to be looked at by a doctor and resolved so that breastfeeding is no longer painful.
Breastfeeding Problem #2: How do I know if baby is latched on properly?
Breastfeeding may look straightforward, however in practice it’s often not that easy.
Getting baby to latch correctly is the basis of successful breastfeeding and it can be difficult for mum and baby to get the latch right for a variety of reasons.
For first time mums who are trying to get the hang of what a good latch looks like, there are many clear diagrams in books about the correct way for baby to latch.
You can also see this helpful video which shows you how to help baby latch on correctly and what it can look like.
Get a midwife to watch your baby feeding
Getting the right support while you breastfeed can make a massive difference.
Support in the hospital
In hospital ask your midwife, or a lactation specialist to come to help you. They can show you the best way to ‘offer your breast’ to your baby.
They can also check the baby’s latch and your breastfeeding position. They can talk to you about how it feels and whether or not you need to make any adjustments.
Having an expert nearby as you feed can help you to feel more supported and confident in how you’re breastfeeding. And you can feel a lot less alone.
Support at home
At home do ask your midwife or health visitor about any breastfeeding issues.
They might be able to watch you feed and check whether or not it looks right. They can also answer any of your questions or concerns.
If they aren’t able to help, then there are plenty of other people who you can call on for help if you are struggling. Sometimes it may just be a close friend or family member who has successfully breastfed her own baby. They might be able to sit with you and help you find the best positions to try.
Alternatively you can contact one of the many lactation consultants out there who could offer help and advice. Remember to check their qualifications and their experience along with reviews from other mothers before making contact. This is so that you make sure you get someone qualified but who is also the right fit for you and what you need.
Sometimes you struggle with feeding late in the evening or in the middle or the night, when it’s too late to call on anyone to help.
Start4Life is a service that provides free breastfeeding help and support and you can contact a Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend ANY time of the day or night (even at 4 in the morning when you’re at your wit’s end).
Don’t suffer in silence
Remember NOT to struggle alone and to speak up and get the help and support that is out there for new mums.
Breastfeeding Problem #3: My boobs are agony and I feel awful.
How can I tell if I have mastitis while breastfeeding?
When you’re breastfeeding sometimes milk ducts can get blocked and this can lead to a small, quite sore lump in the breast.
If breasts stay engorged for too long or if they are not drained for some time, then this can lead to mastitis.
Mastitis is a condition, which causes the breast tissue to become painful, and inflamed. It’s usually caused by infection and if the symptoms persist you may need antibiotics.
It’s common in breastfeeding women, especially within the first three months. It can make you feel pretty terrible so it’s best to get advice and treatment from your GP as soon as possible.
According to the NHS, symptoms of mastitis include:
- A red, swollen area on your breast that can feel hot and painful to touch.
- A lump or area of hardness on your breast
- A burning pain, which is either continuous or only occurs when you breastfeed.
- Nipple discharge (which can be white or contain streaks of blood)
- Flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, feeling achy and feeling tired.
See a doctor for diagnosis and treatment
Mastitis can easily be treated if you see your doctor promptly for medication. Most women start to feel better very soon and make a complete recovery, so make sure you see a doctor sooner rather than later.
In the meantime some home remedies you can try in order to ease the pain are:
- Use warm and cool breastpads. There are a large selection of these on the market, some go in the microwave/freezer while others just take a click to start heating. They can provide relief from painful lumps in breasts.
- Rest and stay hydrated. Get as much rest as you can and drink lots of water to stay hydrated
- Take painkillers that are suitable for breastfeeding mothers. Check with your doctor first but over the counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can help reduce the pain and fever.
- Wear loose clothing. Wear loose clothing and soft cotton bras (or no bras), until the pain has subsided.
- Continue breastfeeding. If you can continue breastfeeding it won’t harm your baby and it can help you improve your symptoms. It may also help to feed more frequently and to express milk after and between feeds.
Breastfeeding Problem #4: I’m worried that my milk supply is low.
This is a really common worry for new mums.
If only boobs were transparent so you could see how much your baby was guzzling.
Here is a checklist to see if your baby is feeding well:
- Your baby starts a feed with a few rapid sucks and then settles into a rhythm of long sucks with swallows and pauses.
- Your baby’s cheeks are round and not hollow when feeding.
- You can see milk in the corners of their mouth while they are feeding.
- They are gulping/swallowing.
- They stay calm and relaxed during feeds and come off the breast on their own at the end of feeds.
- Your breasts feel softer after a feed.
- Your nipples look the same after a feed and are not flattened or pinched or white in colour.
- Your baby settles for long sleeps after a feed.
- Your baby is not crying constantly and unable to settle.
- Your baby is putting on weight steadily after the first two weeks.
- Your baby has plenty of wet and soiled nappies.
If you’re concerned about any of the above ask your midwife, health visitor or GP and get reassurance as well as any additional support you feel you need.
Feed on demand
When you begin to breastfeed, let baby feed whenever he or she wants to.
Offer both breasts at each feed and alternate which one you start with.
One way to remember which breast you last offered is to pop a paper clip on the cup of your bra. You can then start with the other one at the next feed.
Your body usually takes cues from your baby’s feeding patterns and adjusts the milk supply to match baby’s demand.
If baby continues to cry after breastfeeding, then it may mean that they need more milk and you might want to supplement with formula to make sure baby is getting enough nutrition.
If you’re worried about not giving your baby enough milk, always discuss it with your midwife or health visitor and ask about ways you can boost your supply.
Some ways this can be done are by expressing milk using a pump, or having some breastfeeds closer together in order to boost supply.
Always trust your instincts if you feel your baby is not getting enough food. And know that it’s really OK to supplement with formula.
Fed is always best and formula can always be given alongside your breastmilk so that baby gets the benefits from both.
Breastfeeding Problem #5: How do I stop my baby falling asleep while breastfeeding?
It’s great when your baby is happy and content during a feed but not so great when they are so cosy that they keep falling asleep before they have finished.
When this happens it can be frustrating as babies only sleep for a short time such as about 20 minutes.
They then wake up and take up where they left off and demand another feed.
Before you know it one feed blends into another and this continuous mid-feed snoozing is a surefire way to exhaustion for new mums.
What to do if your baby falls asleep while breastfeeding:
- Start a wake-eat-play cycle. Try to feed your baby as soon as they wake up so that they are alert and have more chance of finishing a feed. It’s good to try to work towards a general wake-eat-play-sleep cycle where they wake, feed and then have a little play before drifting off to sleep again.
- Rub their cheek. If baby starts drifting off during a feed, gently rub his cheek to keep him alert.
- Give them a little burp. Sit him up and burp him if you notice he is becoming drowsy. The jostling around will help keep him awake long enough to finish.
- Change their nappy. If you’re really struggling to keep baby awake, you can stop the feed and change their nappy or clothes (or both). The commotion should wake them up completely. This means that you can pick up where you left off and finish the feed before they settle for a (hopefully longer) sleep.
I feel like a failure because I can’t breastfeed properly
Breastfeeding is a brand new skill for both you and your baby and it can take time and practice, and sometimes a lot of help and support, to get it right.
In any other walk of life, you would wait for a time when you were well rested and relaxed before taking up a new skill or challenge. New mamas don’t get this luxury.
You have to start your breastfeeding journey after you have been through the exhaustion of labour and at a time when you have just been catapulted into a whole new world of parenting.
You’re probably feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. So, be kind to yourself.
Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not working
Breastfeeding is hard. It ‘s harder still because all you want to do is feed your baby, soothe his cries and enjoy your first few days as a new mother.
If you can’t seem to get the hang of it, it can be really stressful and make you feel miserable. Lack of sleep and the flood of hormones can make you feel wobblier still.
It’s OK to cry and to talk about your feelings. It’s also more than OK to ask for help with breastfeeding and make sure you don’t feel like you’re struggling alone.
If, despite the help, breastfeeding just isn’t working out and your baby is still crying (and both of you are exhausted) then give your baby formula.
You might give them a bottle and then try again with breastfeeding.
You might start mixed feeding, using a combination of both.
You might decide that bottle-feeding is the best thing for you AND your baby and quitting breastfeeding may be the best thing you do.
Whatever you choose, don’t feel guilty and don’t feel that you have failed at anything.
A fed baby is a happy baby and the best thing you can give them is your love.