Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful experiences you can share with your baby, and it offers a multitude of benefits for both you and your little one. Breastfeeding has long been known as the gold standard for infant nutrition, but did you know that it also helps support mental and emotional health for mom, immune health for baby, and helps foster a special bond between the two? The benefits of breastfeeding may even last a lifetime, offering protection against chronic disease in adulthood.
But breastfeeding isn’t easy. In fact, sixty percent of mothers do not breastfeed as long as they had originally intended. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this happens for several reasons, including:
- Issues with lactation and latching
- Concerns about infant nutrition and weight
- Concerns about safety of medication while breastfeeding
- Lack of parental leave and unsupportive work policies
If you’ve been feeling discouraged or concerned about your ability to breastfeed, hang in there. These tips are for you.
1. Give yourself time to adjust.
You’ve probably heard that breastfeeding is natural. And it is – your body knows how to make milk, and your baby is born with rooting and sucking reflexes to help them breastfeed. But that doesn’t mean that breastfeeding always comes naturally; it’s still a skill that takes time to learn and master.
So if you struggle at first, go easy on yourself. It may take some time for you and your baby to work out the kinks and figure out what works best for both of you. If you’re feeling lost, seek out the expertise of a lactation consultant to get you on the right track.
2. Get ready to troubleshoot.
Breastfeeding is beautiful, but there can be an ugly side. A few common problems can discourage mothers from continuing to breastfeed, but between home remedies and routine appointments with your healthcare provider, you’ll be ready to overcome them all.
Sore or cracked nipples
Sore nipples are often a sign that your baby isn’t positioned or latched properly. A few simple adjustments can help alleviate nipple pain and make breastfeeding more comfortable for you, so make sure you get some guidance from your local lactation consultant.
If you have sore or cracked nipples, you may be tempted to keep nursing sessions short to give your nipples a rest, but this won’t necessarily ease nipple pain and may even affect your milk supply. Try to keep breastfeeding if you can, and use these tips for some relief.
- Try different nursing positions to change the position of your baby’s mouth on your breast.
- Apply some breastmilk to your nipples. Breast milk has some unique uses and can have healing benefits for your skin.
- Use breastfeeding-safe topical ointments or creams if breast milk alone doesn’t do the trick.
- Make sure your nursing bras fit comfortably. If your clothing continues to rub against your nipples and cause discomfort, consider wearing a breast shell between feedings.
- If breastfeeding is too painful, try pumping or hand expression to help empty your breasts and maintain a healthy milk supply.
Engorgement happens when your breasts are too full of milk – your breasts may feel firm, swollen, and painful. It usually happens within the first few days after birth, or anytime there are sudden changes to your pumping or breastfeeding schedule.
Severe cases of engorgement can make it difficult for your baby to latch, so it’s important to try to relieve your symptoms with these tips.
- Breastfeed or pump on a regular schedule.
- Apply a moist, warm compress to your breast, gently massage your breast, or hand-express or pump a small amount of milk to soften your breast before feeding.
- Apply a cold compress for 15 minutes every hour as needed between feedings.
- Nurse or pump until your breast is empty before switching to the other side.
Clogged milk ducts
If milk ducts in your breast don’t drain properly or become blocked, you could get a clogged milk duct. Clogged or plugged milk ducts usually affect only one breast at a time – you may feel a lump in one area of your breast and pain or swelling around the lump.
The good news: you can usually clear a clogged milk duct right at home.
- Apply a warm compress to your breast and massage the affected area for several minutes before nursing or pumping.
- Start feedings on the side of the affected breast.
- Firmly massage the clogged area toward the nipple while breastfeeding, and compress around the edges of the blockage to break it up.
- Take a warm bath or shower and massage the affected area while soaking.
Mastitis is a breast infection that often follows engorgement or a clogged duct. Symptoms include swelling, redness, inflammation, fever, chills, and body aches.
Visit your healthcare provider for treatment, and use these tips to continue healing at home:
- Use a warm compress before pumping or nursing.
- Rest up.
- Continue pumping or breastfeeding. Mastitis doesn’t affect the safety of your breast milk, and emptying your breasts will help reduce inflammation.
Other breastfeeding concerns
Your best bet is to have a lactation consultant on deck to help solve any issue you encounter while breastfeeding. In addition to sore nipples, engorgement, clogged milk ducts, and mastitis, lactation consultants can help you navigate other common breastfeeding concerns, like low milk supply and appropriate feeding schedules.
3. Surround yourself with support.
As a breastfeeding mother, you’re the only person who can give your little one the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. That can feel like a lot of responsibility, and the time commitment is almost like a full-time job. But your partner and support system can help pick up the slack in other areas – household chores, childcare for older siblings, grocery shopping. Communicate your feelings, concerns, and needs with your partner, and let your support system know when you need some help.
If you’re planning to go back to work, make sure you ask about breastfeeding accommodations and support within the workplace, and prepare yourself with this blog: “7 Essential Tips for Breastfeeding and Returning to Work.”
There are also plenty of other breastfeeding support resources, including a growing number of online support groups. Check out this blog next: “Breastfeeding Help: Tips, Resources, and Supplements for New Moms.”
Breastfeeding is tough – there’s no doubt about it. But the benefits of breastfeeding and the special bond breastfeeding allows you to create with your baby make it all worth it. If breastfeeding is in your plan, hang in there. You’re tough, too.