When you first try to get your baby to latch, usually shortly after birth, you might discover that delivering your baby wasn’t the toughest part of your day. For some moms, bad latches, tongue-ties, inverted nipples, uncooperative milk supplies, and extreme fatigue can make the first few weeks of breastfeeding incredibly stressful.
Even the most informed new moms can experience a breastfeeding learning curve. Many moms say that if you can survive the first six weeks of breastfeeding, your body will adjust, and nursing will become significantly less difficult. For other moms, it’s a smooth ride from the outset. For still others, it takes a couple months. Take heart that whatever the timeline, for most moms, it does get better. And no matter what you’re experiencing, there is support available. We hope this list of common breastfeeding challenges, and ways to address them, will help you on your breastfeeding journey.
“My Nipples Hurt!”
Make sure your baby is latching correctly. You may be able to meet with a lactation consultant at the hospital. This consultant can help you and your baby learn how to get a good latch. After the initial adjustment period, if you are still experiencing pain during breastfeeding, go back to the basics of proper latching and positioning. If your pain continues, reach out to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to further evaluate your situation. A lactation support group can also be incredibly helpful. For some tips on getting a good latch, here's a helpful infographic:
“My Boobs Hurt!”
Yes, your breasts will be sensitive in the first few days and weeks postpartum, likely due to engorgement, which often occurs when your milk comes in. Wear nursing bras or tanks that are soft, supportive, and easy to maneuver. Not sure how to find the perfect fit? Check out Nursing Bras 101. Remember that in those initial postpartum weeks, your cup size may change, so always read the fit guides before purchasing.
“My Boobs Are Leaking!”
There may be nothing more frustrating than leaking nipples when you’re trying to have a moment of normalcy. You might treat yourself to some friend time and look down to find two perfect wet circles on your shirt. You might finally get some sleep and wake up in a soaking bed. Common? Yes. Cute? No. Start wearing a bra to bed and invest in some good nursing pads. Alternatively, you can sleep braless on a towel.
“My Baby Is Starving!”
Once you’ve figured out the latch, how do you know your baby is actually getting enough to eat? Thankfully there are plenty of lactation consultants who can help. Find someone reputable – perhaps from the hospital or birthing center where you delivered – who can help you navigate the potentially confusing and sometimes painful breastfeeding journey. A lactation consultant can help you figure out just how much milk your baby consumes during a single feeding by weighing your baby before and after nursing. If your baby is gaining weight and you are changing an adequate number of wet and dirty diapers a day, you’re on the right path. If you have any concerns, contact your pediatrician.
Breastfeeding truly is all about supply and demand. The more your baby nurses, the more milk you will produce, so if you have low supply, try to add more feedings or consider pumping between feedings, which tells your body it needs to produce more milk. Many lactation consultants and veteran moms also recommend pumping right after nursing to increase supply. If you’re trying to freeze milk for a return to work, many experts recommend pumping after your morning feed, when most women’s supply is greatest.
Some women swear by certain foods or supplements to increase production. Favorites include fenugreek, brewer’s yeast, and oats (or a lactation cookie containing all of those ingredients). Certified Lactation Counselor Shantel Harlin says,
There are many foods and supplements considered to be galactagogues, which have been known to increase milk production in some women. The key here is some, not all. I recommend finding the source of the low supply and treating that; otherwise, it's like masking pain instead of treating the cause of the pain. Some possible sources of low milk supply are hypothyroidism, tongue and/or lip tie, poor sucking at the breast, formula supplementation, previous breast surgeries, insufficient glandular tissue, certain medications, and hormonal birth control. Talk to your board certified lactation consultant or health care provider if you think one of these issues is affecting your breastfeeding relationship.
Your body will be working hard to make milk to feed your baby. While you only need 300-500 more calories per day, you might find it hard to sit down for a meal. Make sure to have snacks available that are high in protein and healthy fats. Also, make sure to place a table or basket next to your comfy nursing chair, glider, or couch, and stock it with snacks and a large water bottle (ideally with a straw since your hands may be full).
“My Back Hurts!”
Pillows! It sounds so simple, but pillows will help get your baby in the right position and support your back. Your body will likely be sensitive, overextended, and tired. Avoid putting extra stress on your back – especially while your core muscles are repairing. If you can’t find a comfortable position to nurse in, you may struggle to reach your breastfeeding goals. The Boppy Nursing Pillow and My Brest Friend are popular options for helping get your baby into a great nursing position while keeping your back happy. Regular pillows work well too – you don’t have to have a special pillow to be successful!
“All I Do Is Breastfeed!”
Motherhood can be isolating, especially when you factor in breastfeeding struggles, a being that needs you to survive but can’t talk, and an incredible lack of sleep. Don’t go through it alone. Sharing this new life with women in the same boat can make everything more doable and a little less lonely. It may not be easy to find your village, but activities like postpartum yoga (check out Kindred Bravely's high-waisted leggings and nursing sports bra), Mommy and Me classes, baby music classes, and breastfeeding support classes like those offered by La Leche League can be a great way to make friends with people just as sleepy as you.
Breastfeeding is an incredible gift to your child, but it can be overwhelming, especially since you’re also adjusting to all the other demands of being a new parent. Now is the time to reach out to your support communities. Whether you find encouragement online or in person, from your mom or from a lactation consultant, know that we’re all in this together. And we think you’re amazing, whether you breastfeed once or until your child is four years old.