Sitting in the doctor’s office, I steeled myself to latch my daughter on.
She was a few weeks old and needed a hearing test, for which she needed to be asleep. And getting her to sleep meant nursing her which was agony.
My partner, the doctor and a student looked at me expectantly. I bit my lip and brought her towards my breast, trying to hold back the tears.
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Breastfeeding is natural…
…but so is childbirth and no one thinks THAT’S easy (or painless)!
For some mommies, breastfeeding really IS easy. Lucky them.
For others, it’s tough.
Here are some common reasons why – and how to fix each one, so you can push through to the good bit.
#1 Soreness in the early days of breastfeeding
The pain of your burning nipples in the first few weeks could make you wish you had chosen formula.
For several weeks, the first few seconds after latching were pure agony as I curled my toes and held my breath until it eased.
The pain in the early days is usually caused by poor latch and improves over time as you and baby both become more skilled. Read this post for tips on getting a great latch.
Also, your nipples haven’t been used to the constant use they are now getting so that can cause sensitivity too.
If it doesn’t get better after a couple of weeks, a lactation consultant will be able to help you.
The best nipple cream for new mamas
Also, stock up on Lansinoh. This is the nipple cream that will save your first month of breastfeeding . It’ll be your best friend in the first weeks but by six months in, you’ll find it languishing in a drawer.
If it hurts to even touch your nipple, think about pumping for a day to allow yourself some healing time.
#2 Cluster feeding
A baby’s feeding will change as they grow and develop.
Many times I found myself on the sofa with a hungry baby nearly all day long – and I was so happy to learn that that’s normal. Even though it didn’t change anything.
Babies’ milk needs change, so as soon as they get more skilled at extracting milk and you start to think you may get a few minutes to yourself sometime, they hit a growth spurt.
Growth spurts often mean cluster feeding (when baby seems to be on and off the breast constantly) and are very common and totally exhausting. You can find you’re feeding all day and then feed all night.
It’s your baby’s way of boosting your milk supply ready for some more growing.
How to cope with cluster feeding
Set up a nursing station – this post will show you how – so you’ll be comfy during your breastfeeding marathons. And lean in – nurse on demand and ignore the housework as much as you can.
If you’d like an explanation for why your baby is constantly feeding this time, try The Wonder Weeks book or download the app of the same name. When the going gets tough, it helps to at least know why.
Use a breastfeeding tracker – like the one at the bottom of this post – to keep track of how often and for how long your baby is feeding. It’s great for seeing progress over time and also as a record to share with a professional if you need to seek help.
#3 Breast engorgement
When you first start breastfeeding, you will probably experience engorgement a few times. breasts that are super full of milk and hard. Maybe even lumpy!
As your body works to figure out how much milk it needs to produce, it will make too much sometimes and that will lead to engorged breasts. It may happen because your baby sleeps for a little longer than usual or is unwell and not hungry. It may happen for no obvious reason.
How to ease breast engorgement
The best thing you can do is breastfeed or pump. When your breasts are that engorged, you need to remove some milk.
If your baby is hungry or due a feed, latch them on as soon as you can to take care of your sore breasts or get out your Haaka. (See all my Haaka tips here.)
But maybe your breasts are too full and sore to just pump? If that’s the case, you probably need to see your provider. To remove milk gently, get under the shower or into the bath and you’ll find that the warmth of the water gets your milk flowing. Gently express enough milk to give you some relief.
If you can nurse on demand or pump for them as needed, your breast milk supply will settle down after a few weeks.
#4 Low milk supply
The other side of the volume coin is low milk supply.
It’s awful to sit feeding baby who’s never satisfied. Offering one breast and then the other and then trying the first one again.
This happened to me and with my first baby, I supplemented with formula – which was okay but not what I really wanted to do.
With my second and third children, I managed to overcome low milk supply by doing two things:
How to keep breastfeeding when you think you have low milk supply
i. keeping on nursing even when my boobs were ’empty’. After your baby has fed on one side and then the other and repeated that a couple of times, you reach a point when you feel floppy and drained!
Learning to trust my body was a big part of overcoming my supply problems and giving my baby the green light to boost my milk production when she needed to. Those poor, sad, empty boobs are not as empty as they seem!
ii. telling myself ‘Just one more feed,’ when baby still wanted more milk, even after hours of feeding.
This is the feed that will satisfy them and settle them for a few hours.
Often it wasn’t but telling myself this was the last time always made it easier.
But even worse, you can find that your breasts become infected – and then you need medical help as soon as you can get it.
Thrush is a common infection which both mom and baby can catch and then pass to and fro between them. It’s painful for both and can make it too sore to breastfeed.
Thrush symptoms for mom
- itchy stinging nipples
- red shiny nipples
- painful breastfeeding when it had not previously been painful
Thrush symptoms for baby
- white lesions in mouth
- possibly also a red rash on the bottom
If you get thrush, you’ll need medical treatment so see your doctor if you think you or baby have it.
To keep feeding with thrush, try taking a break for 24 hours and expressing. You can bottle or cup feed your baby during that time but boil all bottles and equipment to kill the thrush after use.
Check out this post for more about how we got rid of thrush.
#6 Tongue or lip tie
If you are having a hard time getting baby latched on or it’s really hurting you, get your baby checked for tongue or lip tie.
Tongue tie is where the baby’s tongue is secured to the bottom of the mouth too tightly, which means that the baby cannot stick their tongue out or lift it up as they should be able to. This prevents your baby from latching on well because moving the tongue forward is crucial to the sucking process.
Other telltale signs include a heart-shaped tongue or a tongue that doesn’t lift to the roof of the mouth during moments when the baby cries hard.
Similarly, lip tie is when the tissues linking your baby’s lip to their gums are too tight.
When they do manage to breastfeed, tongue and lip tied babies usually have poor latch leading to pain for mom.
Options if your breastfed baby has tongue tie
If your baby has tongue tie has, you can choose to leave it as it is or to have the tie cut by a doctor.
If you choose correction, the latch should improve and it did for me. Take medical advice if you think your baby might be tongue tied.
Even once you get past all the initial soreness and breastfeeding is going well, problems can hit you. If you are really unlucky, you may get mastitis – which needs urgent medical attention.
- swelling and redness of the breast which may be hot and hurt to touch
- a lump in your breast
- burning pain in the breast
- flu like symptoms such as chills, fever and tiredness
For breast engorgement, try expressing to relieve the pressure but definitely see your doctor as you might need antibiotics.
#8 Exhaustion from endless nursing
No, we’re still not done!
Even when breastfeeding seems to be going great, mama – you’re going to be exhausted.
You’ll feed for hours and hours each day – especially in the early days when your little one is still learning to feed efficiently. It’s not unusual for a new mommy not to move all day long from her preferred feeding spot.
And it’s all too easy to start worrying that you haven’t got enough milk or you’re doing it wrong somehow when baby is never satisfied. As long as they are gaining weight and filling nappies they are probably getting enough. (But I’m not a medical professional so you should check with someone who is.)
You may feel frustrated that you can’t get anything done or even find a moment to shower. It is hard. You’re not alone and you will get through it. Trust that your baby needs this now and you are giving them something amazing by snugging up and letting them feed to their heart’s content.
It’s easy to say that when you’re not living it right now.
Be kind to yourself – don’t expect to keep the house perfect. Cake is optional. And maybe invest in some dry shampoo and 24 hour deodorant!
Back to my story about breastfeeding in the doctor’s office
I asked for a few minutes to myself and managed to latch my baby on. It hurt like hell and I cried in public.
But she went to sleep and got her hearing test.
Then I went back home and called my lactation consultant and got my pump out to start a nursing break.
And if you think you have any of these problems, you should absolutely speak to a professional too. It could change the whole course of your breastfeeding journey for the better.