Overcoming Breastfeeding Challenges
Breastfeeding is a miraculous way for mum to nurture and feed her baby with numerous benefits for both. However, it is not without its challenges. For some women, these challenges can be overwhelming and may lead to struggles with breastfeeding. In this blog, we will explore the various breastfeeding difficulties you may experience, with a focus on understanding them and ways to overcome them.
Latching Issues and Breastfeeding Positions
Breastfeeding is a new skill that both mum and baby need to learn together. Understanding how to get baby to latch and trying different breastfeeding positions are key to starting off on the right foot. If baby isn’t latching on correctly this can cause sore, cracked and bleeding nipples. Mum tip: did you know you can use your pregnancy pillow as a breastfeeding pillow too?
Your health visitor will be able to help check baby’s latch and show you some alternative breastfeeding positions. You can take a look at the various breastfeeding positions here on the NHS website. They also have an extensive guide on how to get baby to latch-on correctly here.
For those first few weeks when you and baby are starting your breastfeeding journey, it is very common for you to unfortunately experience sore nipples. The skin can become very irritated, cracked and also bleed. This is often at the start when both you and baby are learning how baby needs to latch-on – it can take some trial and error.
After each feed dry your breasts and place a new fresh breast pad in your nursing bra. Invest in nipple balm to help soothe the skin - we love the Weleda Nipple Balm. You can also rub your own breastmilk onto your nipples for relief – why not give it a try, they don’t call it liquid gold for nothing!
Tongue-Tie and Breastfeeding
Tongue-tie is when the thin piece of tissue under the baby’s tongue is too short or tight. This can restrict the baby’s tongue movement, making latching difficult. This can then lead to baby not drinking enough milk and mum ending up with sore, cracked nipples and engorged breasts. Overtime this will cause mum’s milk supply to drop and baby won’t be increasing their weight enough.
A simple procedure called tongue-tie division can often resolve this issue, allowing the baby to latch more effectively and consume sufficient breast milk. The procedure is very quick and no anaesthetic is used. You will need to consult with your health visitor if you think your baby might have tongue-tie. To learn more about the symptoms to look out for head to the NHS website here.
Avoiding Nipple Confusion
Introducing a bottle too early or using dummies too frequently can lead to nipple confusion in infants. Nipple confusion occurs when a baby has difficulty transitioning between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, leading to latching issues and breastfeeding difficulties. To avoid nipple confusion, it’s advisable to wait until breastfeeding is well established before introducing bottles or dummies.
Preventing and Managing Mastitis
Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast tissue that can occur when milk ducts become blocked or infected. It can be very painful, make you feel achy and feverish similar to a flu. Mastitis can be prevented by making sure baby is latching on properly, that you are breastfeeding frequently and not spacing out or missing feeds. If missing a feed with baby you need to pump in place of baby feeding. Make sure you’re also swapping breasts after each feed.
To get some relief and to help unblock the ducts, place a warm cloth over your breasts, you can also try to massage the affected breast. Although the breast will be sore it is important you continue to feed or pump from the breast to drain all the milk. If mastitis develops and you have been unwell for a few days you may have an infection that requires antibiotics, you should then seek medical advice to prevent further complications. For more guidance on mastitis head to the NHS website here.
Postpartum Depression and Breastfeeding
Mental health plays a vital role in a mum’s ability to breastfeed successfully. Postpartum depression can cause feelings of sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion, making breastfeeding a challenging and emotionally draining task. In addition to seeking professional help, building a strong support system is crucial. Surrounding yourself with understanding and caring friends and family who can offer practical and emotional support can make a significant difference in managing postpartum depression and supporting breastfeeding.
Breast Surgery and its Impact on Breastfeeding
Women who have undergone breast surgery, such as breast reduction or augmentation, may experience difficulties with breastfeeding. Depending on the type of surgery and its impact on breast tissue and milk ducts, breastfeeding may be affected. It is important to consult with a breastfeeding specialist or a medically reviewed lactation consultant before childbirth to help assess the potential challenges and explore alternatives, such as pumping or combination feeding.
Head to the Lactation Consultants of Great Britain’s website to find a qualified International Board Certified Lactation Consultant near you here.
Understanding Insufficient Glandular Tissue
Insufficient glandular tissue, also known as IGT, is a very uncommon condition where a woman’s breasts lack the necessary glandular tissue to produce enough breastmilk. This condition may result in lower milk production, making it challenging to exclusively breastfeed. If you suspect you have IGT, consult with a breastfeeding specialist or a lactation consultant to receive the right guidance and support.
Employment and Breastfeeding Challenges
Returning to work while breastfeeding presents a unique set of challenges. Balancing work responsibilities, pumping challenges, and maintaining a full milk supply can be demanding for working mothers. Stress can also have a negative effect on your milk supply. Employers can support breastfeeding employees by providing adequate break times, as well as a private, comfortable place for pumping and a fridge to store their milk.
Other tips for breast pumping at work: look at photos of your baby while you pump and bring an item of their clothing to smell – often the smell and sight of your baby is enough to get your milk flowing. Make sure you are remembering to drink lots of water at work, perhaps bring a large refillable bottle with you. Try establishing a pumping routine while still on maternity leave, this can help ensure a smoother transition back to work.
Utilising Breast Pumps to Increase Low Milk Supply
For some mothers, especially those facing low milk supply, using a breast pump can be a helpful tool to stimulate milk production. Regular pumping sessions can signal the body to produce more milk and help maintain or increase milk supply. Electric breast pumps are widely available and can efficiently extract milk, providing an opportunity for other caregivers to offer bottle feeds while the mother takes a well-deserved break. We love the Elvie Breast Pump.
The Role of a Lactation Consultant
A lactation consultant plays a crucial role in helping women overcome breastfeeding challenges. They are trained professionals who provide expert advice on various breastfeeding issues, including latching issues, tongue-tie, nipple confusion, and sore nipples. Seeking assistance from a lactation consultant can significantly improve your breastfeeding experience and increase your chances of successful breastfeeding. You can find a qualified International Board Certified Lactation Consultant near you here. You can also find free NHS breastfeeding support groups near you on the NHS website here.
There are many helplines you can call for support:
- National Breastfeeding Helpline: 0300 100 0212
- Association of Breastfeeding Mothers: 0300 330 5453
- La Leche League: 0345 120 2918
- National Childbirth Trust (NCT): 0300 330 0700
- The Breastfeeding Network supporter line in Bengali and Sylheti: 0300 456 2421
The NHS also has a great hub of information on breastfeeding, formula feeding and combination feeding here.
Remember to be kind to yourselves throughout your breastfeeding journey. Breastfeeding challenges are common and do not define your worth as a parent. It’s okay to seek help and guidance from lactation consultants or healthcare professionals. Embrace the process with patience and understanding, knowing that each mother-baby duo is unique. Whether you exclusively breastfeed, use a breast pump, or opt for a combination of breastfeeding and formula feeding, what matters most is that your baby is nourished and loved.