It’s not uncommon to hear pregnant mothers say they plan to breastfeed “If I can”. However, it is worthwhile for every one of them to assume that they will be able to. Having a positive attitude where breastfeeding is normalised goes a long way towards dealing with any problems if they come up. Most breastfeeding problems are best viewed as temporary interruptions, rather than a reason to stop breastfeeding.
Although breastfeeding is a normal process, it still involves a learned set of skills for both the mother and her baby. In the course of developing confidence it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and confused. But it is worth remembering that breastfeeding is so beneficial to both mothers and their babies that it is worth persevering.
Common Breastfeeding Problems
Most women are able to breastfeed without experiencing any significant problems. After a few days of getting used to attaching the baby correctly, and for lactation to become established, it becomes an easy and straightforward process.
Time, patience, confidence and support and importantly, an “I can do this” attitude, all combine to make breastfeeding a pleasurable experience.
Colostrum is the first milk produced by the mother’s breasts and this is replaced by more mature milk within the first few days after birth. Colostrum is high in antibodies and immune properties and is ideally suited for digestion in a newborn baby’s gut. Early breastfeeds, as soon after birth as possible, even within the first half hour, help to initiate breastfeeding and lead to success. They also assist with early bonding and emotional attachment.
Most newborns have a very strong urge to suck and are hard-wired to seek out the nipple and attach themselves. The majority of midwives and obstetricians place the newborn up onto its mother’s chest or abdomen immediately after birth. This skin to skin contact helps the baby to activate inbuilt crawling and seeking responses.
Don’t expect your breastmilk to look like cow’s milk, because the two are completely different. Breast milk can appear watery with a pale blue tint but this is not a sign of it being too weak. The concentrations of nutrients, water, fat and antibodies in breast milk are always perfect. Breasts can differ in size and how much milk they produce and it is not uncommon for babies’ to prefer sucking on one breast than the other.
Now I’ll always have Problems!
Early breastfeeding problems are not a sign that breastfeeding will always be difficult. Most minor problems can be addressed with short term strategies and often don’t recur. However, it’s important to get professional help if you feel you need it. Early, specifically targeted solutions can often prevent complications from occurring.
Mothers often have the solutions themselves, but just need someone else to clarify them. Support can range from a telephone conversation to a comprehensive consultation with a lactation consultant. Often the greatest support comes from those who have had similar experiences and although they may not have professional expertise, their empathy is an important factor.
Common Breastfeeding Problems for Mothers
- Difficulty attaching their baby correctly to the nipple.
- Low breast milk supply or alternately, a copious milk supply.
- Tender or painful nipples. Occasionally cracks, blister and grazes occur as a result of incorrect attachment.
- Blocked milk ducts and mastitis.
- Confusion. Advice comes from many sources and not all of it is consistent. Aim to find a couple of trusted sources of support and work out what applies to you and your baby. Do what seems and feels right – you will rarely go wrong.
- Lack of confidence. Any new set of skills seems foreign and strange at the beginning. Be kind to yourself as you go through the learning stages of breastfeeding.
- Mothers who have had breast augmentation or reduction procedures can have problems with insufficient breast milk supply. This does not prevent them from breastfeeding, but if their baby is not receiving sufficient breast milk to thrive, they may need formula supplements.
Common Breastfeeding Problems for Babies
- Sleepy baby who is disinterested in sucking.
- Prematurity or illness which is impacting on the baby’s ability to suck.
- An uncoordinated sucking and swallowing response.
- Fussiness and disinterest in breastfeeding. Sometimes the cause for this is unclear.
- Lack of opportunity to feed as frequently and for as long as they need to. Restricting breastfeeds is not a good idea and doesn’t support the supply and demand principles of successful breastfeeding.
- Confusion about effective sucking. This can happen when a baby is sucking on bottles and dummies as well as the breast.
- When a breastfed baby is offered formula milk, this can interrupt their hunger and willingness to attach and suck on the breast.
Where to Get Support
- Midwives. These are general trained nurses with additional skills and expertise in caring for mothers. They can work at maternity hospitals, community health centres and in private practice.
- Plunket nurses who work in Plunket family centres.
- Lactation consultants who work within community health or have their own independent practices. Check the New Zealand Lactation Consultants Association at www.nzlca.org.nz
- General Practitioners – particularly those with a special interest in breastfeeding.
- New Zealand BreastfeedingAuthority www.breastfeeding.org.nz
- Other mothers, friends, relatives and support groups who have had breastfeeding experience.