Tips For Overcoming Breastfeeding Struggles

posted in: Doula, Family | 1
Breastfeeding. Such a HUGE topic. I could easily write for 31 days on this topic alone. (Maybe I will next year!)

I have broken this topic done into three posts. One: what to know about breastfeeding. Two: tips for overcoming breastfeeding struggles. Three: my experience with breastfeeding.

Tips For Overcoming Breastfeeding Struggles

If you want to breastfeed, the don’t plan on “trying” to breastfeed, but PLAN to breastfeed. Give it all you’ve got, at least for the first two months. If that seems like a huge goal for you, try it one day at a time, or one week at a time. I really feel that the hardest part with breastfeeding is in the beginning. Once you get past the first 2-3 weeks, it WILL get easier.

Breastfeeding is such a beautiful bonding experience for mom and baby. There are also lots of benefits babies (and mothers) get from breastfeeding.

A common myth is “I don’t make enough breastmilk”. This is the #1 reason why most mothers supplement or quit breastfeeding altogether in the first 3 months. Yes, sometimes it’s not a myth, but most of the time the problem is not physical. Most of the time it is more about a lack of stimulation. That’s why your are going to read in this page “nurse frequently” over and over again! Breastmilk quantity is determined by a simple equation: More Demand = More Supply. The more baby is on your breast, the more your mammary glands will be stimulated to make more milk.

Don’t assume a crying baby means he’s not getting enough. I believed this myth in the early weeks. I was always worried about if my baby was getting enough milk. I kept googling questions I had and I came to the realization over and over again that it really is a supply/demand relationship. I just needed to trust my body!! There are so many cool facts about breastmilk and our ability to make milk for our babies!




Inverted nipples: This is when a baby will have a hard time grasping the areola and getting milk from the ducts. The “flat” nipple will go soft after a few minutes of sucking. Talk to a lactation consultant about how you can draw out the nipple with a breast pump before breastfeeding. Also, you could use a Nipple Shield while breastfeeding. (I did this in the very beginning. More about my story next time!)

Treating sore nipples: If you have cracked nipples, they are almost always caused by incorrect positioning at the breast or improper latch. You should not have sustained pain while breastfeeding. You may have discomfort or pain at the beginning (as your nipple is stretched), but it should go away within 20-30 seconds. Your nipples will develop a callus over time that will make breastfeeding easier. Another great solution is to, after each feeding, express a little milk and rub it onto the sore nipple. The dried milk will leave a protective covering. I also had great relief with applying green cabbage leaves to the breasts between feedings. Soothies Gel Pads also feel amazing if you’ve had a rough nursing session! If you are in a humid climate, then try exposing your breast to the air as much as possible.

Engorgement: This happens frequently in the early weeks. It it when your breasts are overfilled with milk and get rock-hard. This build up of pressure can sometimes be very painful. Plus, engorged breasts are more difficult for your baby to latch on to properly. The swelling will also cause congestion and slow the flow of the milk down (and may frustrate baby). There are several things you can do to help ease the pain:

  • nurse frequently (and pump if baby doesn’t empty both breasts) in the first few weeks,
  • soak a washcloth in warm water and apply to breasts
  • take a warm shower and hand express
  • apply cool cabbage leaves on the breasts
  • massage your breasts

Plugged ducts: This can be very painful and if left untreated can lead to mastitis. Plugged ducts are very common in the early weeks when milk is first coming in. It is usually a hard painful ump or swelling in the breast tissue. If you feel a plugged milk duct, then mash on the lump while nursing (or pumping – but nursing will be a LOT more effective). Also, frequent nursing with your baby’s chin pointing toward the effect duct is the best way to fix the problem. You may also apply a warm compress and massage the area (either during feeds or between feeds).

Mastitis: This is a bacterial infection of the breast tissue and often occurs in the early weeks. Symptoms often  include fever, redness or streaking on the breast, and swelling and tenderness of the breast. If you think you have mastitis then keep breastfeeding, but talk to your physician ASAP. Don’t try to wait another day, just to see if it continues. Catch it early!

Yeast infection: A yeast infection may be common in the early weeks. The first signs of yeast infection will be seen in the baby – whitish plaques inside the baby’s mouth that do not easily wipe off. Sometimes babies will not have any symptoms but mom will notice painful nursing sessions and discoloration of the nipple. Talk to your doctor. Both mom and baby can be treated. Keep breastfeeding (your body will produce antibodies which will appear in the milk and help baby fight the infection). All nursing equipment need to be well cleaned and sterilized. You can pump and give the infected milk to baby, but only while still under treatment for the infection.

Tongue-tie: This occurs when baby’s tongue is attached too tightly to the bottom of the mouth. This means that babies are often unable to extend their tongues beyond their gums or teeth and can lead to various problems with breastfeeding. Most lactation consultants can identify tongue-tie, but I’ve also heard that it’s good to get a second opinion because your baby can be misdiagnosed with tongue-tie.

Jaundice: This often occurs because babies haven’t been latching well and therefore have not been getting the nutrition they need. In most cases though, jaundice levels can be kept within the normal range if you keep offering the breast on baby’s cue (or at least 8-10 times per 24 hours) and offering lots of skin-to-skin contact. Many times you do not need to supplement with formula. This page gives a lot of great information on jaundice.

Baby refusing the Breast:

Early on, this is the trouble I was having in breastfeeding – Ain would not stay latched on. He would get upset really quickly and refuse to eat. I will talk more specifically about what I did with him next time, but there may be several reasons why a baby refuses the breast:

1) A baby may have trouble coordinating suck, swallow, and breathe reflexes at first and may have a problem with breastfeeding.
2) Premature babies may not have the skill or strength to suckle well. This may not stimulate mom’s milk supply. He may no get enough milk and could become frustrated at the breast.
3) Reflux – A baby may come to associate eating with hurting afterwards. He may refuse the breast and cry and scream.
4) Preference to other form(s) of feeding – If they have been introduced, baby will have a preference to whatever feeding method he has mastered. That’s why it’s best to wait until breastfeeding has already been established before you give the baby anything else with a nipple (bottle, pacifier).
5) Allergies – Food sensitivities will cause stuffiness, cramps, or ear infections………..
6) Physical issues such as cleft palate, tongue tie, or a baby using the clamp-down technique. If you feel that one of these may be the case but your doctor or lactation consultant doesn’t, then get a second opinion. A mother’s intuition is often right!
7) Milk flow – A baby may refuse the breast if the mother’s milk supple is low and the baby wants more milk. The flow may also be too fast for baby (which the baby can eventually adjust to either a slow or fast flow).


Coaxing Baby
Back to Breast

It is a good idea for a mom to offer her breast frequently, yet gently to a baby who is refusing to nurse. It every nursing session is a struggle for mom and baby, then baby could get upset every time and eventually have a negative association with breastfeeding. Here are some techniques that might help encourage your little one to return to the breast:

  • Change/adjust baby’s position at the breast: The normal “tummy to tummy” position does not work for all babies. For example, a baby with reflux will do better if his bottom is down and head is raised. If the flow is fast, baby may need the room/flexibility to pull back.
  • Encourage baby to comfort nurse: If baby wants to just comfort nurse rather than sucking for food, then be patient and allow it. As he get comfort from the breast, he will be more comfortable and willing to spend more time there. Substitute the breast for other comfort measures (pacifiers).
  • Use lots of skin to skin contact! In the early weeks this helps baby relax and feel comfortable with mom. You can even use a carrier to continue skin to skin contact while going about your daily business.
  • Co-sleep or bed-share: Co-sleeping is when a mother shares a bed or room with her baby for naps, or for all or part of the night. Sleeping with your baby is safe and very beneficial, provided you practice safe co-sleeping. A sleepy baby is a relaxed baby, so take advantage of these opportunities to try and coax baby to the breast.
  • Pump or hand-express before breastfeeding: This will help if you have an over-active letdown. You can remove some of the milk so the flow is better fore the baby. Also, if baby is getting upset quickly at not receiving milk fast enough, you can hand express until you start to letdown, then start to breastfeed.
  • If your baby is still have a hard time breastfeeding, you may feed the baby bresatmilk in these other ways (scroll down to the Feed the Baby section).

Protect Your Milk Supply

While you are having trouble breastfeeding your baby and he/she is not regularly emptying your breast, then you need to be pumping to maintain your supply (or to build it back up). Definitely talk to a lactation consultant to see if taking any foods, herbs, or medicines to help your supply would be recommended. Try to stay relaxed and as hydrated as possible! Stress definitely affects your milk supply!

BONUS TIP: I found that the best nursing bras for me were the stretchy, sports-bra like sleep bras. This style is very comfortable and great for the early weeks. You don’t want to have bras with underwire in the early weeks when you are easily engorged and building your milk supply. The other kind I like are the ones that have front closures.


Other Must-Reads on this topic

Some Facts about dealing with Jaundice

Top 5 Baby Nursing Myths Exposed

A Parent’s Guide to Breastfeeding: The First Week 

Common Breastfeeding Questions and Answers

Breast Milk Production: Tried and True Secrets to Kick up Your Supply