9 Tips That Really Work When You Are Having Trouble Breastfeeding

This natural process doesn't come easy to many women. Don't stress—try these instead.

1 / 10

Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mom and baby. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it helps protect against infant diseases like diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, urinary tract infections and respiratory tract infections, and is linked to reduced odds of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Research also shows that new mothers benefit from breastfeeding through less postpartum bleeding, faster uterine involution—when the uterus returns to its non-pregnant state—and a lower risk of both breast and ovarian cancers. Nursing can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight, as well.

While the perks of breastfeeding are plentiful, that doesn’t mean it's without challenges. We spoke to Erin Young, MD, a primary care physician at Mercy Health in Walker, Michigan, about tips that really work, whether you're about to begin or already nursing.

Medically reviewed in June 2018.

Be Aware of Misconceptions

2 / 10 Be Aware of Misconceptions

There are many false beliefs out there about breastfeeding. The most common misconceptions Dr. Young hears are:

  1. Breastfeeding is natural, and therefore it should be easy.
  2. Breastfeeding is painless.
  3. You can't breastfeed when you go back to work.
  4. Formula-fed babies sleep better.
  5. If a breastfeeding baby seems hungry or eats more often, then you aren't making enough milk.

These myths lead to self-doubt and can limit the opportunities new moms have to create their own experiences. Be aware of them, and you'll be better prepared to handle setbacks as they occur.

Develop Plans for Challenges

3 / 10 Develop Plans for Challenges

A mother who is considering breastfeeding should be prepared for moments of feeling overwhelmed. This is because her responsibilities to the child may well exceed others during this time.

“Breastfeeding places the sole responsibility of feeding the infant on the mother," explains Dr. Young. "This can be a heavy burden, especially in the first few weeks and months of motherhood. When only the mother can feed the infant, it can result in increased exhaustion as well as create personal and relationship stress.”

Prepare for these responsibilities by taking breaks and devising stress-reduction techniques beforehand. Developing an awareness of your stress triggers can help; the Sharecare app features a stress tracker to help you pinpoint those triggers, and is available for Android and iOS. Having a partner or support person who can provide periods of rest is helpful, as well.

Similarly, the decision to breastfeed might require adjustments at work and within communities—from blocking out time to nurse to finding a location. “Mothers require means to either feed their infant directly by latching or expressing breastmilk,” she says. "Expressing milk requires a pump, private location, refrigeration or ice to store the milk and clothing which makes the breasts accessible."

Before returning to work, discussing your feeding options and breaks with your employer will set expectations and make the transition smoother. Remember, the law is on your side.

Remember: Every Baby Is Different

4 / 10 Remember: Every Baby Is Different

Experienced breastfeeders aren’t above challenges, either. Smooth sailing with the first child doesn’t mean there won’t be obstacles with the second, and you can expect things to change from child to child.

Risk factors for breastfeeding problems vary with each newborn and can even vary for the parent based on different pregnancies. For example, one newborn may be tongue-tied, a condition where the tongue is anchored to the floor of the mouth, whereas another may not. Also, a parent may have a normal pregnancy and delivery with the first child but experience severe anemia with a subsequent delivery. "Both of these situations can affect breastfeeding," says Young.

Take Advantage of Your Medical Resources

5 / 10 Take Advantage of Your Medical Resources

In addition to your regular doctor and your OBGYN, the importance of hospital lactation consultants cannot be overstated. In the early days, they can help establish one of the most important aspects of any breastfeeding journey—a good latch.

"They are also a wealth of knowledge in regard to any breastfeeding concern, including pumping and returning to work,” says Dr. Young. "Insurance companies are mostly covering lactation consultation services."

Lactation consultants can provide feedback on where to find resources upon leaving the hospital, as well; these include Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food assistance, pumps and equipment and breastfeeding support groups like La Leche League, an organization aimed at providing information and encouragement that enables new parents to breastfeed.

Know What Nipple Pain Means

6 / 10 Know What Nipple Pain Means

Nipple pain is natural for a few seconds at first, as you get the hang of breastfeeding. But if it keeps going, it's may indicate breast pump issues, thrush, a nipple blister—or most likely, a bad latch. Sometimes, changing your position is enough to fix the latch and alleviate some of that discomfort. Some positions, like leaning backwards with your baby on top of you, or lying on your side with your baby next to you, are more relaxed and may come easier. Others, like the football or the cross-cradle position, might require more practice. Call your OBGYN or lactation consultant or visit the La Leche League website for more information on positions. In the meantime, nipple creams may alleviate pain by helping to retain moisture.

Look Out for Clogged Ducts

7 / 10 Look Out for Clogged Ducts

Breastmilk functions under a ‘demand and supply’ system. In other words, the more you stimulate milk production, the more milk you will produce. Of course, obstacles like clogged ducts can affect this outcome.

Clogged ducts occur for many reasons, including ineffective milk removal—which can be caused by a weak or poor latch—inconsistent feedings, or even oversupply. Although breastfeeding is less comfortable with a clogged duct, it is recommended that you keep nursing to avoid developing inflammation of the breast called mastitis. Heat application, gentle breast massages, frequent feedings and loose clothing can all help deal with clogged ducts, as can non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), though you should speak with your doctor before trying any new medication. After you've expressed milk, meds and cold compacts can help reduce pain. Chills, high fever, and pus or blood in milk are all signs to call your physician to discuss treatment.

Lean on Your Support System

8 / 10 Lean on Your Support System

“It is extremely important to have a support system with any newborn, but especially with breastfeeding," says Young. She believes surrounding yourself with dedicated people will help you meet your breastfeeding goals. “I'm a firm believer that successful breastfeeding requires a team which includes medical professionals as well as a support system at home. The support system could include the new parent's mother, significant other, grandparent, friend, or coworker," she continues.

If you know a nursing mom, try these tips to help support her:

  • Ensure they have access to food. Even better, surprise them with a meal.
  • Offer to come by and help with things around the house so they can get adequate rest.
  • Avoid shaming or making jokes about breastfeeding.
Be Open to Alternatives

9 / 10 Be Open to Alternatives

If you would still like your child to experience the benefits of breastfeeding, but are having trouble with production, you have options. One of these is donor milk.

Many hospital neonatal intensive care units (NICU) have donor milk on hand for babies in need. It's often available outside of the hospital, as well, from both for-profit and non-profit organizations. “Donor milk sources range from certified centers where the milk is screened for viruses, bacteria or exposure to toxic substances to friends and family who have an oversupply,” says Young. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against sharing milk informally—without it being screened or pasteurized—and cautions mothers not to buy it over the internet.

If your local hospital cannot direct you to milk resources, state and citywide milk banks are a great place to start. Those linked with the Human Milk Banking Association of America (HMBANA) have high standards for processing and screening.

Consider Formula—and Don't Stress Out About It

10 / 10 Consider Formula—and Don't Stress Out About It

Deciding not to breastfeed does not make someone any less of a parent. If nursing is a source of mental discomfort, there is no shame in stopping.

“Reasons for discontinuing breastfeeding are person-dependent," explains Young. "For example, working through poor latch may be enough for some women to give up whereas others may have the resources available to work through it." Job issues and health problems are other reasons some parents opt out.

And if you're undecided, not producing sufficient milk or would like to begin tapering off of breastfeeding, supplementation—using formula and breast milk at the same time—can give you the best of both worlds. Speak to your OBGYN, pediatrician or family doctor for advice on how and when to begin.

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