Breastfeeding: Getting the Support You Need
Nursing not coming naturally? You're not alone. Here's how to get support and answers to your breastfeeding questions.
Amita Shroff, MD
It seems like breastfeeding should be instinctive -- women have been nursing babies since before the dawn of human history, after all. But for many new mothers (and their babies), breastfeeding can be awkward, uncomfortable, and unproductive in the beginning -- leading to frustration and tears all around. That's why it's so important that new mothers receive plenty of breastfeeding advice and support.
Common Breastfeeding Problems and Issues
Women tend to have questions or need support in four main aspects of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding position. It's easy to get this part wrong: If you hold your baby incorrectly or your baby doesn't latch on properly, it can lead to nipple soreness and abrasion.
Breast pain or infection. It's normal for new mothers to have some breast tenderness when they first begin breastfeeding. But persistent or severe soreness accompanied by flu-like symptoms could indicate a plugged duct or a breast infection.
Nipple confusion. This may occur when a baby is given a bottle too soon after birth and then refuses the breast. (To avoid nipple confusion, many lactation experts recommend that parents wait 3 to 4 weeks before introducing a bottle.)
Using a Breast Pump. Many women have questions about what kind of breast pump they should use, how often to pump, how to store breast milk, and other issues.
Fortunately, there is plenty of support out there for breastfeeding mothers -- from nursing hotlines to in-home consultations with lactation specialists. Here are the most common sources for help with your questions about best breastfeeding positions, breast pumps, alternating breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, breast tenderness or pain, and more.
Breastfeeding Classes: Support Before Baby Is Born
To get a sense of breastfeeding before your baby arrives, consider taking a breastfeeding class. These classes -- which provide basic information on what to expect, basic breastfeeding positions, and how to handle breastfeeding problems -- can help get you and your baby off to a good start. Many hospitals and pregnancy resource centers offer them; ask your obstetrician or midwife about resources in your area.
"A lot of expectant parents have never seen anyone breastfeed," says Cara Vidano, owner of Natural Resources, a parenting resource center in San Francisco. "Taking a class helps demystify the process, and gives you tips about what to do if you run into problems."
Birth Team Advice: On-the-Spot Breastfeeding Support
Whether you have a home or hospital birth, you'll receive free nursing advice from your midwife, doula, and/or nurses at the hospital immediately after your baby is born. Your newborn's pediatrician will also be able to offer guidance.
Laila Weir, who lives in Portland, Ore., says she found nursing challenging at first, but the nurses at the hospital where her son, Luca, was born gave her lots of support and reassurance.
"I asked every nurse who came into the room, 'Am I doing it right?' and they really helped me," she says. After she brought Luca home, a nurse from the hospital called to see how she and the baby were doing and asked specifically about breastfeeding.