Breastfeeding has many established benefits, but it can come with challenges. The good news is that you can troubleshoot many of them on your own. Just try to be proactive about getting medical and lactation support before and during your breastfeeding journey so that you can address any concerns quickly and breastfeed comfortably.
One tricky reality? Pain in the first couple weeks of breastfeeding is extremely common—three out of every four new moms report it1—but you shouldn’t actually have to suffer through it. That’s right: Breastfeeding often hurts, but it shouldn’t2. A lot of people aren’t getting the help they need.
This is where troubleshooting comes in. If you find breastfeeding to be painful at any point, there’s likely something happening that is fixable, such as your positioning or your baby’s latch. In fact, certain issues—sore nipples, engorgement, and plugged ducts—have pretty straightforward solutions if you promptly address them. And you can soothe tired and sore nipples with balm, or relieve pain with heat, massage and showers.
If you find that anything is difficult to troubleshoot on your own, or you feel unsure about what or how to properly do something, contact your provider for additional assessments and advice by phone, televisit, or in person. It can be exhausting to make yet another appointment, but many of these issues are time-sensitive, and you deserve the right kind of help.
You might also find that you are facing certain conditions that impact how much milk you produce. Rest assured that your sleep and diet are actually unlikely to play a role. Your body is meant to lactate after pregnancy, often on little sleep and in a wide range of conditions where your nutritional intake may not be ideal.
You can start by running through a basic checklist to help your supply. It’s also good to be aware of certain issues that can impact it. These include lack of parental leave or support, the use of certain drugs and medications, and something called “insufficient or underdeveloped glandular tissue,” or “hypoplastic breast tissue.” This condition occurs when, for a variety of reasons, a breast’s milk-making tissue does not develop as expected in utero, during puberty, and/or during pregnancy, and it can occur in breasts of any size.
Despite your best efforts, it’s also possible to find yourself sick with a virus (e.g., a cold, flu, or Covid-19) or another illness when breastfeeding. While dealing with any illness when you have a baby can feel discouraging, most do not require you to stop breastfeeding.
There are many reasons why you might also stop lactating, and sometimes they are beyond your control, from being prescribed certain medications, to having an unsupportive work environment, to having a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion.
No matter what issues you may face during your breastfeeding journey, remember that a range of medical experts can help—and the sooner you reach out, the better. “Make sure you ask for help when you need help,” says Emily Varnam, a midwife assistant and birth and postpartum doula. “When you get help early, you get solutions early. A lot of interventions that are offered—a prescription, a new position, or even just knowledge—can have a big impact.”