FAQ 4. Doubts

Q: I feel a bit nervous about being able to breastfeed and nourish my baby properly. What are some of the basic facts I should know about breastfeeding?

A: When I was a new mother I had a lot of doubts about my ability to breastfeed and to fully support my baby with my milk. Then I learned a few important facts. These are now supported by a great deal of breastfeeding and lactation research that has taken place in the last twenty years or so.

The first fact is that the vast majority of women CAN fully breastfeed with proper information and good support (despite the persistent myth that many women “can’t” breastfeed). In fact, the vast majority of women are completely capable of meeting their baby’s nutritional requirements for about the first half year of life, and to continue breastfeeding while their baby gradually increases their intake of solids. The World Health Organization recommends that women breastfeed for two years or more, for as long as both mom and baby want to.

Secondly, I learned that breastfeeding SHOULD NOT HURT. (This is one of the big myths that causes a lot of problems). I am not talking about the fleeting sensation that can occur when the baby first latches, when the milk “lets down”. This sometimes feels like a trickling sensation, or the milk “dancing” down the breast. Or some moms describe it as a waterfull, especially if their milk gushes once it lets down.

This momentary prickly feeling sometimes seems like brief pain when you are not used to it. This is normal. This is not the kind of pain I’m talking about.

Rather, I am referring to pain that persists or even worsens throughout a feeding. It is often accompanied by the nipple looking folded or blanched after the baby comes off. Or even cracked or bleeding. These are signs of less-than-ideal latching. And it can be corrected.

Pain is the body’s signal that something needs to be changed. That change usually means that you need to teach the baby how to latch on better so that it feels okay, and the baby is compressing a lot of the breast.

When women think that it is normal for breastfeeding to hurt for the first few days or weeks, they don’t realize they might need to get help getting the baby to latch on better, and they do not seek the help they should be getting to learn how to do that. That was a mistake that I made as a new mom. But it’s a learning curve and some other moms I met at La Leche League, a mother-to-mother support network online and group meetings.

A better latch often makes a big difference in milk production. And it usually makes a big difference in terms of pain. A change in latch can make pain almost magically vanish, sometimes immediately.

Pain can also signal actual medical problems, such as mastitis or thrush, and the possible need for medicine. So pain should not be ignored.

And guess what else I learned about latching? That PROPER LATCHING at the breast is necessary to stimulate good milk production that will give baby all the milk needed for optimal growth.

It is interesting that many moms who have pain with breastfeeding or an ineffective latch also seem to have trouble producing enough milk to satisfy the baby. Usually when the latching is solved, the milk production improves. Remember that not all women experience pain when the latch is not good. Yet, it is still important to get a good latch to stimulate good milk production.

So if baby is not improving the latch during the feed, gently break the seal and start over until your baby latches well.

If you are able to get baby latched so that it feels comfortable, with baby compressing the area around the nipple, especially the underside, and baby acts satisfied after feedings, and looks healthy with lots of soaking wet and poopy diapers, then this sounds like you are learning well. Keep practicing!

Or if you are still finding it difficult to get a good latch or baby acts dissatisfied after feedings or is resisting the breast, you might want to consider seeing an IBCLC (board-certified lactation consultant). You can click on GET HELP NOW if you are in the Greater Vancouver, BC area. Find a BCLCA Lactation Consultant in British Columbia

Or look for one at the International Lactation Consultant Association website, which list IBCLC’s all over the world. Find a Lactation Consultant worldwide

Of course, if baby really doesn’t seem to be doing well, eg, looks sick, underweight, weak, seriously jaundiced, or anything else of a medical nature — if you have any doubts about baby’s overall health status — then you should contact a doctor immediately, go to a hospital emergency department, or phone 9-1-1.