What are the typical breastfeeding challenges new mothers might encounter?

December 16th, 2013 by Dionna | Comments Off on What are the typical breastfeeding challenges new mothers might encounter?
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, natural parenting

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This article is part of the Building Blocks to a Healthy Breastfeeding Relationship series, a series I wrote to accompany a presentation I did for the Healthy Child Summit. Be sure to sign up for a free 22 day sneak preview at the Healthy Child Summit website. Beginning in February 2014, you’ll get access to presentations from over 50 natural health, wellness, and parenting professionals on topics like healthy pregnancy and birth, breastfeeding, natural medicines, toxin-free homes, and more. After the sneak peek, please use my affiliate link if you’d like to purchase access to the presentations.


Latch problems. Marathon nursing sessions. Teething and biting. Nursing strikes.

Breastfeeding can be easy, but it can also have its own set of unique challenges. Let’s take a look at some of the more common challenges.

What are the typical challenges a new breastfeeding mother might encounter, and how can she best prepare herself?

I want to preface the information below with a caveat: while it is great to prepare yourself for potential challenges, I would hate for anyone to stress themselves out thinking of the what-if’s. Remember, having a strong support network and working on that initial latch is key – read more about that in the first post in this series, “How can I prepare to breastfeed before baby is born?

With that in mind, here are some of the more common challenges mothers encounter in the first few months of breastfeeding. Your mileage may vary – you may have a different challenge (a special needs baby, an infection), or you may have no challenges at all. May the latter be the case for you! (I’ll also take this moment to remind everyone that I am not an LC – if you are experiencing breastfeeding challenges right now, please seek out a good lactation consultant to help you!)

  • Poor latch: There are a few things that can affect baby’s latch. You want to make sure baby is positioned correctly. Check out this article from Kellymom on latching and positioning (it has lots of resources). Keep in mind that your comfort matters too – try nursing in a semi-reclined position. Another factor in correct latch is making sure baby is opening his mouth wide enough. Dr. Jack Newman has an excellent article on latching that includes tips and diagrams. Latching is key to baby getting enough colostrum and milk to thrive. If you are unsure of whether your newborn is latching properly, go ahead and talk to a lactation consultant. Don’t be shy or reluctant to seek help, get that peace of mind!
  • Milk supply questions: How does milk production work? In the beginning, your colostrum will be made, and your milk supply will increase about 30-40 hours after birth, regardless of whether you plan on breastfeeding. It is a hormonally driven process. After that, breastfeeding is based on supply and demand, or as Kellymom puts it, milk supply is a “use it or lose it” system. You need to be nursing or pumping in order to keep an effective milk supply.

    Assuming you are nursing on demand, your breasts are miraculous things – they will actually vary their production according to your baby’s nursing needs. For example, most women produce more milk in the morning when baby is hungrier. What’s more? Your breastmilk will be uniquely formulated to meet the needs of your baby. Tthe components of breastmilk change depending on the age and stage of the nursling, and variations also exist within each nursing session, with the time of day or night, and to some extent with maternal diet.1

    Mothers often worry about whether they have low milk supply. For most women, this is not going to be a true problem. If your baby is gaining weight well without supplementation, you are likely making enough milk. It is helpful to remember that baby’s stomach is the size of her fist, and breastmilk is digested quickly. She needs to nurse frequently! But if you are really experiencing supply issues, there are natural herbs you can take to help boost your supply (read this article by Dr. Newman on Herbal Remedies for Low Milk Supply).

    Some mothers have no problem with supply in the beginning, but they begin to worry when baby is a few weeks old, because it seems like baby just can’t nurse enough. If this is the case, your baby may simply be going through a growth spurt. Newborns go through quite a few growth spurts in the first few months of their lives, and they will nurse much more frequently during each one. Older babies, too, may nurse more frequently during other developmental spurts, such as when they begin to roll, or creep, or crawl, or walk. Read more about growth spurts and what to expect at Kellymom.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, some mothers deal with overproduction or a forceful let-down that makes it hard for baby to latch on and nurse at the beginning of a nursing session. This article from Kellymom gives moms ideas and resources on how to deal with oversupply and forceful let-down.

    If you do experience supply issues, keep trying! There are ways to help regulate your production and deal with let-down. Talk to an LC and don’t give up.

  • Sore breasts/nipples: Mothers may experience a wide range of nipple and breast soreness in the early weeks of breastfeeding. It may be due to the simple fact that there is more activity going on than usual, and it will go away on its own. Sore nipples can often be attributed to a poor latch, so make sure baby is latching on correctly. Many women experience engorgement issues – once their milk comes in, their breasts feel full and sore, but this is usually relieved by nursing baby. Be sure to nurse on demand – as baby needs to nurse. Let baby empty one breast fully before switching to the other breast. Read more about engorgement and how to minimize it at Kellymom.
  • Plugged ducts/mastitis: “A plugged (or blocked) duct is an area of the breast where milk flow is obstructed.” The flow can be blocked right at the nipple, resulting in a nipple blister; or it can happen farther back in the breast, resulting in a hard lump that you can feel (and that can prevent milk from flowing properly in other ducts). A plugged duct is usually not due to a bacterial infection or accompanied by a fever, and it usually resolves (with a little help from you and baby) in a day or two. Massage the area, apply a warm compress, and give baby free access to the breast. Read Plugged Ducts and Mastitis on Kellymom to read more about symptoms, causes, and treatments.

    If not resolved, a plugged duct can turn into mastitis, which is an infection in the breast. There are ways to treat mastitis without antibiotics, provided you start them as soon as possible after you notice the signs of mastitis (the symptoms are similar to a plugged duct, but more intense: pain, heat, swelling. In addition, you may have a fever, and you may see red streaks on the affected breast.). See Blocked Ducts and Mastitis from Dr. Newman on ideas for alternatives to antibiotics.

  • Nursing strikes: Occasionally, for a variety of reasons, baby may resist nursing. Don’t panic! There are things you can do to entice baby back to breast. Remember – babies under 1 year very rarely self-wean, so don’t automatically assume baby is done breastfeeding.

    Kellymom says that there are two keys to dealing with a nursing strike: feed the baby (preferably with expressed breastmilk, if she won’t nurse), and maintain your supply (through pumping or nursing). Two things that can help tremendously during a nursing strike are kangaroo care – wear your baby in a carrier if possible, and go back to that skin-to-skin contact. Both of these will encourage nursing. Keep baby close to you even at night – practice safe co-sleeping. If baby is sick or teething, continue offering the breast and take steps to help baby feel more comfortable. (Read 32 Natural Remedies for Colds, Congestion, Coughs, and Fevers in Infants (Newborn to 6 Months).)

Further resources on typical challenges in the early weeks.


Photo Credit: rifqy

  1. For more on how breastmilk changes, read What Does Breastmilk Taste Like?, part 3.

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