Common breastfeeding challenges

One thing that a lot of women say about breastfeeding is that it wasn’t as easy as they initially expected. This doesn’t negate how special of an experience it was for them, but sometimes, it can catch new mothers slightly by surprise. Women have all different kinds of experiences when breastfeeding, so none of these might ever apply to you. But it’s good to be prepared for some of the more common challenges of breastfeeding so that you know what to potentially expect, and know that you can conquer any and all of these.

Challenge #1: Wondering if you’ll make enough milk or if your baby is getting enough to eat

Whether Baby falls asleep a lot while breastfeeding, spits up a lot of breast milk, or is just plain fussy when it’s time to eat, it can be a challenge for new parents to determine if they need to try getting their baby more breast milk. In general, it’s pretty difficult to nurse too often in the first few weeks, and if your baby seems content, is gaining weight, and produces around 6 to 8 wet cloth diapers a day or 5 to 6 wet disposable diapers per day after the first three or four days, they are well fed and doing just fine.

If you’re feeding your baby on demand, it’s pretty rare that they wouldn&;t be getting enough to eat, but if you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to call your pediatrician or a local lactation consultant.

Challenge #2: Sleep deprivation or constant tiredness

It’s easy to write this off as something that comes with the territory of having a newborn, but sleep deprivation isn’t something to be taken lightly. You’re going to need at least some sleep to continue to be able to breastfeed Baby, so consider talking to a lactation consultant or your provider about the best breastfeeding positions for a sleepy new mom. Consider passing burping and diaper responsibilities to a partner or family member so that you can catch a quick nap after Baby eats.

Challenge #3: Feeling a loss of freedom while breastfeeding

This is a tricky one, because new moms love being close to their babies, but it can also be stressful to feel “on demand” for a hungry newborn most of the time. Particularly in the early days of breastfeeding, it’s not abnormal for women to mourn for the days when the only things that made them get out of bed were their bladder or the alarm clock. If you begin to feel this way, don’t be afraid to ask for help with Baby so that you can enjoy some alone time. Know that the first few weeks are the most taxing in terms of feeding and needing to be close to Baby a lot of the time.

Challenge #4: Nipple soreness

There are different kinds of nipple soreness when breastfeeding. But while some nipple pain may be normal in the first few days after giving birth, as your body gets used to breastfeeding, it’s always a good idea to make sure it isn’t an incorrect latch that’s causing the pain. A proper latch should feel like a tugging, sucking sensation on the breast, while an incorrect latch might feel more like a pinch or bite, and sucking on the nipple. A lactation consultant can asses your latch, or you can look up videos online for a visual example.

It can also be normal to experience what’s called “latch-on pain” for the first 30 seconds of nursing. This can be a mild pain or discomfort, but can also feel more severe. Latch-on pain subsides quickly, though, and if it doesn’t, your baby may not be latched properly. If the pain is terrible, if it continues through the entire feeding, or if your nipple is red, cracked, or bleeding, or is creased, pinched, or bent when your baby unlatches, seek the help of a lactation consultant as soon as possible.

To keep irritated nipples comfortable while they heal, many women find that applying a warm, wet washcloth to their nipples after they breastfeed can be soothing.

Challenge #5: Not knowing what you can and can’t eat while breastfeeding

During pregnancy, you know that there are some foods and drinks that are better off left out of your diet. It’s understandable then that many women worry about what they can and can’t eat or drink while breastfeeding. The rules are much less strict when you’re breastfeeding and you won’t have to be as conscious of your dietary choices. You might want to consider taking B12 and vitamin D supplements if you’re vegetarian or vegan, but there’s no consensus about whether this is necessary. Many recommend avoiding alcohol in the first few months when feedings are so frequent, and limiting caffeine to no more than two to three cups a day, and to avoid any seafood that’s high in mercury. It’s always smart to look for any signs of irritation after breastfeeding, so that you know if any foods in your diet are causing reactions.

Challenge #6: Crying or fussing during nursing

There are many reasons your little one might not seem too happy during nursing for a while. They might be going through a growth spurt, or working on learning something new developmentally, and if it’s either of those things, they will settle back into nursing happily on their own soon. Babies who are teething, or who are getting gassy mid-feed and could use a little extra burping can get fussy as well. They could be ready to switch breasts, or to stop feeding entirely for right now. If crying or fussiness starts to become a more regular problem, it could be a sign of a bigger-picture problem, like low milk supply, or a tongue tie.

If you think Baby might be getting distracted during feeding, nursing in a dark room can be helpful. Walking while nursing can also help ease fussing. If the problem persists, try reaching out to a lactation consultant, who may be able to shed more light on what’s going on. 

Challenge #7: Feeling guilty, incompetent, or unprepared to breastfeed.

If breastfeeding is difficult at first, that’s because it is difficult! If you’re a first-time mom, or even a second, third, or fourth-time mom, you’re allowed to cut yourself some slack when things don’t go as expected, and they inevitably won’t go as expected (because, well, that’s life). Consider making a promise to yourself that you’ll never give up on a bad day. It’s okay to try breastfeeding, and then reassess how you feel in a couple of days or weeks. Most importantly, be prepared to try different things to make you and Baby as comfortable as possible while you learn the tricks of the breastfeeding trade.

  • Jahaan Martin. “Nipple Pain: Causes, Treatments, and Remedies.” La Leche League International, Jul 17 2016. Web. 
  • “How can I tell if my baby is getting enough milk?” La Leche League International, Jan 9 2016. Web. 
  • “Infant and toddler health.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, May 5 2015. Web. 
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics. “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.” Pediatrics. 129(3). Web. Mar 2012.
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