Breastfeeding may be natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. New mothers can struggle in the beginning.
UCI Health lactation consultant Jennifer Jones, RN, BSN, IBCLC, identifies the most common issues facing new mothers.
Many new mothers have difficulty getting their infant to latch, a term referring to how the baby’s mouth fastens onto the breast to nurse. A good, deep latch is essential to ensure adequate breast milk transfer and good nutrition.
With the proper latch and positioning techniques, mothers should be able to avoid nipple pain and discomfort.
Tips to getting a good latch include:
- Gently support your breast and position the baby’s mouth and nose facing your nipple.
- Brush your nipple against the baby’s mouth and lips until the baby opens wide.
- In a proper latch, your baby will take as much of the areola, the darker area around the nipple, into her mouth as possible, her tongue extended and her lips turned outward like a fish.
- If your baby is making a clicking sound while trying to nurse, having difficulty latching or you are experiencing pain, you should seek help.
One of the things that may confound new mothers is that they only produce colostrum in the first few days.
This thicker milky fluid produced by the breast is loaded with immune, growth and tissue repair factors.
It’s important that babies feed often in the first few days after birth to ensure adequate nutrition and help increase a mother's milk production. Milk production usually increases within a few days after birth, and moms often feel their breasts become heavier and fuller.
This is a normal process and mothers should continue to breastfeed their infant.
Engorged breasts can be uncomfortable. Engorgement usually occurs three to five days after birth. Sometimes it can even make it difficult for the baby to latch on. Breast massage or expressing the breast milk by hand can help relieve the pressure and improve the infant’s latch.
Some women may experience nipple pain in the beginning days because the baby's sucking can cause friction on the nipple tissue. With the proper latch techniques, this discomfort should subside.
If your baby has trouble latching, that can result in nipple damage, including cracks, blisters and bleeding. Any damage to your nipples should be evaluated by a health professional.
Plugged milk ducts and mastitis are other causes of breast pain. Contact your lactation consultant or physician if your are having breast pain, swelling or redness, or if the breast is hot to the touch.
Is my child getting enough to eat?
Beyond these issues, Jones says the No. 1 worry women have is whether their babies are getting enough nourishment.
She recommends moms feed babies on demand, which may be every one or two hours, especially in the beginning when the amount of milk produced is smaller. Infants should eat at least eight times in a 24-hour period (including throughout the night).
Wake the baby, if necessary, she advises.
“Hold the baby to skin-to-skin," Jones says. "The baby will typically show hunger cues — stretching, licking, putting their hands to their mouths. Crying is a late sign of hunger, so don’t wait until the baby is fussing or you’ll have to calm the him before he can eat.”
There are a few ways to tell if a baby is getting fed, or if milk transfer — as it’s called — is happening.
You will hear the baby swallowing, see milk in the corner of the baby’s mouth and feel the breast softening as the baby nurses. Your infant will more than likely self-detach when satisfied.
Infants who are nursing well usually have at least six to eight wet diapers per day and begin gaining weight after an initial post-partum weight loss.
The emotional side of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding and caring for a newborn can be challenging, even overwhelming, especially at a time when a new mother’s body is adjusting yet again.
“Breastfeeding is for the mother’s health as well as the baby’s,” Jones says. “But it’s a new experience, one that’s accompanied by hormonal changes that can alter the brain chemistry and increase the risk of depression and anxiety. New mothers shouldn’t be ashamed to ask for help if they’re having problems nursing.”
Jones also encourages women to find comfort in the sisterhood of their mothers, aunts, sisters, friends and others to share their experience.
“Too often, some moms feel like they’re alone,” she says. Some may even worry that they are failing their baby, which is why reaching out to other mothers can give perspective on breastfeeding, among other issues new moms encounter.
“Everyone is made differently — we don’t all have the same breast size or make the same amount of milk,” Jones says. “Sometimes women don’t succeed at breastfeeding even after trying everything. They need to know that it’s OK if they’re not able to supply milk to their babies.”
Mothers, she says, do the best they can. "Enjoy your beautiful baby and the amazing journey that lies ahead."