Many of us think, “I’ll have a baby, everything will be great. I’ll breastfeed and my baby will grow and be happy.” I definitely thought that. I also thought breastfeeding is natural so it should be easy and there should be no complications. Many of us know it’s not always easy or natural. Sometimes it just doesn’t go how we planned. Thankfully, that doesn’t mean you cannot provide for your child. It does not mean you are a bad mom or a failure. Let me repeat that because it’s so important. Breastfeeding complications do not mean you are a bad mom or a failure!
There are many different reasons breastfeeding might not go how you planned. Some can be helped and some cannot. Lactation consultants are extremely helpful when experiencing any problems with feeding your baby. When babies are born premature or spend any time in the NICU this can add to the list of reasons for complications with breastfeeding. Here are some reasons for difficulties as well as some solutions to try.
- Poor latch. A poor latch can be because of a high palate in the baby or a lip or tongue tie. Oversupply of milk can also make it hard to a baby to latch properly. A nipple shield can definitely help but it’s important to figure out why you are having difficulty getting baby to latch. Have your pediatrician or neonatologist if still in the NICU, check your babies mouth for any lip or tongue ties. Those can be corrected by an ENT. A lactation consultant can advise you how to use the nipple shield and how long you might need it for. If you’re struggling with oversupply, pumping some before feeding can help. That will also help your baby get more of the hindmilk. Often times oversupply will improve on its own in a few months.
- Tired baby. Sometimes babies are tired, especially preemies or sick babies. Tired babies have trouble doing the work it takes to get enough milk breastfeeding. Luckily as babies grow this often improves. While you are struggling with this though, you can help your baby. Trying to wake your baby fully for a feeding is a start. Also trying a supplemental nurser can be a big help. You can fill it with either pumped milk or formula. I found that very helpful during our transition from bottles to breastfeeding after our preemie came home. The supplemental nurser allows you to supplement your baby while nursing hopefully helping you to not need bottles.
- Low milk supply. I find this to be the hardest complication to overcome. It’s one that in some cases you cannot improve and one that leads to depression for mom. Hormones are often to blame for this. You can try different teas or foods to increase your supply but be sure to talk with your doctor before trying any herbs or supplements. There are also medications that can increase your supply, but those need to be taken carefully and in some cases are not safe for mom. If you find yourself with low supply remember it’s not your fault. I personally struggled with low supply for all four of my kids. I could often find myself feeling down and like my body was not doing what it was supposed to. I wondered if it was something I did. I cried with every bottle I had give until I realized the most important thing is that my baby is healthy and growing.
Whatever complication you are struggling with, get help. Seek out help from a lactation consultant or call the La Leche League. And if you find yourself reaching the point of letting go of your dream to breastfeed, don’t beat yourself up. Having a healthy and happy baby is more important. Formula is not the end of the world (although it might feel that way as you are letting go of your dream). You can still bond with your baby while giving a bottle. If you are still not sure about formula you can look into getting donor milk. There are many organizations that screen donors really carefully and then match you up to supplement for mom’s who are struggling.
I cannot emphasize enough, if you are struggling with breastfeeding, you are not a failure, you are not a bad mom. If you are reading this it probably means you are searching for answers and help, that makes you a great mom! Keep trying and find what works for you. Your baby is lucky to have you working so hard to feed them. Whether you breastfeed, bottle feed or do a mix, what’s important is that you love your baby and are doing what is best for him or her.