Breastfeeding is hard. It is also one of the most beautiful bonding experiences you will have with your child. You cannot prepare for every challenge with breastfeeding, but you can certainly make your experience less stressful if you are prepared for wins and losses associated with this time.
Breastfeeding is the oldest way to feed babies. Many people claim that breastfeeding is best, and several studies indicate that breastmilk is certainly more beneficial to babies than formula. However, fed is best, whether you breastfeed or formula feed your child. Breastmilk has many vitamins and nutrients essential to child development, but formula has come a long way in providing necessary nutrition for your child. Being prepared for all of the difficulties will help you make the best choices for your child.
Challenges with Breastfeeding
Babies and mothers sometimes have difficulty with breastfeeding. These challenges can often be overcome, but you will need to be able to recognize them and make the necessary changes.
Sometimes children who are premature or small will have trouble latching. They often have small mouths and cannot achieve a good seal on the breast. Sometimes, the reason for this is that they cannot “grip” the nipple well. Many children learn quickly, but some need additional interventions.
Large, flat, or inverted nipples can be difficult for babies to latch onto the breast. Many women deal with this, and for some, continuing to breastfeed will help your baby learn to navigate, but for some women, more than practice will be necessary to improve feeding times.
Slow Milk Arrival
Sometimes it can feel like forever before your milk fully arrives. You might feel as though you will not be able to feed your baby enough. However, increasing the time at the breast can sometimes be helpful. Hungry babies feed more. The more they feed—the more you will produce to satisfy them. It just takes time.
When you are first breastfeeding your child, you will often notice that you feel pain during feedings. However, this can be normal. Breastfeeding takes a toll on your body and can be uncomfortable. If the pain is sharp, includes excessive bleeding, or fevered, you need to immediately contact your physician or lactation consultant.
Uncomfortable moms and babies make for less enjoyable breastfeeding sessions. Learning to hold your baby so that you are both comfortable and relaxed can improve the quality of your feeding time.
Too Much Milk
Sometimes you feel that you could feed every baby at the hospital with your milk. You can teach your body to produce less milk, but in the meantime, store and freeze excess milk if you are incapacitated at some time. Illnesses can sometimes make breastfeeding more challenging, and having a backup plan is always a great idea. Strong let-down reflex can also be an issue with this challenge. If you have that trouble, sometimes letting excess milk spray into a bottle, towel, or cloth can relieve the pressure.
One problem that sometimes accompanies excess milk and strong let-down is engorgement. This issue results in hardened breasts due to the increased supply. It commonly happens within the first week after childbirth.
Plugged Ducts, Mastitis, and other Infections
Plugged ducts can happen when too much milk is waiting to be expressed. It can feel like a lump and might be painful. If you have pain and fever with the lump, you might actually have mastitis. This is common, but you need to see your doctor if you suspect an infection. Yeast infections are also common. They can come from milk being left behind on the nipple or leaking into your bra. Change clothes often if this is a problem to minimize the risk.
There are hundreds of solutions to the above problems. We have mentioned a few, but I would like to go into more detail so that if you are faced with one of these problems, you will have a plan in place to solve them.
Get a Lactation Consultant
When you are in the hospital or birthing center, there is often a lactation consultant on hand to help you face the challenges ahead. Many of these consultants also offer services after you leave the hospital. Talk to your insurance provider as well to see if they cover services beyond your hospital stay.
Breast Shells and Nipple Shields
Sometimes when your nipples are flat or inverted, shells can help them learn to “stand out” so that your baby may latch more completely. A nipple shield can also help with enlarged nipples or sore nipples. The shield can protect your nipple as the baby learns to latch on the end. If your nipples are large, the shield will provide a smaller tip. These items should be obtained or recommended by your physician or lactation consultant. You can purchase them yourself, but you will want to make sure that the size or shape is appropriate for your baby and challenges. Getting them from the consultant or physician’s office may also ensure that your health plan covers them.
A breast pump can also help with many different issues from above. Clogged ducts, engorged breasts, powerful let-down, and underproductive breasts can all benefit from a breast pump. The more you pump or feed, the more milk you will produce. Since this is the case, overactive milk ducts should not be pumped unless necessary. You can pump after feeding to rid your breasts of excess milk if you need to do so. This milk can often be frozen and stored for quite some time. Recommendations on storage change with new scientific evidence, so be sure to check with your consultant for the most up-to-date information.
Before beginning this section, I want to clarify that you should not take any medication or supplements without your doctor’s approval. However, there are things you can do to increase your milk supply. There are dozens of recipes available on the web for lactation cookies, drinks, and meals. These often contain fenugreek, brewer’s yeast, oats, and other natural ingredients. Some of these ingredients can be expensive, so you will want to test them in small quantities at first. The recipes often turn out to be delicious, though.
Sometimes nipple creams will help repair dry, cracked, or sore nipples. These creams are usually available at any baby supply retailer and will not harm the baby if the residue is swallowed. They are often made from lanolin and provide soothing relief.
Feed Your Baby More Often
If you are concerned about supply or milk production, sometimes latching more often will help your milk come in a little faster. This can also help during growth spurts. Your body will know what to do, but it sometimes needs a nudge in the right direction.
Hold Off on the bottle
If possible, wait to offer your baby a bottle. If he or she struggles with latching onto the breast, offering the bottle can make it more challenging. The bottle is much easier, and your baby may become less willing to put in the work to breastfeed.
Supplement with Formula
When you have a low supply and the above are not working, you can supplement with formula. Be sure to work with your lactation consultant before giving up, though. You want to choose the formula that will work best for your baby. Do not feel bad if you have to do this, though. You must do what is best for your baby, and feeding them formula is better than them lacking what they need.
Visit Your Doctor
Your physician must treat infections. Inform your doctor if you are afraid that you have contracted an infection. You can be prescribed medications, or your doctor can help you decide what treatments are best for your situation.
Sometimes, it is best if you hand express your milk. Rather than using a breast pump, you can massage your own breast to relieve pressure from engorgement, clogged ducts, or overproduction. You can express into a bottle or freezer-safe bag if you want to preserve the excess milk.
Women who produce too much milk often choose to donate excess milk. There are milk banks worldwide that help mothers provide human breastmilk to their children when they are struggling. If you are struggling, look for one of these banks. Likewise, if you are overproducing, you might donate there as well.
There are thousands of things you can do to improve your breastfeeding sessions with your baby. However, the most important thing you can do is take a deep breath and concentrate on what you need. Unnecessary stress will not improve any of the above issues. Take your time and enjoy the bonding time. Even if you supplement, you can talk to your baby, sing to them, or read to them during these times. Breastfeeding can be challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding.