Friends and family members who mean well are sometimes all too ready to offer guidance to new parents, whether you want it or not. Take whatever advice you get with a grain of salt. After all, nursing is a different experience for every mother and every baby, so what works for one woman may not work for the next.
That said, there are plenty of time-tested techniques for improving milk flow, clearing blocked ducts, and more. Read on to find out how some of our BabyCenter members faced, and overcame, some of breastfeeding’s most common challenges.
Here’s what some breastfeeding mothers have to say:
I attended a class offered at the hospital. It gave a lot of the basics along with the encouragement that if breastfeeding didn’t seem like second nature at first, baby and mom eventually would find their rhythm.
— R.L., Racine, Wisconsin
Don’t watch the clock to see how often or how long your baby is nursing. Instead, go with your instincts. If your baby is rooting around or crying, then feed him or her — even if you just did.
— Gina Locke, Grapevine, Texas
Make sure your baby’s mouth covers a large part of the underside of your nipple. I spent the first few weeks in a lot of pain because my baby wasn’t latching on properly. What a difference the correction made!
— Heidi Hudson, Oakland, California
I’m a pediatrician mom of a 3-year-old whom I breastfed for eight months. My son was extremely hard to start: Despite making our first attempts (unsuccessful) in the first hour, and knowing what to do, it took almost two days to get him latched on. In the interim, we finger-fed with an SNS (Supplemental Nursing System) and glucose water while I pumped to get my milk supply going. The SNS was a lifesaver. We finally hooked it to my breasts and were able to get him latched on by the third day.
— Dara Hogue, Cupertino, California
I used Lansinoh lanolin ointment on my nipples faithfully morning and night, and never experienced any cracking or bleeding when I started nursing. My soreness was minimal, and the ointment soothed my skin when it was chafed. I have very fair, thin skin, so that was a wonderful tip for me! I even included a tube with my shower gift to a friend.
— Rachel L. Sarantopoulos, Dayville, Connecticut
I have been solely nursing my baby since birth and now, at 9 weeks, she’s a big healthy baby. I had very sore latch-ons at the start, and I found that if I stayed ahead of her intense hunger I was better off. I would check on her around the time I thought she would be waking to eat and watch for tongue-sucking and lip-smacking in light sleep. If I put her to the breast when she showed early signs of hunger, she wouldn’t suck as hard as when I waited until she was fully crying and starving.
— Kathy Kent-Knurek, Chicago
The best — and probably hardest — breastfeeding advice is to relax! Remember that you and your baby are learning.
— Sandy Kenniston, Green Bay, Wisconsin
When I had my daughter, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Unfortunately, she didn’t latch on right away, so I began supplementing with formula. Hospital staffers tried everything from round-the-clock attempts to pumping and inserting feeding tubes in the baby’s mouth while I tried every nursing position known. The baby knew how to suck, but she just wasn’t getting the knack of it. Finally, we tried the plastic breast shield. My baby was able to suck the large plastic nipple and draw the milk rather than search for my small nipple.
I had visions of using the shield from then on, but luckily I lost it and was forced to teach the baby to take my own nipple. I had to use a syringe to “pull” the nipple larger, but in time, thanks to the baby’s suckling, my nipples conformed. The rewards for not giving up have been great!
— Alison O’Donnell, Pawtucket, Rhode Island
I’ve had a real problem with leaking breasts. The nursing pads never worked well enough for me, so I came up with my own solution — sanitary napkins! I buy the ultra-thin kind and fold them in half. I can wear them all day and they never leak. It’s cheaper, too.
— Cindy Brown, McKinney, Texas
For me, preparing for nursing meant reading all I could. I had several magazine subscriptions going while I was pregnant and almost every issue had an article on breastfeeding. I found new facts and ideas in each, but the bulk of the article was the same. Every time I read these articles, it reinforced all the information I had previously read. When the time came to put it all to use, I felt pretty confident. I felt like I really understood what was coming next and as a result, breastfeeding seemed relatively easy.
— Ginger Renae Koontz, Pasadena, Maryland
I didn’t “ease” into breastfeeding. It was one of the hardest, most frustrating, heart-wrenching things I’ve ever done. I stuck with it though, and four months later I have a healthy, entirely breastfed baby boy. I suggest telling mothers it may be hard and frustrating. With all the talk about how it is so good for you and the baby, and what a great bonding experience it’s supposed to be, a new mother feels guilty if she dreads each feeding and wonders if perhaps she doesn’t love her baby enough. Eventually she’ll get the hang of it, but the odds are pretty good that she’ll actually hate it the first couple of days — or even longer.
— Libby Bollino, Abbeville, Louisiana
When I started breastfeeding, I felt like I needed two or three extra hands. I was so nervous about holding my newborn and supporting his head properly that trying to get him in the right position to latch on seemed impossible. It wasn’t until several months later that I got a breastfeeding pillow as a shower gift. It’s amazing. It props the baby up into the perfect spot so I can concentrate on the latching-on, which is the hardest part when you’re new to nursing. I wish I’d had one of these when I was learning to nurse and fumbling around with ordinary pillows and blankets and propping and leaning.
— Laura Jaglowitz, Hedley, British Columbia
Long before you nurse — and before you get pregnant — quit smoking. It’s awful to smoke around your baby, and I’ve read that smoking flavors your milk and can make it taste off.
Invest in a huge supply of bottled water or add another filter pitcher to your supply. You’ll be very thirsty while breastfeeding and it is absolutely imperative that you drink your water!
— Deb Koslowsky, Tujunga, California
The single most beneficial thing I did was to attend a La Leche League meeting while I was pregnant. I learned a tremendous amount and got to see other women nurse their babies, which I had never really seen before. After my baby was born, I continued to attend LLL meetings and have received a great deal of knowledge, support, and encouragement from the leaders and the other mothers. I also made some terrific friends.
— Debbie Strelevitz, Rock Tavern, New York
My mother gave me a great tip for getting through those first couple of weeks when breastfeeding hurt: Drink very cold water through a straw as the baby is latching on. The cold water will help defer the pain. Other things that help include listening to relaxing music and minimizing distractions so that you can relax and focus on the task at hand.
— Wendy Katzman, Seattle
When my daughter was born, I told my breastfeeding consultant about my horrible experience with mastitis and bleeding nipples when I breastfed my first child. She recommended some herbal products that have worked great: lecithin, for avoiding clogged milk ducts; blessed thistle, for increasing milk flow when I return to work and need to pump; and alfalfa, for enriching my milk. I haven’t had any episodes of mastitis. I swear by the herbs — they’ve made all the difference!
— Ruth Tutterow, Greensboro, North Carolina
Take all the help and support you can get. The lactation consultant got my husband involved in the learning process so he would know how to help me get the baby latched on until I was able to do it by myself.
— Candice Gray, Paulina, Louisiana
The best advice I got for dry and sore nipples came from my doctor. She said not to bother buying those expensive ointments but instead, after breastfeeding, express just enough milk to spread on the nipples. It really does work with the dryness and cracking.
During those early stages, I frequently got blocked milk ducts. When I could feel the full duct even after Doug had fed, I’d put on the warming bag (the kind that you heat in the microwave). I’d also take one ibuprofen tablet. The next time I fed him, I’d start with that breast and massage and “milk” the duct as he sucked. Sometimes I’d keep the warming bag on as he sucked. Usually after three or four feedings it would clear.
— Laurie Reid, Toronto
Avoid underwire nursing bras.You’re more likely to get a breast infection like mastitis. Plus, they’re not nearly as comfortable as the racing-bra styles.
— Heather H., Maryland