Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby, but it often doesn’t come naturally at first. It’s helpful to understand that just like learning a new dance, you and your tiny partner can take a little while to get 'in step' together. As you learn how to hold your baby comfortably, your little one has to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing – but with practice and patience (and perhaps a little help from a professional, such as a lactation consultant), breastfeeding really does become easy and natural.
Here are 10 common breastfeeding problems and tips to solve them.
1. My baby won’t latch
Being born is hard work, and many babies take a while to feed effectively. Offering skin-to-skin cuddles will help. To do this, strip your baby down to his nappy and hold him against your bare chest. As soon as you notice early hunger signs (sucking movements, putting his hand to his mouth or ‘rooting’), offer the breast quickly. Supporting him, pull him in close as he turns in and opens his mouth (be sure to never push your baby’s head). You may need to feed some breast milk from a syringe if he takes time to begin feeding, and expressing will help kick-start your milk supply.
Try to avoid bottles during this early learning period, as this will imprint a different sucking action from breastfeeding.
2. Ouch, that hurts!
Some nipple tenderness is normal in the early days – it’s a little like breaking in a new pair of shoes – but it isn’t supposed to really hurt. If your nipples really hurt or look squashed when they come out of your baby’s mouth, she may not be latching on correctly. Her mouth should be open wide as she latches on, with her chin pressed into your breast and her head tipped back so her nose is away from the breast. If breastfeeding still hurts, get an expert to watch you feed for help.
3. He’s too sleepy to feed
A mouthful of milk will get your dozy baby sucking again. To do this, squeeze your breast (high up, well above the nipple) between your thumb and fingers; this will start the milk flow that will get your baby swallowing again.
You can also try rubbing his hand: there’s a reflex that connects the mouth and hand, and you will notice your baby opening and clenching his hand as he sucks. Rubbing his hand may stimulate this reflex. You can also try gently stroking under his chin to encourage sucking.
4. Help – my boobs are bursting!
Most women experience a few days of ‘engorgement’ – hot, tight and tender breasts – as their milk ‘comes in’. This is caused by increased blood circulation in the breast area, and happens especially with first babies. Because your breasts swell up, they can be difficult for your baby to latch onto, so it helps to soften the area around the nipple by expressing a little milk before feeding. You can also gently press the swollen area back with your fingers before attaching your baby.
Engorgement can be relieved by warm showers, by applying a warm face washer before feeds to help milk flow, and applying a cool pack (or cold washed cabbage leaves, avoiding the nipples) after feeds.
5. My baby wants to feed ALL the time
Your baby sucking at your breast stimulates milk production: the more your baby sucks, the more milk your breasts will make. As newborns’ tiny tummies are only the size of a marble, and breast-milk is very quickly digested, it’s perfectly normal for a breastfed baby to need feeding every two hours at first – this means two hours from the beginning of one feed until the next. As your baby’s stomach capacity increases and he becomes a more efficient feeder, feeds will be much quicker and spaced further apart.
6. My milk flow is so fast, it’s choking my baby
If your baby looks as though she’s struggling to drink from a fire hose, you can take her off the breast, then put her back on when the flow slows. You can also try holding her in a more upright position as she feeds. As she grows, she’ll manage a fast flow more easily.
7. There’s a red sore patch on my breast
This could be a blocked milk duct, or the early stages of mastitis (which often happens when a blocked duct isn’t cleared). Any time your breasts feel hot and/or lumpy, the best treatment is warmth, rest and emptying the breast. Apply a warm pack before feeds, or massage and express under a warm shower.
If the redness hasn’t gone in 24 hours or you feel ‘fluey’, see your doctor - you may need antibiotics.
8. Am I losing my milk?
It’s common for mums to worry they’re ‘losing their milk’ whenever their baby is unsettled. At about six to 10 weeks, your breasts tend to settle down and feel ‘soft’, which is when mothers often worry they’re ‘losing their milk’. But this just usually means that your milk supply and your baby’s appetite are completely synchronised – you’re making exactly the amount of milk your baby needs!
9. How do I know I have enough milk?
Remember that what comes out must have gone in. If your baby is having plenty of wet and pooey nappies, and is gaining weight, there’s nothing to worry about.
If your supply does need a boost, rest and feed more frequently for a couple of days, offer lots of skin-to-skin cuddles (this will boost your breastfeeding hormones), drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy foods.
10. My baby is biting
Most babies try their brand new teeth at some time – often their gums are sore and it relieves them to clamp down – but it doesn’t mean you need to wean. Instead of pulling your baby away, try pushing him closer onto the breast so his nose is blocked and he will unlatch. You can also offer cool things for him to chew to help relieve his gums, and try not to react with a yelp when he does bite – this can frighten him, or even encourage him to bite just to see your reaction.
This article brought to you by Philips Avent.
Pinky McKay is an International Board certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).