What to Do If Breastfeeding Is Really Hard
Breast milk is undeniably best from a totally medical view. But thank goodness we have formula! Some moms choose not to breastfeed and others can’t for medical reasons. The decision to breastfeed or not is less black and white for another group of moms—brand new mothers who want to nurse but struggle a great deal in the first few days or weeks. If that describes you, take heart…and read on.
First of all: We feel for you. You might be in real pain and having doubts. We hope you take pride in your efforts and stick with it if you can. The best way to do that—and hopefully succeed—is to get breastfeeding help.
There’s a belief that nursing should be second nature—it’s natural after all, right? But the truth is neither you nor the baby have done this before! That’s why new moms, from the beginning of time and from all parts of the world, have relied on family/community support. Reach out to your doctor, La Leche League (LLL), an experienced friend or a lactation consultant for advice. And don’t delay. The longer you live with problems, the harder they are to resolve.
Common Breastfeeding Challenges
So, why are you having such a rough go? The most common reasons are technical: You either have flat nipples or your baby isn’t on your breast correctly.
If you do have flat nipples, the good news is you can help yourself before you give birth. Wearing breast shells underneath your bra during pregnancy can elongate the nipples. Immediately after delivery, ask to use a breast pump in the hospital—the suction stretches your nipples. Nipple shields are products used while nursing that stimulate the baby’s palate and trigger the sucking reflex. Even if they work for you, keep pumping to protect your milk supply!
Pumps jumpstart breastfeeding for moms facing a variety of challenges. If you gave birth to twins, a baby incapable of strong sucking or an ill baby (who can’t be immediately brought to you because he’s receiving other care), you may want to pump from day one. Did you know that if you have a C-Section, it usually takes a day longer for your milk to come in? Pumping speeds this process too. Don’t worry if nothing comes out at first–you’re just “priming” the breast to get started. Your milk flow should increase in 3-4 days.
Early Confusion About Breastfeeding
Many new moms just don’t know what to expect with breastfeeding. They hear they should nurse immediately, but many don’t know that babies want to suck right when they’re born but their interest decreases for the next 18 hours or so. (They actually don’t need sustenance right away because they’re born with an extra pound of food and water in their bodies.) In those first few days, breasts release colostrum—not milk—one drip at a time. Your baby’s sucking is actually what brings in your milk. Once it arrives, breastfeeding becomes so much easier…infants have lost about 7-10% of their body weight and their appetite kicks in. By the third day, they’re hungry little hippos, very interested in the breast!
But, babies’ bodies are actually quite stiff at this time. Snug in your belly for so long, her arms, legs and even her jaw muscles are tight, making it hard for her to open her mouth fully. But wide-open like a gulping fish is exactly what’s needed, to get your nipple high up against her palate and away from her tongue. If your little one sucks on the tip of your nipple...that’ll hurt! This is the point when breastfeeding help is most beneficial. A trained professional or experienced mama will teach you to get your baby’s mouth open and positioned properly on your breast.
Also keep in mind that when your milk comes in, you’ll likely feel extra-engorged. You’re swelling not only with milk, but also with blood. When the blood vessels expand it can be very painful. But once the baby feeds well, you’ll feel better.
Breastfeeding Help: Sleep Is Key
While these technical reasons make it hard to get started, persistent crying and exhaustion are the top reasons moms abandon nursing. Studies show that sleep-deprived moms are much more likely to get depressed (which reduces breastfeeding rates by 50%) and doubt the adequacy of their milk. That’s one reason I’ve spent my career helping new parents master the skills needed to calm their baby’s fussies and get more sleep. Happiest Baby’s in-person classes (available in 20+ nations) teach parents the soothing/sleep techniques called the 5 S’s which soothe babies in no time…and promote nursing success. And our SNOO smart sleeper (based on the same principles) stretches sleep longer for babies and give parents some much needed rest.
“Breastfeeding is a confidence game,” said the wise Dr. Derrick Jelliffe, who used to teach at UCLA. Your belief in yourself builds your persistence and helps you get through your tough times with nursing. But remember, you can and should get help…you got this!