Struggling with breastfeeding? Expert reveals common pitfalls

Struggling with breastfeeding? Expert reveals common pitfalls new mothers encounter and how to combat issues like mastitis and reflux (and why it’s OK if your baby prefers the bottle)

  • Numerous celebrities have spoken out about their struggles during pandemic
  • Paloma Faith admitted breastfeeding regularly brings her to tears and Kate Lawler says she’s on the brink of giving up because she finds it ‘so demanding’ 
  • Clare Castell, founder of Blossom Antenatal, shares tips for struggling mothers

While it sounds like the most natural thing in the world, for many women breastfeeding their baby feels like yet another hurdle on the rocky road of motherhood.

Numerous celebrities have recently spoken out about their struggles during the pandemic, with Paloma Faith admitting it regularly brings her to tears and Kate Lawler revealing she’s on the brink of giving up because she finds it ‘so demanding’.

Every mother’s experience is different, with some taking to breastfeeding instantly and others switching to formula almost straight away.

London-based Clare Castell, an NHS Infant Feeding Team and NCT trained teacher with over 15 years’ experience, is founder of Blossom Antenatal and insists there should never be any judgement about feeding choices. She encourages mums to do whatever works for them.

‘A mother should never feel pressurised into breastfeeding or any guilt for the way they choose to feed! The most important thing for us is that all mothers are supported in their choices,’ she tells FEMAIL. ‘Establishing breastfeeding can be a slow and patient game. It takes time and practice, like learning any new skill in life.’

There are, however, a number of common pitfalls which could be making a mother’s breastfeeding experience more difficult. Here Clare shares her top tips to help women who are struggling. 

While it sounds like the most natural thing in the world, for many women breastfeeding their baby feels like yet another hurdle on the rocky road of motherhood

ATTEND A BREASTFEEDING CLASS  

We know that lots of mums feel anxious about breastfeeding and worry about whether it will be possible, so the most helpful thing they can do during their pregnancy is attend a breastfeeding class.

This will help them to understand how breastfeeding works and how to get themselves off to a good start. 

Education really helps and finding your local sources of support if things do get a little tricky is key, so look around for your local meet ups or Facebook groups. 

Th pandemic has made everything more difficult, but Blossom offers free breastfeeding classes via Zoom to anyone who would like to attend!  

DON’T EXPECT BABY TO FOLLOW A CLOCK 

Another common stumbling block is expecting babies to follow a clock. 

Following the baby and their feeding cues is the best way to feed a baby (we explain this in our breastfeeding sessions). 

It is normal for a baby to feed eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period!

SKIN TO SKIN IS KEY  

One of the most common pitfalls is not having enough skin to skin. 

If you can’t place baby skin to skin because you and the baby are separated after birth for any reason, then ensuring that you start hand expressing so that you build a supply is important. 

We call the first hour after birth ‘The Golden Hour’, and in an ideal situation the baby would be able to take their first feed at this time. 

However, it is never too late to start skin to skin and you can do this to calm a baby at any time. 

If you do need to give formula, then take some guidance as to how to do this and keep the breastmilk supply going. 

There is lots of help available while you are in hospital, so try to make the most of it. 

DON’T BOTTLE EMOTIONS 

In her emotional Instagram post, Paloma Faith said she’s ‘mourning’ the ‘bond’ she felt through breastfeeding her first child, as she grapples with the fact that her youngest prefers to be bottle fed. 

Some babies may prefer the flow of milk from a bottle because it’s regular and may feel easier for them to manage. It is very little work for a baby, they just open their mouth and the milk flows in. 

This is why we recommend trying to establish breastfeeding before introducing the bottle, as babies will often choose the easier option and this can feel like they have rejected the breast and mother. 

We hear from lots of women who feel emotional and disappointed – and our advice is to acknowledge how you feel and talk about it! 

Bottling up emotions is never good. At Blossom we support all feeding choices and run a paced bottle feeding class for mums who choose to bottle feed. 

Get the phone number of the community infant feeding team and write it on a piece of paper and stick it to your fridge. Know where your support is. 

OVERCOMING TONGUE TIE 

It can be very tricky to get a diagnosis for tongue tie. 

If baby isn’t able to stay on the breast, isn’t gaining weight at the expected rate, or your latch is painful, then you must see your health visitor or midwife and ask for a referral to have this checked. 

Not all midwives are trained in tongue tie so you will need someone from the Infant Feeding Team or a private IBCLC to take a look. 

It is also important to understand that not all tongue ties interfere with breastfeeding – sometimes just changing the position and attachment of the baby does the trick! 

FEED FREQUENTLY TO AVOID MASTITIS  

Mastitis – most common during the first six months of breastfeeding – is an inflammation of the breast usually caused by an infection.

It can happen to any woman and can leave a new mother feeling exceptionally tired and run-down.  

The best way to avoid mastitis is to keep feeding frequently. If you do feel a lump in your breast or a blocked milk duct then gently massage over the lump to clear the blockage. 

It’s also a good idea to see where the blockage is and check if you might be doing anything to slow the milk flow in this area – for example, if you’re wearing a bra that’s too tight, or perhaps there’s a finger in the way during the feed. 

If you get a temperature or feel like you have the flu, then call your GP or midwife. Sometimes a course of antibiotics is necessary for mastitis.  

HOW TO TACKLE ENGORGEMENT 

Sometimes your breasts can become overly full and might feel hard and painful, which is called engorgement. In the early days, this can be down to your milk coming in and your newborn not feeding as much as perhaps they need to.

While your breasts feeling full when the milk comes in is very normal, if they become tight and sore and the baby cannot latch then this is more of a problem and can lead to mastitis. 

Make sure that you are feeding responsively, as often as the baby asks, and try to hand express a little if the breasts become too uncomfortable – not too much though or you will increase your supply! 

It’s also important to remember that not everyone will experience engorgement when the milk comes in.

Clare Castell is an NHS Infant Feeding Team and NCT trained teacher with over 15 years’ experience and founder of Blossom Antenatal

COPING WITH REFLUX 

Reflux – when your baby brings milk back up during or just after a feed – can be hard to manage for new mums, especially if your new little baby is uncomfortable. 

Breastfed babies tend to have less of a problem with reflux. However, some possetting or spitting up after a feed is perfectly normal.

In fact, up to 40-50 per cent of babies younger than three months regurgitate their feeds at least once a day, according to a 2004 study.

With reflux there is no retching – as associated with a gastric infection – milk simply comes up and out of baby’s mouth. 

Pacing your bottle feeding can help, as you allow the baby to decide when they’ve had enough and respond to their cues. 

Babies that feed from bottles need to learn to regulate according to their appetite; sucking is a reflex action, so if you put a bottle in a baby’s mouth it will inevitably take the whole bottle, and then you find they posset afterwards. 

After feeds, try to keep the baby upright over your shoulder, ideally for around 30 minutes, with a muslin ready to catch milk if necessary. Take time to burp baby in a seated position, supporting their head with your hand, and lie them flat on their back when putting them to sleep.

If you are worried then see your midwife or GP. Come to our paced bottle-feeding class to learn more – another free Blossom class!

MANAGING FAST LET-DOWN 

Kate Lawler recently admitted she feels like she’s ‘waterboarding’ her daughter every time she latches because her let-down is so fast.  

Former Big Brother star Kate Lawler, 40, took to Instagram to tell her followers she finds breastfeeding ‘so demanding’ and is often left exhausted afterwards

Fast let down can feel overwhelming for a new baby, but will often settle after a few weeks. We recommend trying the laid-back position so that baby can control the flow. 

If it is really fast, then just unlatch the baby after he or she first goes on and then wait until the extremely fast flow stops and put baby back on. 

The good news is that feeds will be shorter than for someone with a slower let down. Sometimes helping your baby to get a deeper latch can help them manage the flow of milk more easily.

SORE NIPPLES 

Pain whilst feeding isn’t normal and breastfeeding should never hurt. Your nipples may feel tender and sensitive in the first few days but not sore. 

If your nipples are painful, it is the body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. 

Get some skilled breastfeeding support as soon as you can, from a midwife or your community infant feeding team. Don’t suffer as help is out there and a good latch is the key to being able to continue breastfeeding for you and baby – it’s a two-way relationship!

KEEP AN EYE ON NAPPIES

There are lots of ways to tell if your baby is getting enough food, and the most important clue is nappies! 

Are they weeing or pooing as much as they should be? Are they waking up for feeds? Are they gaining weight? 

Your baby should gain weight steadily after the first two weeks – it’s normal for them to lose some of their birth weight in the first fortnight.

In the initial 48 hours after they’re born, your baby is likely to have only two or three wet nappies. 

From the fourth day, babies should do at least two soft, yellow poos the size of a £2 coin every day for the first few weeks. 

From day five onwards, wet nappies should start to become more frequent, with at least six heavy, wet nappies every 24 hours. 

It can sometimes be tricky to tell if disposable nappies are wet; to give you an idea of what to look and feel for, add two to four tablespoons of water onto an unused nappy. 

LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS 

Being a new mum is tiring and one thing we always suggest is lowering all your expectations. Having a new baby is exhausting and it takes a while to adjust to this new way of life. 

The first six weeks tend to be the hardest as tiny babies need feeding so frequently. As the baby, and their stomach size, grows, you should find that the intensity lessens and you find a little routine that works for you both. 

And if any friend visits, ask them to bring the cake and you relax whilst they look after you!

New mums are very vulnerable and need kindness and support from all their healthcare providers. Support for women should be at the centre of everything they do. What is most important is that baby is loved and cared for.  

If anyone is struggling with breastfeeding, Blossom runs a live Q&A on a Sunday evening on its Instagram page @blossomantenatal and takes questions. 

Remember, breastfeeding helplines like the Breastfeeding Network or NCT are free – so use them! 

For more information visit www.blossomantenatal.com 

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