Breast Beginnings:Overcoming Those Early Hurdles

Mother breast feeding childWe all know that breastfeeding is the best thing for mums and babies; it’s completely natural and has been practised by our species for thousands of years. 

So why does it seem so hard in the beginning?  If you feel like this, or are pregnant and planning to breastfeed, I can tell you from experience that you’re not alone and it does get easier, especially if you address any problems or concerns quickly.  Here are some tips to help you through some common problems experienced during those first few difficult weeks.

Painful / cracked nipples
Many mums unfortunately stop breastfeeding when they experience painful nipples, but often it’s possible to reduce the pain using either a good nipple cream (Lansinoh is highly recommended) or expressed breast milk left to air dry.  Sore nipples usually occur for up to ten seconds into a feed, easing up after that.  If pain continues into a feed it’s possible your baby isn’t latched on correctly.  Seeking face to face help is the best way to ensure you have a good latch so consult one of the sources of help in the paragraph at the end of this article.

Constant / cluster feeding
This can make mums worry that their baby isn’t getting enough milk, especially if they hear formula feeding friends saying their baby only feeds every four hours.  The fact is that breastmilk is digested faster than formula, so your baby will feed more frequently.  If your baby is producing sufficient wet nappies, gaining weight well and is alert and happy there is unlikely to be a problem but you could always visit a breastfeeding drop in (see below) if you’re worried.  You may also experience constant suckling and feeding prior to a growth spurt and it’s important not to supplement at these times.  The reason is that your baby is increasing your supply with her suckling, so by supplementing that won’t happen as effectively.  In the early days babies can feed almost constantly and this is, again, the baby establishing your supply by basically telling your body she’s here and she’s going to need your milk!  Letting your baby suck and feed as she demands is the best way to ensure you maintain a sufficient supply.  

Engorged breasts can be excruciatingly painful, believe me, I’ve been there.  When breasts are very engorged it can make it difficult for your baby to latch, leading to her becoming frustrated, so consider expressing a little milk first to reduce the engorgement and let your baby feed.  A warm shower or a warm flannel on your breasts before feeding can help with engorgement.  If you are pumping but your baby is feeding well and doesn’t need the extra milk, this can sometimes cause oversupply which leads to engorgement so try to only pump to relieve pressure, or if you need to for any reason.  If you have engorgement with a fever or any flu symptoms it’s important to see a doctor as these are signs of an infection which should be treated.

Seek Help If Required
Knowing that there’s help available, and where to get it is priceless.  In the hospital, ask for help with latching as much as possible.  When you have had your baby you will have a midwife who visits you at home at various points during the first ten days so if you’re not confident with your feeding, ask her to watch you feed and give you any help she can.  If you want extra help, she does not have to discharge you at ten days, so ask to stay under her care for a little longer if you want to.  The health visitor can also help with advice and can tell you where the breastfeeding drop in sessions are held in your area.  These sessions are invaluable and usually have a nursery nurse who can help with any issues you have.  The National Breastfeeding Helpline has trained volunteers who can provide advice over the phone by calling 0300-100-0212 for UK residents and 1-800-994-9662 Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. EST for mothers in the United States.  Another great source of help is La Leche League.  You can find your local group here.  Don’t forget that you’re not alone and there are plenty of sources of help.  If you’re ever worried, don’t wait, seek help right away as resolving issues quickly can help prevent the problem from worsening or your supply suffering.