When you're starting on your breastfeeding journey, you're both learning each step of the way. Parenting is a learning experience, but those early days when you're both learning and connecting is a time like no other. For many new mothers, this is also a time of stress caused by the discovery that breastfeeding isn’t as easy as they thought it would be.
Breastfeeding Frustrations and Latch Issues
A common cause of breastfeeding frustrations is latch problems. A good latch is essential to a positive breastfeeding experience, but it isn't always something that comes naturally. Some babies latch themselves correctly the very first time they meet their mother's breast, while others need more coaxing and support. A poor latch can cause problems for both mother and baby, including pain during breastfeeding and slow weight gain for the infant.
In a Surgeon General's call to action to support breastfeeding, failure to latch is listed as one of the frequently cited problems that result in women being less likely to continue breastfeeding. (1) We also have research telling us that a woman’s past experiences with breastfeeding are likely to influence any future decision to breastfeed additional children.
To make matters worse, without proper support from a lactation specialist, a new mother often doesn't realize that their difficulties with breastfeeding are stemming from a latch issue. Unrecognized latch issues create a cycle of frustration and tears, for both mom and baby.
Latch issues can be simple or complex, but what they all have in common is that you can overcome them. The first step is recognizing when a latch issue exists, and then determining the cause.
5 Common Latch Issues
Flat or Inverted Nipples
If you have flat or inverted nipples, you might experience problems because there isn’t enough nipple there for the baby to latch on effectively for proper sucking. While it can be frustrating, nursing mothers need to realize their bodies are not defective in any way. You can learn how to do this together by making adjustments as necessary.
One thing you can do if you have flat or inverted nipples is to use a breast pump for a couple of minutes right before nursing. Pumping will help pull the nipples out, providing more nipple for the baby to secure her latch. You might also find the best solution is to reach out to a lactation support person who can help you learn how to use a nipple shield, which provides your baby with the surface to latch onto and enables a more productive flow of milk.
Engorgement is a common issue for breastfeeding mothers – and it's one that can lead to a catch-22 cycle of making it more difficult for your baby to latch, which only worsens the problem. Engorgement happens when there is a build-up of milk and other fluids in the breasts. The breasts can become swollen, sore, and firm. As this happens, the nipple stretches and becomes more taunt, making it both difficult for the baby to latch on and possibly causing some discomfort for mom as well.
Engorgement is especially common during the first few weeks. As colostrum is transitioning to milk, your breasts fill to meet the demands of your baby. At this stage, your body may produce an abundance as you and your baby haven't yet established any regular nursing patterns. This abundance is mother nature's way of making sure your newborn baby stays nourished and well-fed.
If you're finding that your baby is having a hard time latching because your breasts are engorged, take a few minutes before you nurse to either pump or hand express just enough milk to soften the breast enough for your baby to make good contact and latch.
Sometimes, the position you use when nursing your baby can affect her ability to latch, especially if you have large breasts. Nursing mothers with large breasts should work to find a position where they can see their baby's face, including whether their lips are flanged against the nipple correctly and if their cheeks are nice and full, rather than drawn in when sucking.
Your positioning can also affect the mother's comfort level, which plays an essential part in the successful nursing experience. Experiment to find a position that works for you and your baby. A lactation support person can help by suggesting positions that will work best for your body type and accommodate any of your baby's individual needs. A simple prop, like a breastfeeding support pillow, can also help position and offer additional support.
Baby Is Tongue Tied
"Tongue-tied" is a term used to describe a condition called ankyloglossia, in which a small piece of tissue connects the lower part of the baby’s mouth to the underside of the tip of the tongue. (2) Tongue tie results in a limited range of tongue movements, making it difficult for the baby to latch correctly.
Ankyloglossia is a condition that can be examined by a lactation support person but should be diagnosed by a medical professional who can discuss treatment options based on the severity. In some cases, the skin will loosen over time; however, there are also surgical options available. If you suspect your baby might have a tongue-tie, seek an evaluation right away. Tongue-tie is a correctable issue, and with some adjustments, you can continue to build a happy, healthy breastfeeding experience with your baby.
Preemies and Special Needs
Babies who are born prematurely or with special needs may have a more difficult time latching. Premature babies are still developing their sucking reflex, they have less energy and stamina to draw the milk out, and their smaller mouths can also stand in the way of creating an effective latch. Babies who are born with special needs may have physical limitations that make latching difficult. As each baby is unique, so are the circumstances of their latch issues.
A lactation support person can help evaluate your baby's needs and work with you, including developing a plan for pumping or expressing your milk, and using breastfeeding aids as necessary.
Connecting with Your Breastfeeding Support Network
Breastfeeding your baby is a beautiful, bonding journey for the two of you to share. It's also a journey that often comes with challenges, and it's essential to have a support network there to encourage, support, and offer guidance for a positive breastfeeding experience. Luscious Letdown is a breastfeeding support group that is managed by nurses who are here to support your breastfeeding journey. Find the support and community you need by connecting with the Luscious Letdown support group on Facebook today.
1) Office of the Surgeon General (US); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US); Office on Women's Health (US). The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Rockville (MD): Office of the Surgeon General (US); 2011. Barriers to Breastfeeding in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK52688/
2) Tongue-Tie (Ankyloglossia). (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2020, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/tongue-tie-ankyloglossia