Why is Breastfeeding so Damn Hard?

Why is Breastfeeding so Damn Hard?

Newborns eat every one to three hours—so troubleshooting the most common feeding issues can make this often-challenging process easier for both of you.

By Alice Oglethrope

Welcome to what many of us moms deem the single hardest thing about newborn life: breastfeeding. If breastfeeding comes naturally to you, that’s amazing! Keep going. If you find it to be harder than anyone ever talks about, absolutely not natural or easy, and 100 percent overwhelming, well: congratulations, you’re in the majority! In fact, over 60 percent of moms will abandon their breastfeeding journey early because of obstacles such as low milk supply, latching issues, and nipple pain (oh, we can hear your poor nipples crying out now).

Newborns have to eat every one to three hours, which can feel a bit never-ending (didn’t I just finish feeding you and you’re hungry again?!). This is why setting yourself up for breastfeeding success is so important. Breastfeeding can be one of the most positive, rewarding experiences a mom goes through, but it can also be one of the most painful, frustrating, and even traumatizing or anxiety inducing.

What can make all the difference? Knowing what to expect and having a few strategies and products in place to overcome those obstacles. 

Your little one might need help latching. Many issues—nipple pain, milk flow, and more—can be helped if your baby’s mouth is positioned correctly on your breast. Their lips should cover an inch or two of your areola, not just your nipple, and their chin should touch your breast. To do this, your baby needs to be able to move their lips and tongue freely—something that can be made harder with a tongue tie or lip tie. In both of these situations, the connection between the lip or tongue and the inside of the mouth is too tight, as you can see on the chart. If you aren’t sure whether or not your baby is latching well, or if you still feel pain after the first minute of nursing, talk to your pediatrician to see if either of these issues are there. If so, there’s good news: The fix is a quick in-person procedure that causes no pain to your baby.

Your nipples can hurt. A lot. Breastfeeding is going to feel uncomfortable at first and your nipples will probably get tender (after all, they’ve never worked this hard before), but you shouldn’t be in serious pain. If your nipples get damaged, say because of a bad latch, you’re going to need to show them some love. You can rub some breast milk on them and let it dry or use the nipple-soothing ointment found inside your Trifecta Kit in between feedings. Also talk to your pediatrician or lactation consultant about other options, like nipple shields (which need to be properly sized) to use during feedings.

You might not make a lot of milk at first. Around a third of moms who stop breastfeeding early do it because they don’t think they are making enough milk for their baby. But this isn’t usually the case (you are probably even making more milk than your baby needs). Don’t just go off whether or not your baby seems satisfied. Instead, a better rule of thumb is if your baby produces 6 to 8 wet diapers a day and starts steadily gaining weight by day four or five. If you’re still working to get your milk supply where you want it to be, make sure to breastfeed every time your baby is hungry (this is definitely a time where supply tends to meet demand), empty both breasts of milk at every feeding, and talk to a lactation consultant or pediatrician about pumping to bring up your supply. 

You’re gonna leak!  Here’s something you probably didn’t think about before having your baby: Your nipples can leak milk even if you aren’t breastfeeding (or have too strong of a flow when you are feeding your baby). That can be both frustrating and embarrassing. To reduce your flow, you can use some nursing techniques (i.e. only nurse from one breast during a feeding, change your position to one where your baby is above your nipple, etc.). On top of that, try using a cold compress on your boobs, slipping some nursing pads into your bra to avoid leaking, and using a letdown catcher to collect milk from one side when nursing on the other; you can find all three products in this kit.

You can experience engorgement and plugged milk ducts. Your breasts will most likely get larger and heavier as your milk comes in, but often, they will also turn hard and painful. This is called engorgement, and it’s due to a sudden and rapid build-up of milk while your body is still figuring out supply and demand. It can even lead to other symptoms like throbbing and a mild fever. To get rid of engorgement, you want to try to keep milk flowing. Make sure to breastfeed as often as you can (start with the boob that’s engorged), give your boob a massage while breastfeeding, and use a cold compress on it when you aren’t feeding. Besides experiencing engorgement, you might also get a plugged milk duct. This tender lump needs to get unplugged, so nurse on that side as often as possible, use a warm compress on it, and massage the area that’s sore (start at the affected area and work backwards so you aren’t pushing milk up against the plugged duct). You can even try a breast massager designed to help clear the plugged duct or the handle of an electric toothbrush that’s turned on. 

You’ll need to watch out for mastitis. This mimics a plugged duct, but is actually a full-on infection. Keep an eye out for early warning signs on your breast, like if it feels warm or tender, starts to swell, has thicker tissue or a lump, looks red in a wedge shape, or becomes painful. As soon as you notice this happening, try to breastfeed or pump on that boob every two hours (this helps clear out the infection and stops it from spreading–the milk is perfectly safe for your baby), place a warm compress on the area, and avoid wearing any bras that are too tight. You can also try massaging the breast in a hot shower by working your fingers in a gentle circular pattern. Call up your doctor regardless–you may need antibiotics to clear up the infection for good.

You can feel overwhelmed. Even if breastfeeding goes off without a hitch physically, you might end up feeling pretty overwhelmed that you’re the only one who can feed your baby. While that might be true, there are still many other things your partner can tackle, like changing diapers, soothing the baby, laundry, and cooking. We’re also big fans of pumping a bottle and handing it over to someone else who can take at least one night feeding to help give you at least one 4-8 hour sleep stretch. This also helps your partner bond with the baby as well. Make sure to talk openly with your partner about your feelings and accept help wherever you can get it.

Breastfeeding often seems like it should be easy because it’s “natural” or because women have been feeding babies for thousands of years–but it still so often comes with challenges. Just know it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong if you hit a few bumps in the beginning, and that overall, your mental and emotional well-being take precedence.