While breastfeeding is natural, it doesn’t always come naturally. It’s a skill that you and your baby are learning together. Oftentimes, it can be hard and demanding. With a little bit of knowledge and preparation, breastfeeding can be a little less overwhelming.
The first latch may not be perfect. In fact, it may be a little painful. Your nipples can be very sensitive during the first week postpartum. After one week, your nipple sensitivity should significantly decrease. If you continue experiencing painful nursing, contact an IBCLC for an evaluation. Applying lanolin and letting your nipples air-dry for 10 minutes after nursing can help soothe sore or cracked nipples.
To get the perfect latch, hold your breast like a sandwich, with your thumb on the underside and your fingers pressing down to get the nipple exposed and the breast tissue out of the way. Try pointing your nipple up, toward the ceiling. Then, as you bring your baby up to your chest with your other hand, gently press your nipple to their top lip. Your partner can help support your baby while you get them latched. By pressing your nipple to their lip, your baby should begin opening their mouth and tilting their head back slightly to latch on.
Once their mouth is open you can slip your nipple in and see how it feels. Their top lip should be fully over your nipple, not tucked in, and their tongue should be cupping the bottom. Bring them in close so their chin is kneading your breast tissue and the tip of their nose is barely touching your breast. If you need to readjust, gently insert your finger through the side of their mouth to break the suction and repeat the steps.
If you are having a hard time getting a proper latch, there may be something else going on making it difficult. Tongue and lip ties are common issues that can impact latching and suckling. Common symptoms of tongue and lip ties are:
Difficulty latching properly
Feeling pain when baby is latched on
Your baby is gaining weight slowly or losing weight
If you suspect your baby may have a lip or tongue tie, contact your pediatrician or an IBCLC for further inspection.
Flat or inverted nipples can also affect your baby’s ability to latch, especially early on when their mouths are so tiny. As your baby gets bigger and your nipples become used to nursing, it will become easier. With a little bit of help and preparation before nursing, many women can successfully breastfeed with flat or inverted nipples. Here are some ways to help get started:
Roll your nipple between your thumb and forefinger
Gently touch an ice pack to your nipple
Use a nipple shield as a temporary device to help your baby latch on
All women and babies are different. The shape and direction of your nipples can affect your ability to achieve a good latch, or your baby may even have a preference in nursing positions. If you find that your baby is not able to latch on properly, try a different position and find out what works for you.
Here are some positions you can try out as you learn what works best for you and your baby:
Is Your Baby Getting Enough?
Usually the answer is: yes. A common concern when breastfeeding for the first time is that your baby isn’t getting enough milk. It’s difficult to know how much milk your baby is getting because you can’t measure it like you can in bottles.
If you want more accurate data to find out how much milk your baby is drinking, you can do a weighted feed. To do a weighted feed, you’ll need a baby scale or one that shows the pounds and ounces. Then before nursing your baby, check their weight and write it down. After nursing your baby, check their weight again and note the difference in weight.
Cracked nipples are common while breastfeeding, especially during the first few weeks. They may bleed, but this is mainly a concern for you. While it can be painful, you can still breastfeed and collect milk with cracked nipples. Applying lanolin and changing your nursing position may help ease the discomfort.
For the first month or so of breastfeeding, it is common to have engorged breasts, especially overnight and in the mornings. It can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to get a proper latch.
Breasts become engorged because as your milk comes in, your body is trying to figure out how much milk it needs to produce to feed your baby. While your body figures that out, it overproduces to ensure adequate nutrition. This can cause a few problems, however.
Engorged breasts can lead to clogged ducts which can then lead to mastitis, a bacterial infection that requires treatment. To prevent this, massage your breasts from the base of your breast toward the nipple. Finger tapping works well too. You can do this while nursing your baby or using a pump. If you notice any red hot spots, focus on that specific area as that could be a clogged duct.
Removing a clogged duct can be challenging, but here are some tips:
Use a vibrating toothbrush, strong water pressure from the shower head, or massage gun to help break up the clog
Use a hot compress
Try dangle feeding your baby or using a pump with the flange pointing towards the clogged duct
Ask your midwives about using sunflower lecithin
If you start fevering, call our midwives right away and tell them your symptoms.
Breastmilk works on a supply and demand basis. The more that milk is removed, the more your body will produce. This can cause issues with an oversupply or undersupply of milk. It’s recommended to nurse your baby on demand, or every 2-3 hours. Only pump or hand express milk when needed so you don’t cause an oversupply problem.
When dealing with an undersupply, first things first, make sure you are staying hydrated. The next thing you can do is get in as much skin-to-skin time with your baby as possible. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, which can help increase your milk supply. Bring your baby to the breast as much as possible. If they are not hungry, try hand expressing milk or pumping. This should trigger your body to start producing more milk.
While trying to increase your supply, you may need to supplement with formula or donor milk. Just be sure to nurse your baby beforehand.
Is Breastfeeding Right For Me?
Breastfeeding should be beneficial for you and your baby. If it isn’t working out, that’s okay! We are lucky to live in a time that formula is readily available. You can also find a milk donor if you still want the benefits of breastmilk, but aren’t able to produce it yourself. There are many reasons why breastfeeding doesn’t work out, and all of them are valid. For assistance in breastfeeding, contact our midwives today!
Dakota Collins is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother of two precious little girls who is passionate about freedom in pregnancy and childbirth.