Breast milk is the natural milk meant for a human baby and is tailored perfectly for him. It contains exactly the right amount of fat and nutrients he needs for his particular stage of infancy.
It also contains a whole host of antibodies and white blood cells. These will protect him from whatever infections his mother has encountered or any toxins that are in his immediate environment.
Because breast milk is natural, many mothers think that breastfeeding just comes naturally with no problems. Indeed, it is effortless for some lucky moms, but most breastfeeding moms encounter some type of difficulty along the way.
1. Pain when breastfeeding
Pain when breastfeeding is a common problem when first starting out with your newborn.
It may be down to poor positioning. If your baby is chewing on a nipple that can be agony. To encourage him to open his mouth fully, touch his bottom lip with your nipple, aiming it for the roof of his mouth.
When he latches on, his nose should be nearly touching your breast and at least half an inch of breast around the base of the nipple should be in his mouth, any less than this and it might hurt. If you have the latch wrong, insert your finger into his mouth to break the suction and try again. (1)
Sometimes positioning is correct and it still hurts. This could be due to hormones making your breasts sore or maybe they just have to get used to feeding a baby. With three of my children I was uncomfortable for the first few weeks and then it settled down.
2. Baby doesn’t want to breastfeed
Reluctance in a baby is normal after childbirth. The process of labor and birth is tiring for the baby as well as the mother, and he may just want to sleep. My son was born at 5:39 a.m. after a drug-free birth and was not interested in feeding until 4 p.m. the same day.
If this happens to you, keep offering him the breast.
If you have had an epidural or drugs to stop bleeding, they may reduce your milk production. (2). If you have had Demerol, particularly near to delivery, it may cause your baby to be too sleepy to breastfeed. (3).
It is important to breastfeed within the first 24 hours after birth because vitamin K deficiency bleeding is more common if a baby doesn’t receive breast milk within 24 hours of birth. (4).
If your baby is having trouble feeding, you can ask a midwife or obstetrician to help you latch him on. If this doesn’t work, he can be cup-fed with breast milk until he becomes interested enough to latch on (your midwife or OB can also show you how).
Cup feeding avoids the chance of "nipple confusion". If you introduce a bottle of expressed breast milk, your baby may not want to suckle from the breast as it is easier to suck from a bottle.
In extreme circumstances or if your baby is ill, he may have to be tube-fed with your expressed milk or donor milk until he is well enough to nurse.
3. Engorgement of breasts
Breast engorgement is normal if it occurs three to four days after delivery. At birth your breasts will produce a substance called colostrum. Colostrum is a thin, yellowish first milk packed with antibodies as well as antiviral and antibacterial properties to protect your newborn from infection.
To begin with, this is all he will drink. After a few days of (almost constant) feedings, your breasts will be programmed to produce a large amount of the full, rich breast milk and this will cause them to swell and become painful to touch.
The remedy is simple. Feed your baby frequently from both sides and the swelling will soon subside! If engorgement happens at a later stage in your baby’s life, it may be because you aren’t feeding him regularly enough or are trying to schedule his feedings.
Don’t pay any attention to people who say he only needs a feed once every three or four hours. They are basing this on the needs of formula-fed babies.
Cow’s milk contains more fat for the developing calf so it keeps the baby’s tummy fuller for longer, meaning cow's milk-based formula-fed infants can go longer between feeds.
This isn’t a good thing for your breastfed infant, though. If you leave the baby too long in between feeds, your milk supply will reduce and breastfeeding may fail. Just feed him whenever he wants to.
1. Is My Baby Latched on Well? La Leche League. Web. 5 August 2012.
2. Birth drugs 'cut breastfeeding', BBC News (1st September 2009). Web. 5 August 2012.
3. Pethidine, Dr. Foster Health. Web. 5 August 2012.
4. Vitamin K Deficiency in the Newborn, The Lancet. The Lancet, Volume 310, Issue 8030, 23 July 1977, Pages 187–188.
Joanna is a freelance health writer and mother of five who practices natural childbirth, delayed cord clamping, full term breastfeeding, co-sleeping and organic food diet. She has breastfed her children a total of 8 years and 9 months.
Reviewed August 6, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith