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Nursing is a different experience for every mother and baby, so what works for one woman may not work for the next.
That said, there are plenty of time-tested techniques for improving milk flow, clearing blocked milk ducts, and more. Read on to find out how our site moms faced, and overcame, some of the most common breastfeeding challenges.
I attended a class offered at the hospital. It gave a lot of the basics along with the encouragement that if breastfeeding wasn't easy at first, baby and mom eventually would find their rhythm.
Don't watch the clock to see how often or how long your baby is nursing. Instead, go with your instincts. If your baby is rooting around or crying, then feed him or her — even if you just did.
Make sure your baby's mouth covers a large part of the underside of your nipple. I spent the first few weeks in a lot of pain because my baby wasn't latching on properly. What a difference the correction made!
I'm a pediatrician mom of a 3-year-old whom I breastfed for eight months. My son was extremely hard to start: Despite making our first attempts (unsuccessful) in the first hour and knowing what to do, it took almost two days to get him latched on. In the interim, we finger-fed with an SNS (supplemental nursing system) and glucose water while I pumped to get my milk supply going. The SNS was a lifesaver. We finally hooked it to my breasts and were able to get him latched on by the third day.
I used lanolin ointment on my nipples faithfully morning and night and never experienced any cracking or bleeding when I started nursing. My soreness was minimal, and the ointment soothed my skin when it was chafed. I have very fair, thin skin, so that was a wonderful tip for me! I included a tube with my shower gift to a friend.
I've been solely nursing my baby since birth and now, at 9 weeks, she's a big healthy baby. I had very sore latch-ons at the start, and I found that if I stayed ahead of her intense hunger I was better off. I would check on her around the time I thought she would be waking to eat and watch for tongue-sucking and lip-smacking in light sleep. If I put her to the breast when she showed early signs of hunger, she wouldn't suck as hard as when I waited until she was fully crying and really hungry.
The best — and probably hardest — breastfeeding advice is to relax! Remember that you and your baby are learning.
When I had my daughter, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Unfortunately, she didn't latch on right away, so I began supplementing with formula. Hospital staffers tried everything from round-the-clock attempts to pumping and inserting feeding tubes in the baby's mouth while I tried every nursing position known. The baby knew how to suck, but she just wasn't getting the knack of it. Finally, we tried the plastic breast shield. My baby was able to suck the large plastic nipple and draw the milk rather than search for my small nipple.
I had visions of using the shield from then on, but luckily I lost it and was forced to teach the baby to take my own nipple. I had to use a syringe to "pull" the nipple larger, but in time, thanks to the baby's suckling, my nipples conformed. The rewards for not giving up have been great!
I've had a real problem with leaking breasts. The nursing pads never worked well enough for me, so I came up with my own solution — sanitary napkins! I buy the ultra-thin kind and fold them in half. I can wear them all day and they never leak. It's cheaper, too.
For me, preparing for nursing meant reading all I could. I had several magazine subscriptions going while I was pregnant and almost every issue had an article on breastfeeding. I found new facts and ideas in each, but the bulk of the article was the same. Every time I read these articles, it reinforced all the information I had previously read. When the time came to put it all to use, I felt pretty confident. I felt like I really understood what was coming next and as a result, breastfeeding seemed relatively easy.
When I started breastfeeding, I felt like I needed two or three extra hands. I was so nervous about holding my newborn and supporting his head properly that trying to get him in the right position to latch on seemed impossible. It wasn't until several months later that I got a breastfeeding pillow as a gift. It's amazing. It props the baby up into the perfect spot so I can concentrate on the latching-on, which is the hardest part when you're new to nursing. I wish I'd had one of these when I was learning to nurse and fumbling around with ordinary pillows and blankets and propping and leaning.
The single most beneficial thing I did was to attend a La Leche League meeting while I was pregnant. I learned a tremendous amount and got to see other women nurse their babies, which I had never really seen before. After my baby was born, I continued to attend LLL meetings and have received a great deal of knowledge, support, and encouragement from the leaders and the other mothers. I also made some terrific friends.
My mother gave me a great tip for getting through those first couple of weeks when breastfeeding hurt: Drink very cold water through a straw as the baby is latching on. The cold water will help defer the pain. Other things that help include listening to relaxing music and minimizing distractions so that you can relax and focus on the task at hand.
When my daughter was born, I told my lactation consultant about my horrible experience with mastitis and bleeding nipples when I breastfed my first child. She recommended some products that have worked great: lecithin, for avoiding clogged milk ducts; blessed thistle, for increasing milk flow when I return to work and need to pump; and alfalfa, for enriching my milk. I haven't had any episodes of mastitis. I swear by the herbs – they've made all the difference!
Take all the help and support you can get. The lactation consultant got my husband involved in the learning process so he would know how to help me get the baby latched on until I was able to do it by myself.
The best advice I got for dry and sore nipples came from my doctor. She said not to bother buying those expensive ointments but instead, after breastfeeding, express just enough milk to spread on the nipples. It really does work with the dryness and cracking.
During those early stages, I frequently got blocked milk ducts. When I could feel the full duct even after Doug had fed, I'd put on the warming bag (the kind that you heat in the microwave). I'd also take one ibuprofen tablet. The next time I fed him, I'd start with that breast and massage and "milk" the duct as he sucked. Sometimes I'd keep the warming bag on as he sucked. Usually after three or four feedings it would clear.
I'm a mom of five breastfed babies, expecting the sixth this month. I think one of the hardest things is the constant demand on your time and body. It helped me to look at nursing as our special time together. You'll have bumps in the road, but don't give up.
Make a nursing tool kit. Get a basket or tote bag and fill it with things you'll want on hand while nursing: a refillable bottle of water (one with a pop top spout is great for one-handed maneuvering); an energy bar; something to read; baby nail clippers (it's a great time to get those nails, especially if your baby dozes off); a pad of paper and pen (for jotting down all the things you want to do if you ever get a chance); your cell phone; lanolin for sore nipples; a burp cloth; and so on.
Relax. I continued to pump after I went back to work and was able to breastfeed my firstborn for almost a year. One day at lunch, I came home to pump and my husband was also there. We got into an argument while I was pumping. Normally I would produce plenty of milk in ten to 15 minutes. Apparently I was so emotionally distressed, my milk would not let down. After 20 minutes, I had less than 2 oz, and it was time to go back to work. When I explained to my husband why we didn't have enough milk the next day, he was much more supportive during pumping time. I never would have noticed this unless I was pumping, so I wanted to share with all the breastfeeding moms out there.
When my son was born, we were told he was tongue-tied but his pediatrician said it wasn't a big deal. I started breastfeeding, and soon I had sores on my nipples. It hurt the whole time he nursed, every time he drew milk out. A week after I left the hospital, I went back to see the lactation consultant, and she reiterated that my baby was tongue-tied. She said that he couldn't extend his tongue far enough to suck properly, and that instead, he was chomping on my breast to get the milk. The next day, we had his frenulum clipped a little (he was fine right afterward, no lasting pain), and now he sucks just fine.
My son was born rooting! But he was also born with a teeny tiny mouth and I have large breasts and large nipples, so we had a rough time getting started. I figured out that if I squish my nipple down, much the same way you squish a cheeseburger, he can latch on and eat to his heart's desire! He is 3 weeks old and growing like a weed. I'm so glad I stuck with it and figured out what works best for us.
Expect the best. While these comments are wonderfully helpful in terms of tangible tips and support, I imagine that some readers who haven't yet breastfed might read them and expect all kinds of difficulties if they choose to nurse. I just want to say that I delighted in breastfeeding for ten years straight (four babies in a row, each into toddlerhood) without a single snag. I'm not boasting – just reassuring readers that they won't necessarily have problems breastfeeding!