Breastfeeding rates are continuing to rise in the U.S., according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Awareness (CDC). About 81 percent of new mothers start out breastfeeding their babies, but by six months that number is down to 52 percent. At one year, the number of breastfeeding moms drops to 31 percent.
Not every new mom has an easy time with this process. These figures indicate that even if most mothers try to breastfeed, not all of them succeed. And as their babies get older, fewer women are able to continue nursing.
Breastfeeding seems like one of the most natural functions your body performs after having a baby, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Here are some of the challenges you may encounter with feeding your baby and how you can prepare for them.
Low Milk Supply
Some new mothers are surprised to find their ability to produce enough milk to feed their baby doesn’t come automatically. Women may deal with low milk supply for several reasons, including hormonal challenges, glandular issues that affect the ducts that produce milk, a prior breast surgery or the use of birth control.
“Putting the baby to breast as frequently as they demand is the simplest and most efficient way to get your milk to come in quickly,” said Debbie Day, a registered nurse and lactation consultant for Winchester Hospital’s Outpatient Lactation Center. “Occasionally, there are roadblocks and your baby may need to supplement according to what your physician requests, and that’s okay.”
If you encounter any of these issues, your hospital or doctor’s office may set you up with a lactation consultant after you deliver to provide tips and techniques on how to properly breastfeed. This specialist may suggest nursing more frequently, drinking more water, pumping after nursing, switching to the other breast or not using a pacifier for a while so your baby can suckle and stimulate your milk supply.
“I know a lot of mom gets panic-stricken when this happens. They feel like they have failed and not going to be able to do what their baby needs as far as breastfeeding,” Day said.
“It’s okay if this happens. You will be able to continue to breastfeed, in most cases exclusively.”
Flat or Inverted Nipples
Flat nipples don’t extend as far beyond the areola and don’t protrude when they’re stimulated. This makes it more challenging for your baby to latch on to get the milk. Inverted nipples have the opposite issue — they go inward when stimulated — which also makes nursing challenging.
If you have either flat or inverted nipples, there are several ways to make it easier for your baby to latch on. Placing plastic breast shells over the nipple to create pressure around it can help the nipple protrude. Using a breast pump right before nursing can also draw out the nipple, as can manual nipple stimulation by rubbing your nipples between your thumb and index finger.
New moms can also use a nipple enhancer before nursing to help with stimulation. Nipple enhancers come with a syringe with a silicone tip used to suction the nipples and allow them to protrude. Some women may find it helpful to use a nipple shield — a flexible, silicone-based covering with a hole at the tip placed over the nipple to extend it and feed the baby.
Pain While Nursing
One recent study found that ongoing nipple pain is one of the main reasons new mothers decide not to exclusively breastfeed. Flat or inverted nipples can cause pain, but so can incorrect positioning, infection and tongue tie. New moms also may experience engorged breasts that are too full with milk and cause swelling, making it more challenging to breastfeed.
Pumping and nipple enhancers can relieve this pressure. You can also use prescription ointment or even your own breast milk to treat cracked or sore nipples. Adjusting your positioning while nursing may reduce nipple pain and airing out the nipples can help them to heal.
Should You Try Breastfeeding?
Nursing can provide your baby vital nutrients and antibodies that protect against common childhood infections, boost their immune system and reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, according to the National Institutes of Health. It can also reduce a child’s risk of developing leukemia and lymphoma and lower the risk for obesity and diabetes as children progress into adolescence and adulthood, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Even with these benefits, the challenges can make it difficult for some new moms to do it exclusively. If you’d like to breastfeed but are struggling with setbacks, your doctor or a lactation consultant can help you overcome the difficulties.
Talk to a Lahey Health lactation consultant about how to make breastfeeding work for you and your baby.