Booby Traps

The top 5 pitfalls of breastfeeding and how to avoid them.


As soon as your babe makes her entrance, you'll put her to your breast, she'll suckle contentedly and all will be good with the world, right? That's the hope—but not always the reality. Alas, while nursing may be the most natural act, it isn't always easy.

But that doesn't mean you can't do it. In fact, the majority of women are able to breastfeed their babies successfully—and happily. "Ninety-nine percent of women are capable of nursing 100 percent of the time," says Corky Harvey, M.S., R.N., IBCLC, co-owner of The Pump Station stores in Hollywood and Santa Monica, Calif. The key to success, she says, lies in preparing for challenges and having a plan for sidestepping them. We're here to help, with info on the five most common breastfeeding pitfalls and how to avoid them.

1. Giving In to Bad Advice

As well-meaning as your relatives undoubtedly are, they may have different ideas about how a baby—your baby—should be fed. "It's a confusing dynamic when a new mom wants to nurse and her own mother fed her children formula," says Sue Huml, IBCLC, director of education for Lansinoh Laboratories, a maker of breastfeeding products in Alexandria, Va. "Often the message she receives is, 'Bottlefeeding was good enough for you,' as if the choice to breastfeed is a personal insult."

In the days and weeks after you've given birth, your body aches, your hormones are going nuts, and you and the baby are both sleepier and weepier than you ever thought possible. An anxious family member insisting that your baby is starving may be all it takes to persuade you to stop breastfeeding. "The last thing a new mom needs to hear is, 'Are you nursing again?' or 'Are you sure the baby is getting enough to eat?' " Huml adds.

So educate your postpartum posse. Invite them to attend a breastfeeding class with you, or ask them to be present when you meet with a lactation consultant. Explain how important nursing is to you and that you need their support. "Once everyone understands what 'normal' is, they can relax," says Huml.

2. Assuming You Can't Do It

You may be convinced that your barely A cups can't produce enough milk to feed a newborn mouse or that your pancake-flat nipples will prevent your baby from latching on. Fear not.

"Smaller breasts can make the same amount of milk as larger ones," Huml states, "although the capacity to store large amounts of milk may not be as great." That means you may need to feed more often if you're tiny up top, but your baby will get all the milk she needs.

If you're the owner of flat or inverted nipples, they can make it difficult for your baby to latch on properly. However, your nipples may extend naturally as you reach the end of your pregnancy; also, pumping immediately after giving birth often helps to draw them out.

Don't despair if that still doesn't work: Using nipple shields almost always solves the problem. These soft plastic devices have holes in the tip and are worn over your own nipples, giving the baby something substantial to latch onto. If you're a candidate for nipple shields, it's essential to get help from a lactation consultant.

3. Forfeiting Midnight Feedings

"Honey," your husband says one morning, putting his hand on your exhausted shoulder, "why don't you pump some milk today and I'll get up with the baby tonight so you can sleep?" Music to your ears—but not a terrific plan, says Harvey:

"If a mother consistently sleeps when her baby needs to be fed, her milk supply may drop." If your spouse extends this generous offer, thank him profusely and suggest a compromise: He can retrieve the little noisemaker, change her, bring her to you and then return her to bed once the feeding is over. And when you're craving a delicious slice of slumber, keep your eye on the prize (untold health benefits for your baby and you) and remind yourself that it won't be long before the midnight buffet closes permanently.

4. Trying to Force a Schedule

As convenient as it would be to plan out a day's worth of feedings, a newborn doesn't wear a watch. She doesn't care if it's been 15 minutes or four hours since her last meal; when her tummy rumbles, she wants to eat. And you need to let her—if you don't, you risk poor weight gain for her and decreased milk production for you.

5. Taking an All-or-Nothing Approach

Modern-day moms balance more responsibilities than the busiest CEOs, and it can be hard to muster the energy and enthusiasm to feed your baby breast milk exclusively. Yes, breastfeeding is best—but it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing endeavor. Supplementing with formula is not the end of the world, especially after six weeks, when the risk of "nipple confusion" diminishes. What your baby drinks is only part of her overall health picture; genetics and environment also play a role.

Harvey admits to being realistic. "I try to be sympathetic to women's situations," she says. "Some breast milk is better than none."