Common breastfeeding challenges – and how you can handle them

We all know that breastfeeding confers immense health benefits to babies. WHO recommends that babies are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life, that is without any additional foods and drinks (not even water). After the sixth month, mothers are advised to do complimentary feeding so that while the babies are still breastfeeding, other foods can be introduced to the diet gradually, barring common breastfeeding challenges.

It is interesting to note that according to data from the World Bank, 61% of Kenyan mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. This is a remarkable increase from 23% recorded in 1989. Of the 39% who do not breastfeed exclusively, there are a number of challenges that they face. These challenges range from returning to work early, challenges expressing and storing milk at the workplace as well as common breastfeeding challenges.

With the latter, a new study shows, there’s often a huge difference between what new moms expect, and the dynamics of daily life in their new role. When a mom feels overwhelmed, tired, anxious and challenged by nursing her baby, her peace of mind surpasses the need to breastfeed exclusively.

In light of these challenges, this post looks at common breastfeeding challenges and how new moms can handle them. This way, they are empowered to sustain breastfeeding for a longer period of time.

Read More: 6 Practical Breastfeeding Tips for New Mothers

Cracked/sore Nipples are one of the most common breastfeeding challenges

Improper latching of the baby during breastfeeding is among the top breastfeeding challenges. It is also the reason why moms get cracked and sore nipples. This happens because the strong persistent sucking causes friction between the baby’s gums and the nipple. If left unchecked, cracked nipples may start bleeding, further complicating the process of breastfeeding.

NOTE: In some cases, new mothers get cracked sore nipples when the baby is tongue-tied so that the connecting tissue between the baby’s tongue and their mouth’s floor is short. Tongue-tied babies can have the condition treated with a minor surgery procedure.

How to deal with cracked/sore nipples

Ensure that the baby is latched properly. When it comes to breastfeeding, a latch refers to the attachment that the baby has while nursing. A good latch is established when the baby takes in a mouthful of the nipple and areola (the dark part that surrounds the nipple) – and not just the nipple alone. With proper latching, the mother should feel a tugging sensation in the breast. Additionally, the baby’s temple and lower jaw move in rhythm, with the baby’s lips pursed outwards like a fish. If the cracking does not seem to ease/ or worsens and causes the nipples to bleed, make sure you talk to a nurse who is knowledgeable about lactation or see a lactation consultant.

Engorgement

Breast engorgement, another common breastfeeding challenge, refers to the swelling and hardening of the breasts from overfilling with milk. The breasts become too full and this is often accompanied by the hardening of the areola. The nipple also becomes tight and flat, making it very hard to nurse. In many cases, the stretching of the breast skin also gives it a shiny appearance.

As production of milk begins, the body allows for increased blood flow to the breasts. This accumulation of milk in the glands, alongside blood and other fluids in the surrounding tissues is what makes engorgement painful. It is important for mothers to know that engorgement can happen right after birth, in the first few months and at any time for as long as a mom is breastfeeding.

How to deal with breast engorgement

When it comes to breast engorgement, the most important thing is to get relief from the pain and discomfort. To do this, it is important to empty the excess milk. If possible, it helps to breastfeed the baby to reduce the pressure in the breasts. Expressing milk is also another way to get relief from engorgement. Begin nursing or pumping from the breast that is more engorged. Other handy solutions include:

  • Taking a warm shower or using a warm compress on the breasts to allow for the milk to flow.
  • For mothers with extreme engorgement, however, warm compresses may not work effectively as they increase the flow of blood to the breasts. In this case, cold compresses work effectively. Some moms find that placing a cold cabbage leaf on the engorged breasts helps to ease the pain.

NOTE: If engorgement is accompanied by a fever, or you experience severe pain, this could be an indication of a breast infection. See your doctor immediately.

Read More: Breastfeeding is a family affair: Here’s how families can support.

Common breastfeeding challenges for new moms

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Nipple Confusion

Nipple confusion refers to when babies have a hard time resuming breastfeeding after they have been bottle-fed or have used pacifiers before a solid breastfeeding routine is established. In such cases, the baby becomes confused when it is time to breastfeed them. This may make proper latching difficult, particularly because of the difference in size and texture. It is not uncommon to find babies who reject the breast altogether.

How to deal with nipple confusion

According to the La Leche League Internationa (llli.org), a global organization that helps mothers breastfeed through education and peer support, it helps to get professional help from a lactation consultant. To avoid nipple confusion, breastfeeding mothers are advised to:

  • Avoid the use of bottles and pacifiers until a breastfeeding routine is well established.
  • Use other alternatives to the bottle such as a feeding cup to avoid the use of artificial nipples.

NOTE: Pacifiers and/or supplements may be used when it is medically indicated.

Returning to Work

Returning to work is cited as one of the reasons women cite for stopping exclusive breastfeeding. One of the most common breastfeeding challenges, going back to work early, say after six weeks, is not easy. Women who face this and are unable to cope are more likely to stop breastfeeding. This happens because, just as the new mother and baby are falling into a breastfeeding routine, they suddenly have to make changes.

How to deal with going back to work for sustainable breastfeeding

  • Practice pumping a couple of weeks before going back to work. Whether you will be expressing by hand or using an electric pump, this will help you reserve enough milk for your baby while you are away.
  • Get nanny services or find a reliable child care facility. This usually allows mothers to focus at work without worrying too much about their babies. Ideally, such a child care facility should allow you to nurse your baby before and after work, as well as leave baby’s milk.
  • Get the family involved. On this post we shared, we included practical ways in which the whole family can be involved to sustain breastfeeding. Whether that means the new dad bathing the baby, older siblings changing the baby’s diapers or even grandparents babysitting, there are many ways in which families can plug in.

Breastfeeding has great health benefits for babies, families and the community. By providing support, information and resources for breastfeeding mothers, babies are able to get a healthy start to life.

Tunza Mama offers services that assist mothers postpartum. The ‘Postnatal Care education’ package offers practical help for moms as they transition to their new roles as mothers. Call us on 0709 256200 for more information or to get connected to a Tunza Mama caregiver (normal call tariffs apply).

Featured Image: iStock