Common Breastfeeding Challenges & How to Overcome Them

August 10, 2023

Breastfeeding can be one of the most emotional connections new mothers make with their babies. With more skin-to-skin contact comes a strong bond between the two, as well as a sense of confidence for the mother. However, breastfeeding isn’t without its challenges, and for many mothers, feeding their children may come with more obstacles than others, which in turn can lead to feelings of guilt and doubt.

Remember: You’re never alone — we’re always here to help. Learn how breastfeeding can benefit both mothers and babies and how to overcome some common hinderances.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

As an all-natural source of food for babies, breast milk is inherently formulated to promote health and growth in human beings. According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies because it’s easier to digest and it changes in composition along with the babies’ growth to promote healthy weight gain. Breast milk also passes along antibodies in mothers’ bloodstreams to their babies, strengthening and developing young immune systems.

Additionally, studies have shown breastfeeding can help protect children against many short- and long-term conditions. Children who were breastfed have been shown to have a lower risk of asthma, obesity, type 1 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ear infections, and stomach viruses. Health benefits also extend to mothers, including lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension (high blood pressure).

Finally, breastfeeding is convenient for mothers as it allows them to feed their babies anytime, anywhere without the hassle of carrying, mixing, and heating formula. Breastfeeding also benefits families economically — while breast milk is 100% free, formula can cost families $1,200-1,500 per year.

Overcoming Challenges

While the benefits of breastfeeding are indisputable, many women may encounter physical and mental challenges. According to the USDA WIC Breastfeeding Support, common breastfeeding challenges may include:

Soreness brought on by sore nipples, engorgement — which is when breasts become too full of milk — plugged ducts, and mastitis may be treated by encouraging milk flow with a warm washcloth, a hot shower, self-massage, or expressing by hand. Pain and swelling may also be treated with cold compresses. Expressing milk by hand or pump can also relieve pressure, as can wearing a well-fitted, supportive bra that isn’t too restrictive. Fungal infections (i.e., thrush) may require a visit to your primary care provider and your baby’s pediatrician.

Nursing strikes — or the baby refusing to breastfeed — may be caused by several situations that rattle the baby’s routine like an unfamiliar scent from a new soap or perfume; other times, the baby may not feel well or is upset, distracted, and getting less milk. When your baby refuses to feed, keep putting the baby to your breast and provide extra love. Try different nursing positions and nurse in a calm, quiet area. Keep a routine to reintroduce familiarity. If the strike persists, contact your pediatrician or lactation specialist.

Mental issues and social stigmas may also become an obstacle especially for new mothers. Prioritize self-care during this period by eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting plenty of rest. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner or a relative. When breastfeeding in public, wear clothes that allow easy access for your baby; you may also bring a blanket or cover with you if you need more privacy when you feed. If someone vocalizes their displeasure, be kind but firm, remain calm, inform them of the benefits of breastfeeding, and quote an authority like a doctor or the American Academy of Pediatrics, which states babies should only be fed breast milk for their first six months.

Our providers are always here to lend a helping hand during this important time between you and your baby. Contact pediatric nurse practitioner Courtney Elliott, CPNP-C at the Elmer Hugh Taylor Clinic at (217) 323-2245.