Help! What To Do If Breastfeeding Is A Struggle

Illustration by Emily Jenkinson
Illustration by Emily Jenkinson

I’ve breastfed two of my four children myself, and fed the other two with bottles. It hasn’t come naturally to me (or my babies).

BUT I have got it to work and my littlest is now eleven months and I’m still feeding him once a day.

In case it helps any of you, and to mark World Breastfeeding Week, I thought I’d jot down a few things that helped me. I also discuss my personal experiences in this podcast (really only relevant to those who are struggling!).

Only Listen To Those Who Really Help 

I don’t know about you but I got a lot of really rubbish breastfeeding advice. The so-called experts in hospital had never fed a baby themselves, so showed me pictures on leaflets of babies that didn’t look my baby and boobs that didn’t look like my boobs. They told me it should be painless, but it wasn’t.

Banish anyone who makes you feel unconfident or confused about what you’re trying to do. Take advice from those who give you positive vibes and in the meantime, keep practicing as much as possible; the more you practice in an unstressed environment, with you feeling positive, the more quickly you will both get the hang of it.

Take a break if it’s hurting too much 

God, breastfeeding was so painful for me to begin with. There was so much blood; my nipples were so profoundly damaged that I thought they’d never be the same again. But I was also afraid that if I stopped feeding and fed him a bottle, he’d never breastfeed again. Not true. If it’s hurting so much that you are dreading the next feed, do stop, do feed a bottle of expressed milk. I took three whole days out of breastfeeding, and fed expressed breastmilk and a bit of formula. This was the beginning of it working for me.

Deal With The Pain ASAP 

The good thing about nipples is they do heel really quickly. There are countless things you can buy to help from silver nipple shields to barrier creams. What worked for me was soaking my nipples in warm water and epsom salts after each feed and then applying coconut oil. It looks strange, dangling your boobs over a bowl but it feels amazing and it’s so healing. I also used Medela breastshells, which stop the fabric of your bra rubbing on raw nipples. Even by the next feed they felt better and within a couple of days they were almost back to normal.

Position Yourself Correctly 

Never mind about the baby, make sure YOU are comfortable when you’re feeding. I’d had a c section, I was hurting, it was hard holding the baby up for feeds and difficult to get pillows in the right place. The breastfeeding expert I saw wanted me to try laid back feeding, where I’d lie back and let Edgar latch on by himself. I couldn’t think of anything more terrifying than him coming at my poor nipples without any guidance. What I found worked well was feeding on the sofa, with my back against the arm rest, my feet up, but you might find a different solution. Once you have, make it a nice place to be because you’ll be spending a lot of time there: phone charger, air pods, big glass of water.

Don’t Beat Yourself Up About The Latch 

If breastfeeding is hurting, you’ll be told your latch is too shallow but I couldn’t make my baby do anything else. He even had a tongue tie operation but that didn’t make any difference to my pain. The whole thing just got better as he grew. I was told I shouldn’t need to support my breast and I shouldn’t use nipple shields but I would say now that if you find these things help, DO them. I started using nipple shields when Edgar was a couple of months old and they were life changing. These ones worked best for me. I don’t use them any more because he’s got the hang of it now but for a few weeks they made all the difference.

A Letter To All Those Struggling With Breastfeeding

If It’s Not Working, No Stress 

The last thing I’d say is be kind to yourself about  breastfeeding. I felt so bad for not feeding the first two but I honestly didn’t see how it was going to work with the pain and the bad latch. With number three I took the pressure off, fed bottles but kept trying breastfeeding every now and again and suddenly realised, when he was about three months, that I’d stopped feeding bottles because breastfeeding had become so easy. So much of it is due to practice and your baby getting bigger, and you being relaxed.

I’d also say though that if it doesn’t work out for you, it doesn’t matter one bit, as proved by my two eldest.

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