Moving Forward After a Rough Start: When Breastfeeding Doesn’t Come Naturally

Once, while meeting with a lactation consultant, I was taught that breastfeeding, while natural in the sense that we were made to do it, doesn’t always come naturally. In fact, breastfeeding can often be like a complex dance routine in which both partners are new to the steps and have to learn them quickly on the fly. Nursing styles that work with one infant may not work with another, and no woman’s breasts and nipples are the same. This complexity can contribute to a rough start to breastfeeding and that rough start can lead to the discontinuation of breastfeeding altogether. You wanted to nurse your baby, but you’re having trouble. What are you supposed to do?


Frequent Problems in the Early Breastfeeding Experience

There are frequent problems with breastfeeding that are easily identified by those experience in breastfeeding and working with new mothers. Below are some common early breastfeeding challenges and some solutions.

  • Baby Doesn’t Want to Latch On
    • Before stressing too much, ask yourself when are you feeding your baby. Are you waiting for them to cry to know that they are hungry? Many people are falsely taught that waiting for your baby to cry is the easiest way to know they are hungry, but this is just not true. In fact, waiting for your baby to cry creates problems latching all the time because the baby is simply too upset to latch on to the breast. Instead, watch you infant for early signs that they are hungry such as rooting, sucking on their hands, smacking their lips, or growing restless. The earlier you are able to bring baby to breast, the easier it will be for them to latch.
    • If you’re paying attention to hunger cues and still having trouble getting your baby to latch, try skin to skin contact. This means going in a comfortable room where both you and baby feel comfortable, such as your bedroom. Remove your shirt and allow baby to lay on your chest while you are laying down or semi-reclined. Allow baby to root around on your chest, letting them find the breast themselves, this takes some practice, but it encourages the baby’s natural rooting instincts to kick in.
  • Painful Latching
    • If it hurts to latch on, it’s likely that your baby just isn’t getting a big enough mouthful of the breast while latching. To ensure that your baby is latching properly, position him or her in a manner that allow for a wide open mouth. Imagine eating a sandwich that’s stuffed full of yummy stuff. The best way to take a bite it to tilt your head upward with the sandwich above you and then take a bite. Attempt the same concept with you infant.
    • Another trick to getting your baby to latch properly is tickling their chin and waiting for them to open wide, then inserting you breast as you hold it in a “C- hold” between your thumb and forefinger.
  • Large, Engorged Breasts
    • When breasts first fill with milk, they often become large, swollen, and a tender. Sometimes they are so large that they make it difficult for the baby to latch on. To manage this, pump or express a bit of milk from each breast before nursing. Swollen and tender breasts usually only last for a few days to a couple weeks and can be managed with hot showers and cold compresses.
  • Mastitis
    • Mastitis is an infection in the milk ducts that often occurs from bacteria entering a cracked nipple or infrequent feedings. Both breastfeeding and bottle feeding mothers can get mastitis. Mastitis causes fever and painful breasts, especially when nursing. You’ll likely notice red streaks in your breast, redness caused by the infection. Antibiotics and frequent nursing is the cure for this common issue. Although your breast may be tender, it is very important to continue breastfeeding on the affected side.


If you continue to have issues after trying these solutions or your problem is not mentioned here, call a lactation consultant before stopping nursing. There is likely a very simple fix to the issue you are experiencing.


Making Nursing Sessions Special

While having a rough start to breastfeeding can be traumatic, it’s important to keep the time spent breastfeeding special. Sit in a comfortable place, make yourself a cup of tea or delicious snack, put on some fun or relaxing music, or watch an episode of your favorite show on Netflix. Put away your cellphone and look at your baby while you nurse. Touch can also be a great way to continue establishing an excellent bond.


Getting through the first 3 to six weeks of breastfeeding can be difficult, especially if you are living in a community with limited support. But know that there are lots of options available to help you through the first few weeks. From lactation consultants to online forums, women who have been through the same thing would love to help you and your baby establish the beginning of a wonderful bonding practice.

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