As many new moms can tell you, the breastfeeding experience has its ups and downs. While it’s one way to make sure your baby is getting all the nourishment they need during that first growth period, it’s not always an easy process for everyone. And sometimes it just doesn’t work out, or a personal choice leads you in another direction. And that’s completely okay!
Whether or not you choose to breastfeed, you and your baby are figuring out what works together. So, know that it’s alright to take it one step at a time. Let’s get into some common experiences while navigating breastfeeding, overcoming these challenges, and nutritional tips for baby and mom.
Common challenges of breastfeeding
Like motherhood, breastfeeding can be a joy, but also challenging at times. And even experienced mothers will tell you that every baby is different, so what worked for one child, may not work for another! It’s completely normal to feel stumped at times. But know that you’re not alone.
Here are some of the most common challenges when it comes to breastfeeding.
“Latching” is the way your baby attaches to your nipple during feeding. While some babies latch right away with ease, others take a little longer. A correct latch should not be painful and allow a good flow of milk to your baby. On the other hand, incorrect latching can lead to soreness, cracked nipples and difficulty drawing milk from the breast. If you’re struggling to get a good latch, try following your baby’s lead. If your baby is hungry, they will bob their head against you. At this point, pull your baby close so that their chin and lower jaw move into your breast. This will help your baby to open wide enough to latch properly.
When struggling with latching, some individuals find it helpful to see a lactation consultant. These professionals specialize in navigating common issues of breastfeeding, and can be consulted before and after birth. Many also find it helpful to turn to the breastfeeding community including online forums and experienced friends and family. Remember – you’re not in this alone!
Cracked nipples are no fun and can feel pretty uncomfortable. This typically happens when your baby hasn’t latched correctly, when there are difficulties with suction, or the baby’s position during feeding isn’t optimal. If you’re struggling with cracked nipples, try massaging some breastmilk into the nipple after feeding. Since breastmilk is loaded with antibodies, it can help heal your nipples. Other remedies that you can turn to speed the healing process include aloe vera gel, olive oil, and calendula ointment.
Another common challenge you might experience while breastfeeding are blocked milk ducts. Usually, you’ll be able to see a white lump on the nipple, a sign that your ducts are blocked. Milk ducts can become blocked at any stage of breastfeeding. This happens when the breast isn’t drained properly during feeding. Now you may be thinking, how can you know for sure if your breast is completely drained? The best way to determine is how you feel after feeding – your breast(s) should feel softer and lighter afterwards.
Fully draining your breast(s) will also help increase the amount of milk you produce, while helping avoid blocked ducts and mastitis. Blocked ducts can be painful and cause swelling (yikes!). But, nursing with the baby’s chin in line or facing towards the affected duct can help to unblock it – this angle creates more powerful suction.
Mastitis occurs when there’s inflammation in the breast tissue, sometimes accompanied by a bacterial infection. This can happen as a result of blocked ducts. If you think you may have mastitis, look out for swelling and redness on your breast, fatigue, and flu-like aches in your body.
In the case of a bacterial infection, it’s best to reach out to your healthcare practitioner. To prevent mastitis during breastfeeding, make sure you’re draining your breast completely during feeding. (A warm compress is your best friend when it comes to soothing discomfort from mastitis!)
Low milk production
Not producing enough milk is something almost all mothers experience on their journey with breastfeeding. How much breastmilk you produce depends on various factors such as:
- Frequency of feeding
- Favouring one breast over the other for feeding
- Ability to latch correctly
- Sleep quality
While this may sound a little scary, it’s important to know that insufficient milk production is very rare. In fact, most women produce more breastmilk than their babies can consume. So, even when it feels like you’re producing a low amount, your baby is likely still getting enough. If low milk production is something you’re struggling with, here are some tips to help you:
- Make sure you’re drinking enough water.
- Get rest when you can – as a new parent, we know this may be hard! But lack of sleep can actually reduce the amount of milk you produce.
- Stimulate your nipples by trying to feed often.
Fueling for breastfeeding
It takes a lot of energy for your body to produce breastmilk. So, increasing your calorie count is key to keeping the body energized and able to keep up with breastmilk production. Although everyone’s body is different and will have varying needs, it’s recommended that nursing moms increase their diet by 350 to 400 calories per day to help fuel the production of breastmilk.
Focusing on good quality proteins, a wide range of vegetables and fruits is a great way to support your body during this time. Health experts recommended that you continue taking your prenatal vitamin for as long as you are breastfeeding in order to prevent any deficiencies. Having a deficiency can affect not only your health, but also influence the quality and quantity of milk produced.
For those following a plant-based diet
Those following a vegan or vegetarian diet may need additional supplementation while breastfeeding. Some nutrients are commonly low in these types of diets, and without extra support while feeding yourself and your baby, sometimes deficiencies can occur.
Here are some vital nutrients to keep an eye on:
When choosing not to breastfeed
Every person is different. And that means there may be many reasons why you may choose not to, or are unable to breastfeed. Which is completely fine! Whatever the reason, there are many options available to make sure your baby gets all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and happy.
If you’re looking for supplemental nutrients to focus on, vitamin D3 and our Baby Probiotic Drops can be beneficial in ways similar to breastmilk. While vitamin D3 plays a major role in building strong bones and teeth, adding a probiotic can strengthen a baby’s developing immune system. Probiotics also help balance out your baby’s gut flora and prevent the overgrowth of bad bacteria that usually cause digestive issues.
Breastfeeding has a lot of benefits for both you and your little one. But there’s also a lot of pressure on moms when it comes to breastfeeding. So, remember to be easy on yourself, especially if things aren’t working the way you thought it would. Like many things in life, breastfeeding is learned through experience and your breastfeeding journey is unique to you!
The information in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health professional regarding any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or wait to seek advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
Del Ciampo, L.A., Del Ciampo, I.R.L. (2018). Breastfeeding and the Benefits of Lactation for Women’s Health. RBGO, Gynecology & Obstetrics, 40(6):354-359.
Krbavcic, I.P., & A. Vukomanovic (2021). Breastfeeding: Health benefits and dietary recommendations. Croatian Journal of Food Technology, Biotechnology and Nutrition, 16(1-2): 3-10
Phillipson, L. (2019). Sprout Right Family Food. Penguin.
Getting a good latch