Breastfeeding is natural, economical, beautiful, and a wonderful gift. It can also be challenging, frustrating, and disappointing. Some women will have a blissfully easy breastfeeding exerience with no major challenges or setbacks. Others may experience major hurdles on the path to achieving their breastfeeding goals. In continuation of our breastfeeding theme for National Breastfeeding Month, today we present the three most common breastfeeding challenges along with suggestions for how to avoid them, find adequate support, or overcome the challenge.
Top Three Breastfeeding Challenges
Lack of family support. "It won't hurt to feed him formula." "How will you know when she's full?" "When are you going to switch to bottle feeding?" "I wish I could feed him." "If you were formula feeding, you could get more sleep." Support -- or lack of support -- from your partner and surrounding family, whose influence in your life is strong, can have a huge impact on your breastfeeding relationship and success. In a misguided attempt to help, family members who misunderstand or are uncomfortable with breastfeeding, can make suggestions that thwart your efforts, cause doubts, and ultimately, could cause you to quit breastfeeding before you want.
This is one of the most common hurdles, and also is one of the most difficult to overcome. It's hard to convince family members who are set in their ways or who like to impose their views. Ultimately, there are two directions to take with this situation: 1) Education and/or 2) Ignoring. For some, it's simply a lack of education and understanding about how breastfeeding works and why it is so important for babies. For those closest to you (think partner, mother, sister), consider taking them to a breastfeeding class to learn the mechanics of breastfeeding (that you don't need to be able to measure breastmilk ounces to know if baby is full, for example), as well as the benefits baby will gain from breastfeeding. In addition, sit down individually with your closest support members and have an honest conversation about your goals for breastfeeding and how important it is to have their support. Suggest ideas for how your partner can support you, like these. Point your family members in the direction of helpful hints, too. If you cannot get the support you need from those closest to you, you'll need to stand strong in your beliefs and do what you feel is best. Invoke the support of other moms who breastfeed (and who have dealt with unsupportive family members) -- mom to mom support will help encourage you to keep going.
Poor latch/painful latch. Next to support, a good latch (how a baby attaches to the breast to drink) is one of the most important elements in successful breastfeeding. You can detect a poor latch by how a baby sounds and looks when drinking at the breast, as well as by how it feels to you. If you're experiencing pain when breastfeeding, it is likely due to latch issues. A bad latch can be caused by several things, including tongue tie, inverted nipples, and poor positioning. Know what a good latch looks and sounds like. Seek help at the earliest sign of pain when breastfeeding. Cracked or bleeding nipples are not normal side effects of breastfeeding. Your best bet is to consult with a lactation consultant in person. A lactation consultant will be able to observe your latch and provide immediate guidance on how to correct it, as well as a plan for healing your sore nipples.
Separation from baby. Breastfeeding works best when mom and baby spend lots of time together, with plenty of opportunities for skin to skin care. But sometimes, there is a need for separation, whether it's for a stay in the NICU for baby due to prematurity or special care needed, or mom's illness. Either way, separation can hinder breastfeeding efforts, but it does not mean that breastfeeding is impossible! If separation is necessary, it's important to begin pumping as soon as possible. Even small amounts of colostrum are important and valuable for baby (especially for premature babies, as colostrum provides critical nutrients for early babies). Pumping early and often will help you ensure you have milk for your baby. If baby is in the NICU, work with your baby's nurses to ensure they know that breastmilk is your preference and how best to provide it (transporting and storage). If possible during the separation, bring baby to the breast, skin to skin, to try latching and feeding. Once the separation period is over, you can begin trying to transition to breastfeeding baby directly. Depending on how it goes, you may want to call upon the experience and knowledge of a lactation consultant to provide guidance and reassurance.
There are, of course, more breastfeeding challenges out there -- mastitis, thrush, lack of support from care providers, post-breast surgery difficulties, and going back to work, for example. The more aware you are of the most common breastfeeding obstacles, the more prepared you will be to address them and continue your breastfeeding relationship.