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What To Do When You're Struggling With Breastfeeding

Charlotte Grainger

Written by Charlotte Grainger

9 min read

Breastfeeding. It’s the most natural thing in the world, and so it should be so super easy. Right? Wrong! 

As many new mothers know all too well, there’s a whole range of common breastfeeding issues that can rear their ugly heads when you’re new to the task. The first time you attempt to breastfeed, it may be harder than you imagined. But don’t panic. You’re not alone in this!

Many women face challenges when it comes to this aspect of motherhood but you can overcome them. Let’s take a look at some of the most common breastfeeding issues women experience and how you can overcome them. 

1. Pain and discomfort when your baby latches 

Mother breastfeeding her baby on the couch

One of the most common breastfeeding problems is experiencing pain or general discomfort when your baby latches. You may find that you have sore nipples, for instance. Often enough, the cause is that your child is not latching well enough during breastfeeding. As mum, Melissa Stanford, explains, there are ways to deal with the issue.

“My son latched on day one but it was painful so not a great latch. I got a bit of help in hospital from midwives but in reality as soon as they walk away you end up not being able to replicate the advice they provide and also they were short staffed,” says Melissa. 

Although the road was long, Melissa found one solution that helped her.

“Finally, I found a consultant to help in person and introduced nipple shields which allowed my son to latch better,” she explains.

While nipple shields cannot correct any underlying problems, they can help your child latch well and, in doing so, make it more comfortable for you.

2. Believing every breastfeeding experience will be the same

Tired parent sat holding their sleeping baby

If you’re not a first-time mum, this isn’t your first rodeo. However, regardless of how your first attempts at breastfeeding went, the truth is that all babies are different.

We spoke to a mum-of-two who explains, while her first baby breastfeed well, her second was more complicated.

“When I had my second daughter a couple of months ago, I opted for a planned C-section. Although the birth went really well, unfortunately she caught an infection and was moved to Special Care."

The situation meant that she had to express from day one and wasn’t allowed to breastfeed until day three. By that time, she had engorged breasts, making it hard for her second-born to latch. “Even though I found breastfeeding the first time around easy, a different birth or an infection resulted in a whole heap of challenges that I wouldn’t have expected,” she explains.

With that in mind, it’s important to take each experience as it comes.

3. Sleep deprivation because of breastfeeding 

Tired mum leaning on the edge of the sink with her head in her hand, holding her baby in her other arm

If you choose to go down the breastfeeding route, there’s one major challenge. Since you are the only one who can feed your new born baby, you’ll be on night duty all the time. That means waving goodbye to blissful eight hours’ sleep and saying hello to deprivation. 

“The night wakings are relentless and you have someone who relies on you 100% no matter how exhausted you are,” explains Melissa. “I found the sleep deprivation made me snap easily at my partner and made me feel desperate and depressed, dreading bedtime as I knew it would be filled with lots of wakings and minimal sleep.” 

While there’s no simple solution to this battling sleep deprivation, the best advice you will get is to sleep when you can. Take naps throughout the day when your baby is sleeping. or at least lie down and close your eyes. Get as much rest as you can at night - easier said than done!

“When I did get some good nights’ sleep, I realised I wasn't depressed at all. I was just tired!” says Melissa.

4. Having leaky nipples in between breastfeeding 

mother and baby sleeping

As you first start breastfeeding, you might be out-of-sync with your child’s feeding cycle. Having leaky nipples in between feeds is perfectly normal, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying.

Chances are, your breasts may start to leak when you hear your child or when you think about them. It takes some getting used to, to say the least. 

Over the first six weeks, you should find that this gets better. Your child’s feeding needs will naturally start to match your supply, which will come as a relief. In the meantime, you can wear nursing pads to soak up any excess.

Be sure to choose cotton, washable pads as they are both comfortable and environmentally friendly. Win-win.

5. Always comparing yourself to other mums 

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“I was fully aware of the trappings of comparison with other babies and vowed not to do it but you just naturally do, unfortunately. So whenever a fellow mum shares some great thing their baby is doing you immediately evaluate your own success with your baby and feel down if you both haven't reached the same milestones,” says Melissa. 

While you may look to other mums to judge your progress, doing so can be a mistake. Instead, focus on your own breastfeeding journey.

“The reality is babies are all different, so they do not develop at the same rate. Keep reminding yourself every day!” says Melissa.

We agree wholeheartedly with her wise take on this!

6. Having a low breastmilk supply 

Mother looking at her sleeping baby

Needless to say, your child relies on you for food. So, when it feels as though your milk supply is low, that can be a worrying sign. It’s at this point that many mothers choose to stop breastfeeding. However, that may not always be necessary.

There’s a range of reasons that you may not be producing enough milk to sustain your baby’s needs. 

If you are supplementing your baby’s feeds with formula, you may find that your milk supply fluctuates in response. Similarly, your breastmilk supply may change if either you or your child is ill, according to NCT.

To solve this problem, you may need to see your GP or get in touch with support organisations, and talk them through the changes you are experiencing. The expert will help you figure out the cause and let you know what the next steps are for you. 

7. Feeling like a failure when you can’t breastfeed

Breastfeeding doesn’t always come easy, but no one prepares you for how this issue makes you feel.

“It was extremely difficult to get breastfeeding established which was hugely surprising and the emotional reaction I had was unexpected,” says Melissa.

“I felt like a failure and felt very upset by it all. The lack of face-to-face support and care was astounding! I assume this was due to the pandemic but maybe not. The differences between hospitals and boroughs was surprising; some well supported others awful.”

While it’s all-too-tempting to blame yourself, the truth of the matter is that it’s not your fault. Whether your child takes to this easily or otherwise could depend on a variety of factors. When you’re feeling down on yourself, keep in mind you are doing your best. 

“Most helpful was positive reinforcement that you are doing your best. Everything is a phase so to speak and things do get better, often within a few weeks. You don’t really get this from the midwives. I got this from my NCT group and the breastfeeding consultant paid for me by Ealing Council,” says Melissa. 

8. Producing too much breastmilk

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Also known as hyperlactation or hypergalactia, the simplest name for this problem is an oversupply of milk. This common breastfeeding typically starts to happen between three and five days after giving birth.

If you find that you’re making too much milk for your baby’s needs and that your breasts are large or sore, you may be experiencing this problem. 

Luckily, there are a few things that NCT recommend here. First of all, you should ensure that your child is latching well. You may also want to try leaning back when you’re breastfeeding and either cutting down or stopping express milking.

Of course, if the issue continues and is making you uncomfortable, speak to an expert and get some advice.  

9. Being pushed into breastfeeding 

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Spoiler: breastfeeding is not the only option!

The mantra pushed by every midwife is ‘breast is best’ but there isn't always the practical help to overcome the challenges you are facing or just the emotional support acknowledging the deflated feeling you have if you struggle to feed your child.

"‘Fed is best’ should be the motto,” explains Melissa.

While there are numerous benefits to breastfeeding, it’s by no means the only way. There may be reasons that you are unable to breastfeed, and that’s perfectly okay. Need some help? Read our guide to choosing whether formula or breastfeeding is right for you. 

10. Believing that you have no support 

Worried mother holding her baby and calling for guidance

Of course, when you’re going through the trials and tribulations of breastfeeding, you may feel entirely alone. However, it’s important to remember that there is support out there. Reaching out to your friends, family and healthcare professionals is the first step here.

“I spoke to my health visitor,” says Mum of 2. “She referred me to some links and advice. I also got referred to the infant feeding team, who did a video call with me and gave me some advice. I actually sought private advice and got some information from a breastfeeding consultant. I also posted on Facebook breastfeeding support groups.”

“I wish that people would value the support of breastfeeding specialists as much as they do things,” she continues. “We’re really happy to go out and spend £500, £600 or even £800 on a pram or a sling or the latest bouncers, but we think twice about spending on a lactation consultant. If you’re not getting the support from the NHS quickly enough, if you can afford to, try to get the support privately.”

Amen to that. And thanks to our brave mum for sharing their experiences so honestly.

💚

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