When Breastfeeding is Hard

mother breastfeeding baby

In California, about three quarters of women who begin breastfeeding in the hospital have stopped by nine weeks postpartum. According to Neonatologist and Lactation Consultant Dr. Nancy E. Wight, who is a co-founder of San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition (SDCBC), women are more likely to meet their breastfeeding goals with the right support. “It takes time for mother and infant to get in sync and there may be early problems: jaundice, hypoglycemia, failure to latch, sore nipples—almost all of which can be solved quickly with appropriate help,” she says.

In many cases, breastfeeding is worth fighting for, because it can significantly improve health outcomes for both mother and child. Here is a look at some common breastfeeding problems, and the best ways to solve them.

Sore Nipples

It is common to experience nipple discomfort in the early stages of breastfeeding. Remember, both mom and baby are new at this. Ensuring that baby has a good latch is the best way to prevent or minimize soreness. To learn what a good latch looks and feels like, call the lactation support line at the birthing hospital, or check out the helpful guides, diagrams and videos at the WIC (Women, Infants & Children) Breastfeeding Support website: https://wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov

If soreness persists, or if nipples are cracked, blistered or bleeding, call a breastfeeding helpline. Be assured that these are common, treatable problems and a professional can help determine the best course of action.

Mental Health Concerns

The weeks immediately following birth can be overwhelming for new parents. If breastfeeding feels hard, parents might consider bottle-feeding to improve maternal mental health. But research indicates that persisting with breastfeeding could help even more. “Mothers with depression often feel better when they breastfeed,” says Wight, adding that breastfeeding-safe medications are available to treat mental health symptoms. 

Postpartum mental health changes are common, but potentially serious. Any concerns should be discussed with a medical professional. Help is available!

Milk Supply

Many new mothers worry about the amount of milk they are producing. That worry can escalate to panic without proper education. “In the first three to four days, your baby may get very little milk—this is normal,” says Wight. “It takes time to establish a good milk supply and an easy breastfeeding routine.” 

Those with supply concerns are invited to visit SDCBC’s website for a printable resource guide, which outlines how to tell if baby is getting enough milk in the days and weeks following birth. The guide also includes a list of local lactation helplines. This resource is free and available at https://breastfeeding.org.

Misconceptions about Milk Quality

Mothers with poor personal nutrition might feel self-conscious about the quality of their milk. These fears are unfounded. “Mothers need to be almost starving before their breastmilk is inadequate for their infant,” says Wight. 

Furthermore, women who enjoy an occasional drink should not feel discouraged. “You don't have to be a saint to breastfeed,” she says. “An occasional bottle of beer, glass of wine or even a cigarette are OK—just don’t smoke around the baby!” For information about breastfeeding and drugs call Mother to Baby California at 866-626-6847 or visit www.mothertobabyca.org

Side-Eye

While attitudes are rapidly changing, there are still public spaces that don’t feel breastfeeding-friendly. It is possible that someone in a restaurant or park could offer unsolicited comments about the way a baby is fed. Painful as it is, public commentary is something all parents deal with in the public space. Ignorant comments don’t require a response. If an establishment asks a breastfeeding woman to leave, the law is on her side. In the state of California, a woman may breastfeed her child in any location public or private (aside from the private residence of another) so long as both mother and child are otherwise authorized to be there.

Lack of Role Models

Establishing a healthy breastfeeding routine requires a supportive community. If the women in a new mother’s life lack experience with breastfeeding—or worse, feel uncomfortable with the practice—it will be harder to press through challenges. A woman’s partner, family and friends need to know that breastfeeding is important to her. The more they are willing to learn with her, the better the breastfeeding outcome will be. Most lactation professionals are happy to educate the whole family, so a mother can receive essential support from those closest to her.

Breastfeeding Helplines

  • American Red Cross WIC: 800-500-6411
  • SDSU Research Foundation WIC: 888-999-6897
  • La Leche League of San Diego County: 858-848-6455
  • La Leche League Spanish Line: 858-792-5009

Anne Malinoski is a contributing writer and mother of two boys. She breastfed each of her sons for more than 18 months thanks to the support of lactation professionals, a visiting nurse and experienced women in her community.

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