If Breastfeeding is So Natural, Then Why is it So Hard?

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Doctors, nurses, lactation consultants, the media and your Mom is more than willing to tell you all the reasons why you should breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding has lots of benefits for you and your new baby, if that is what you decide to do. 

According to La Leche League International breastfeeding can lower the chances of allergies, ear infections, respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal problems and increase appropriate jaw, teeth and facial development in your child. For Moms, breastfeeding decreases chances of developing breast, uterine, cervical and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding means not having to buy formula and if you aren’t pumping, no washing bottles and artificial nipples. 

All of this is well and good but what about the Mom and baby that have trouble breastfeeding

Sometimes getting a good latch down is hard. It can be painful. Moms worry that they aren’t producing enough milk and occasionally babies are tongue tied. There can be lots of reasons that a bottle of formula just sounds easier.

So if breastfeeding is so natural, why is it so hard and what can be done about it? 

It is a learning curve for baby

You have never nursed this baby and your baby has never had to work to eat.

For 9 months your baby was nourished through its umbilical cord without having to do anything. Feelings of hunger never existed, there was a constant stream of proteins, sugar and fat that helped them to feel satiated. 

Breastfeeding Tip: Make sure your baby’s tummy is facing your tummy. When babies are on their back nursing you have more of a chance for them to pull your nipple or only latch on to the tip. 

It is a learning curve for you

You have never had to hold a baby, protect its head and neck while trying to get your nipple into your baby’s mouth and also make sure they are still able to breathe.

You will find you don’t have enough hands while your baby will seem to have too many and all in the way. 

Watching youtube videos about positioning, taking a breastfeeding course, reading books will all be very helpful for what to expect but until you are actually doing it, it is not the same. 

Breastfeeding Tip: Always bring baby to the breast, not the breast to baby, you will save your back by doing this. You find a comfortable position and then use pillows, a boppy, blankets to bring the baby to you.

Be patient with yourself

Try lots of different positions, there isn’t a right one. Give yourself lots of time. Nothing says that your baby has to latch within a minute or 2.

Those first nursing sessions can be 15-30 minutes of trying to get baby latched, that is OK. Take deep breaths and as you breathe out, relax your body, your baby will be stressed if you are stressed and will relax if you relax.

Try having your partner get you a large glass of water and try drinking that before you begin, it can help meet both your need for water and also help you relax. 

Take advantage of the first hours after birth

Babies are often wide awake for 1-2 hours after birth, use that time to try nursing. As soon as possible give it a try. If your doctor is doing a repair to your perineum ask your nurse to help get the baby situated on your breast. It is a good distraction and you won’t be wasting that awake time.

If you are able to achieve a good latch, nurse as long as your baby wants, 45 minutes on one side is fantastic, if it is only 10 or 15 minutes, that is ok too. When he acts uninterested or falls asleep, burp him, wake him up and give the other side a try. Sometimes they are full at this point but always offer. 

Breastfeeding Tip: It is called breastfeeding, not nipple feeding. Get as much of the areola into their mouth as possible, their mouth should be wide open when they latch. If you hold your nipple right under their nose they can smell it and will usually open wider to take in the nipple. The nipple should be hitting the back, roof of their mouth once they are on.  

Skin to skin will help you breastfeed

Skin to skin is always best. Often your provider will place your baby directly on your chest after giving birth, there is a reason for that. Skin to skin time will help regulate your baby’s temperature and respiration and for you it will help release oxytocin which will help your uterus contract back down to its pre-baby size as well as tell your body to start making milk.

Even if your baby doesn’t latch during these first couple hours, having your baby skin to skin can help in the long run with nursing, it isn’t a loss, it is just different. 

Hand expressing breast milk can be the missing piece

Occasionally babies won’t latch or only sporadically at first and you will worry that your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, that’s ok, there are things that can be done about this without using formula. Hand expressing breastmilk, as seen in this video, can be spoon or syringe fed to your baby. Doing this will:

  1. Make you feel better and more relaxed that their tummy is full.
  2. Give your baby a taste for milk.
  3. Tell your body to keep making milk.

Hand expression can actually be done for a few minutes after every feed for all the above reasons, even if your baby does have a good latch. The reason you may pick hand expression over pumping is because pumping can cause you to produce more than your baby can eat and lead to engorged, painful breasts. 

Tiny belly but fast digestion

Your baby’s tummy is only the size of a shooter marble on the first day of life, the size of a ping pong ball by day 3 and a large chicken egg by day 10.

Your body will make the exact right amount to fill your baby’s tummy. Lots of Mom’s worry that they don’t have enough or any colostrum at birth, but you do!

If you still aren’t sure, try hand expressing some. The thing you need to remember is, although their belly isn’t very big, breast milk is digested quickly. This means that you will need to feed every 2- 3 hours (that is 8-12 feeds in a 24 hour period) in the beginning, waking your baby up if they sleep through their next feed time.  

Don’t go home from the hospital frustrated

Ask for help. Everyone of your nurses, sometimes even your CNA is trained in breastfeeding support and most postpartum units advertise a lactation consultant.

When your nurse does rounds at the beginning of her shift, let her know that you might call her in for help. Discuss when the lactation consultant is on and how to see her.

When it is time to feed your baby, change its diaper, get situated, get a drink of water and try getting your baby latched on. If you are having trouble, hit your call light and ask for help.

Keep asking for help, every feed, until you are comfortable, don’t go home frustrated. 

Breastfeeding Tip: Your hospital will have lots of resources for you on breastfeeding; hotlines, websites, support groups and consultants, don’t leave the hospital without making sure you have these and know where they are. At the hospital I work at we give Mom’s a folder with lots of information, one of the pages has breastfeeding contacts. As a new mom, ask your nurse to pull that page out and show it to you before discharge, it will save you a lot of searching in the middle of the night. 

How do you know if your baby is getting enough?

Wet and dirty diapers. If it goes in, then it must come out.

In the first 24 hours, expect one dirty and one wet diaper, by day 2, two of each and day 3, 4-5 dirty diapers.

If your baby is able to be soothed, latching, sucking and seemingly satisfied, with appropriate dirty diapers, it stands to reason they are getting just what they need.

If any of these things aren’t happening, have a talk with your nurse if you are still in the hospital, or call a lactation consultant or talk to your child’s pediatrician. Many state’s departments of health, healthcare networks, and hospitals offer 24 hour lactation helplines for when you are struggling in the middle of the night. 

Is it supposed to hurt?

No. Maybe. Yes. Hope that cleared it up.

Many lactation consultants will tell you that it shouldn’t hurt at all, that you may feel tugging but not pinching when your baby latches and that if there is pain you should unlatch and try again.

But I am going to be real with you, in my experience and after talking to many people who experienced the same thing, there is a 10 day period where initial latching can be painful.

  • Maybe your baby is sliding on to the nipple
  • Maybe there isn’t enough nipple in their mouth
  • Maybe it is just getting used to nursing

In my experience, by week 2 there was no pain at all and it got a lot easier. If you can afford to have a lactation consultant come to your house and help you, perhaps you can avoid any pain. However if you are like me, give it a little bit of time. 

Breastfeeding Tip: To unlatch your baby, insert a finger in their mouth and break the suction. Pulling a baby off without breaking suction will cause lots of pain. 

Breastfeeding is natural but it is not always easy

Be kind to yourself and patient, your whole world just changed and you are learning. Breastfeeding has lots of great benefits and I hope you enjoy it, but if you are resentful of nursing and not enjoying it, it may not be the right choice for you. Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling and know that whatever you decide your baby will be ok. 

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You know all the reasons why you should breastfeed your baby. But what about the Mom and baby that have trouble breastfeeding? Sometimes getting a good latch down is hard. It can be painful. Moms worry that they aren’t producing enough milk and occasionally babies are tongue tied. There can be lots of reasons that a bottle of formula just sounds easier. So here is why there is a breastfeeding learning curve and tips to help you get through it. #breastfeeding

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