Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s natural in the way walking is natural—humans are biologically designed to do it, but it takes some effort and practice before it gets easy and feels second-nature.
The top struggles breastfeeding moms experience, particularly in the early weeks, are nipple pain and milk supply concerns. If you’re a breastfeeding mother having trouble with either, I strongly encourage you to reach out to a lactation professional for one-on-one support. Watch the videos from Global Health Media that are linked in this post, and give these seven tips a try.
1) Ensure baby has a good latch
Getting a good latch is key to avoiding nipple pain. Lotions and creams advertised to breastfeeding mothers can be comforting and soothing, but no amount of lanolin or nipple balm is going to correct pain associated with an improper latch. This video from Global Health Media demonstrates a fantastic method for getting your newborn to latch comfortably.
2) Try a change in position.
A change of position may help physical discomfort. Sometimes, as exhausted breastfeeding mothers, we accidentally end up in some uncomfortable positions trying to feed our babies. You should feel relaxed, calm, and comfortable when you’re nursing your baby. If you find yourself hunched over, or getting a cramp or a twinge, or your back has started aching, it may be time to try some other positions.
3) Practice hand expression.
Hand expression can be used to collect colostrum immediately after birth. In the first days after birth, your baby will get colostrum, our very first breastmilk, when nursing. Sometimes, a baby will be born, latch on comfortably within minutes, and nurse like a champ, while some babies take a little more time to get efficient with nursing. This is especially true if mom’s labor was medicated, particularly long and arduous, or baby was born via C-section. If you feel your baby isn’t latching effectively at first, I recommend hand expressing colostrum to feed your baby with a spoon or syringe every two hours by day, and at least every three by night, while continuing to offer the breast. This way, your baby is being fed while you both learn to breastfeed together.
Hand expression when breastmilk transitions to mature milk and becomes more abundant is also very helpful for relieving engorgement postpartum and softening the nipple to make it easier for your baby to latch. It can be used if you are away from your baby and do not have a pump or necessary pump parts. Many mothers find that with practice, hand expressing can be more efficient and effective for collecting breastmilk than a pump.
4) Ensure baby is being fed on cue, and at least eight times a day.
Babies are designed to eat small, very frequent breastmilk meals. Babies should always be nursed on cue, and a minimum of eight times a day. Hunger cues in lightly-sleeping babies include smirks, smiles, grimaces, eye flutters, and little mouth movements. When a baby is actively awake, hunger cues also include hand-to-mouth motions and rooting. Crying is a late-stage hunger sign, and it can be difficult to effectively and comfortably latch a crying infant. Offering the breast “on cue” when baby shows hunger cues, instead of “on demand” when the baby “demands” a feed with crying, will result in more comfortable and more effective breastfeeding.
5) Trust the one sign that your baby is getting enough milk.
Your exclusively nursing baby’s weight gain will tell you if your baby is getting enough milk. Sometimes, your baby’s (normal) behavior may have you wondering if your milk supply is sufficient. Many moms wonder if the sudden feeling of softer breasts, or no longer feeling a letdown, or baby’s intense cluster feeding, fussy evenings, “witching hours,” and frequent rousing to feed overnight could mean a loss of supply. However, these are all entirely normal, and as long as your baby is gaining weight well (about an ounce a day on average), then you can trust your baby is getting enough milk, even if they’re nursing very frequently, your breasts suddenly feel softer, or you don’t pump much when you try. If your baby is not gaining weight adequately, an immediate assessment with a lactation specialist is important.
6) Avoid pacifier use, at least until breastfeeding is well-established and baby is gaining well.
Pacifiers can easily mask subtle hunger cues that newborns exhibit. Lip smacking, little mouth movements, and hand-to-mouth motions are a few hunger cues you will notice in healthy newborns, but these cues are difficult to notice when a pacifier is being used. Young babies have a biological need to suck, and when those needs are entirely met at the breast early on, mother’s body is signaled to produce more milk her supply is far more likely to be abundant.
7) Keep baby in close proximity overnight.
Our milk-making hormone, prolactin, peaks in the middle of the night. Exclusively nursing infants can get up to one-third of their overall daily milk intake overnight. Nighttime nursing is a critical aspect of an abundant milk supply. Although some exclusively breastfed babies can naturally sleep longer stretches overnight, and their mothers can regularly go long stretches without expressing and still keep a good milk supply, this is not common—even if a mother is instructed to stop night-nursing because “the baby doesn’t need to feed at night anymore.” This advice is unsound and outdated, and the vast majority of exclusively nursing babies need at least one overnight feed (often more) in their first six months and beyond.