We hear a lot about the pros and cons of breastfeeding versus formula, and it’s a choice every mother has to face. According to the latest CDC data, 76.5% of babies born in the US are breastfed at some point. That’s up significantly from the middle of the 20th century, when the advent of formula led to bottle feeding for 80% of infants. But the choice between bottle feeding and breastfeeding isn’t always a matter of preference, convenience, or belief. In some cases, breastfeeding problems make that option very difficult.
The problem is a common one. In a study from UC Davis and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, researchers found that a whopping 92% of first-time mothers had at least one problem breastfeeding within the first 3 days after delivery.
So what kinds of problems affect breastfeeding and what can we do about them? These are some of the common issues (and potential solutions) women run into while trying to breastfeed:
1. Baby Doesn’t Latch On Properly
It often seems like breastfeeding should just sort of happen – that nature should take over and baby and mother should both just start the process. But it’s not actually that simple. If your baby doesn’t properly latch on to the nipple, breastfeeding may be painful or ineffective. And it takes a fair amount of coordination to accomplish a good latch, especially considering infants can barely control their movements at all.
This is something that may take practice for you and your baby. A proper latch should cover not just the nipple, but also the areola. That way, the baby’s mouth can put pressure on the milk sinuses around the nipple to start it flowing. You can help your little one along by lightly compressing your breast around the areola to help it fit properly in the baby’s mouth. If it’s a good latch, the baby’s nose and chin will be touching your breast and her lips will be flared outward rather than curled inward. If you feel pain, it may be a sign that you don’t have a good latch and need to give it another shot. This learning curve is one of the most common breastfeeding problems, so don’t worry if it takes you a little while to get the hang of it.
2. Nipple Pain
The most common cause of nipple pain is improper positioning of the baby (as described above). And many mothers experience soreness as they get used to breastfeeding, but that should go away within about a week. If it doesn’t, the pain may be caused by a different problem – an issue with the way the baby sucks or improper use of a breast pump, for example. Bacterial or yeast infections are another common cause of nipple pain; the nipples may be sore and battered as you learn to breastfeed and that makes them easy targets for infection.
For nipple pain, warm compresses are a good first line of defense. You may also want to use a cream designed to soothe sore nipples. If that doesn’t do the trick, give your doctor a call to talk in greater detail about your symptoms and determine what kind of treatments can help.
3. Insufficient Milk Supply
Improper latching and nipple pain are obstacles to getting started breastfeeding, but having an insufficient milk supply can make it very difficult to continue breastfeeding once you get started. A 2008 study found that 50% of women cited insufficient milk supply as their reason for early weaning. In fact, it’s the most common reason women decide to stop breastfeeding. A number of factors can affect your milk supply, including anatomical issues with the glands or ducts, medical conditions that affect your hormones, certain medications, and previous breast surgeries.
Milk supply issues can be very upsetting for a mother that wants to breastfeed, but you shouldn’t stop just because you feel there may not be enough. Many women believe they’re not producing enough milk for the baby when they actually are. If you’re concerned about your milk supply, go to your doctor or a lactation specialist first. They can help you track your supply to determine if you’re producing enough milk. And if you aren’t, they can help you find ways to increase the flow. The first line of defense is generally to express milk more often; your body may respond to the increased demand with increased production. Certain medications may also help improve your milk supply.
What Should I Do If I’m Struggling With Breastfeeding Problems?
As we mentioned above, nearly every new mother struggles with some breastfeeding problems. And those problems discourage a lot of women from continuing to breastfeed – just 13% of women are still breastfeeding exclusively at 6 months. Unfortunately, many new mothers feel a strong social stigma around being “unable to provide for” their babies, which can have serious emotional side effects. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using formula, no matter what the reason.
Breastfeeding problems are really common, it’s just that we don’t often talk about them and many women don’t get the education and training they need during pregnancy and after delivery to make it manageable. So if you want to breastfeed, consider seeking out a lactation specialist to help you learn the process and identify any potential problems before they arise. It’s much easier to keep breastfeeding with the moral support and practical help of an expert.
And as always, you should contact your doctor immediately if you believe there’s a problem with the way your little one is eating. The sooner you address it, the better for both you and baby.