Many parents are surprised to discover that there’s a lot to know about feeding babies. While breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
The good news is that with the right tools and support, most of the common breastfeeding challenges can be prevented or overcome.
Here are 4 truths to remember if you find yourself experiencing some of these common challenges.
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Is It Normal For Breastfeeding to Hurt?
Breastfeeding Should Not Hurt
A common misconception about breastfeeding is that it’s normal for breastfeeding to hurt in the beginning. While pain can be common, it’s not normal.
Pain while nursing is a red flag that something is not quite right and your sign to seek help quickly from an international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC).
It’s possible you may find breastfeeding slightly uncomfortable in the early days, but true pain is not to be expected.
It’s important to identify the root cause of the pain, which in many circumstances is a poor latch. Having the latch assessed and corrected should bring almost immediate relief.
If you do find yourself in a situation where latch is painful or frustrating, take a deep breath, place your baby skin-to-skin, and seek help from a professional.
Breastfeeding is a learned skill so remember to show yourself grace as you and your baby practice this new skill together.
If you are experiencing issues with your baby’s latch, you will want to hand express or pump to protect your milk supply while you work to correct the latch.
Why Is Nothing Increasing My Milk Supply?
A Great Milk Supply is NOT Just Good Luck
How do you have a great milk supply?
It’s all about supply and demand! Under normal circumstances, the more milk you demand from your body, the more your body will produce.
The first few days and weeks of your baby’s life can be critical for establishing and maintaining a great milk supply.
The best way to promote a great milk supply is to nurse, hand express or pump often, at least 8-12 times per day during the newborn period.
That’s about every 2-3 hours through the day, and also through the night.
Empty breasts make more milk, so you’ll want to clear & soften your breasts and always offer both sides.
If your baby refuses the second side, that’s okay. It’s your job to offer and your baby can decide when he is full.
For the next feeding, you’ll start with the side that was least cleared in the previous feeding, usually the second side offered.
If your baby only ate on one side the previous feeding, then you will begin the next feeding on the opposite side.
Having a good latch is crucial in establishing a great milk supply. If your baby is struggling to latch well and is struggling to remove milk, then your body will start to make less milk.
If you think your baby may be having trouble latching or you’re experiencing pain when your baby latches, then you’ll want to get help from an IBCLC as soon as possible to protect your milk supply and help you get back on track.
Common Complications, Like Engorgement, Can Be Prevented and Overcome When Managed Appropriately
Engorgement can happen when your breasts become too full of milk and more milk is being produced than is being removed.
You may feel a tightness in your chest.
Does Engorgement Lead to Mastitis?You’ll want to treat engorgement as soon as possible because it can become painful and lead to other complications like plugged ducts, mastitis and a drop in milk supply, if not addressed.
It’s most common to experience engorgement around 3-5 days postpartum when mature milk comes in, whenever your baby begins sleeping longer stretches at night, or during the weaning process.
However, engorgement can happen at any time.
The best way to prevent engorgement is to feed your baby often and on demand. But even with the best laid plans, engorgement can still occur.
If you find yourself engorged, you can simply hand express or use a manual breast pump to remove enough milk to relieve the pressure.
You may even need to do this prior to latching your baby for a feeding because babies can struggle to latch onto very full and tight breasts.
Warm compresses can help move milk as well.
Remember that you won’t want to fully drain your breasts because that will tell your body to make even more milk and could lead to a recurrence of engorgement and an oversupply of milk.
You can hand express or pump to comfort just enough to relieve the pressure and tightness.
What Support Is There For Breastfeeding Mothers?
Support is EverythingConnecting with other breastfeeding mothers can be very beneficial, especially if you’re experiencing challenges.
If you don’t have a support network from family and friends, many communities offer breastfeeding support groups.
While support from peers and family can be incredibly helpful, remember to seek research-based advice from an expert when you’re having trouble.
There’s lots of misinformation out there about feeding babies.
Even well-meaning friends and family members could unintentionally lead you astray and give advice that could be harmful or compromise your milk supply.
REBECCA ELLISON, MS, MPH, RDN, LDN, CLC
Rebecca is the author of this post and is a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), certified lactation counselor (CLC), wife and a mama to three littles in Knoxville, Tennessee.
You can visit her website to view her breastfeeding course 'Ready, Set, Latch!'