Studies show that 92% of mothers report difficulty breastfeeding in the first week. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, says Laura Apyan, maternity case manager and Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.
“Learning to breastfeed with a newborn is like learning a new dance,” says Apyan. “There are so many different steps — positioning of the baby, latching, nipple placement, feeding times. Challenges can happen to first-time moms and five-time moms. The important thing to remember is that you aren’t alone in this.”
Breastfeeding is personal
In Tennessee, 75% of infants are breastfed at some point, and about half are still breastfeeding at 6 months. While there are many health benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby, it’s important for moms to protect their mental health so they can be good parents to their baby.
“The decision whether or not to breastfeed is a very personal one,” says Apyan. “If the baby is physically doing well but you’re having difficulty breastfeeding, whether the issues are physical or emotional, supplementing with formula can be what’s needed. For women who are dedicated to exclusive breastfeeding and are having issues, the best thing you can do is ask for help.”
What are the advantages of breastfeeding?
“We learned about many of the physiological advantages of breastfeeding through the baby-friendly movement,” says Apyan. “It was started to decrease mortality in third-world countries. Once breastfeeding was instituted, abandonment of newborns in the extreme low-poverty population dropped to almost zero. We believe that’s due to a release of oxytocin — aka the ‘love hormone’ — in moms that fosters relationship-building.”
Benefits of breastfeeding for moms include:
- Increased bonding
- Normalized blood sugar, especially for diabetic moms
- Decrease in risk of diabetes, breast cancer and uterine cancer later in life
Benefits of breastfeeding for babies include:
- Increased immunities and brain protection
- Stabilization for preemies
- Protective qualities for the gut
“If you have a baby in the NICU, think of breastmilk as the best medicine you can possibly provide for your baby,” says Apyan.
When should you start breastfeeding?
Within the first hour after birth, if possible.
“The goal is skin-to-skin at birth and early initiation of breastfeeding,” says Apyan.
“Babies are innately programmed to seek the breast. If they’re placed skin-to-skin and given enough time, hopefully they’ll do the ‘baby crawl’ to the breast and latch on their own.”
In a clinical setting with the assistance of a trained nurse, the baby will typically be assisted to achieve a proper latch and breastfeed within the “golden hour,” or the first hour after birth.
Is breastfeeding painful?
It shouldn’t be. Generally speaking, soreness is natural; pain is not.
“As a new mom, you can expect to be sore the same way you would be if you played a new sport,” says Apyan. “But if you experience severe pain, bleeding or cracking, something needs to change. Early intervention is key, so request a lactation consultant in the hospital if you can.”
An assessment can provide the mom with extra help and uncover a physical reason a baby can’t latch properly which could include:
- Tongue-, lip- or cheek-tie
- Restrictions in the mouth
- A physical incompatibility between baby and mom, for example a premature baby with a small mouth and a mom with larger breasts
What steps can families take to foster healthy breastfeeding?
1. Start early.
Try to breastfeed within an hour of birth, and ask for help as soon as you have difficulty.
2. Work on a good latch.
The nipple has to be positioned correctly in the baby’s mouth so it slides between the tongue and hard palate. Often, a baby’s mouth should be open wider to nurse properly.
3. Try different positions.
Babies prefer different positions, so you may have to experiment. The correct position can help promote a proper latch, which can prevent issues such as bleeding, blisters, cracks and infections.
4. Get partners involved.
Ask your partner to learn about breastfeeding with you so they can help you in difficult moments.
5. Cut yourself some slack.
Some women need to use nipple shields, some choose to pump, and some decide to stop breastfeeding when they return to work. Give yourself permission to do what’s right for you.
“I’ve worked with nurses who are trained in lactation who’ve had their own challenges breastfeeding their babies,” says Apyan. “That’s okay! Whatever you can do is wonderful for your baby.”
For more information on breastfeeding
- Watch breastfeeding videos by Dr. Jane Morton, pediatric expert at Stanford University
- Call the Tennessee Breastfeeding hotline at 1-855-4BF-MOMS (1-855-423-6667)
- View all WellTuned articles about breastfeeding
Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.