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When Alexia Scott Morrison's daughter, Audra, was born last November, Morrison wanted very much to breastfeed—but she wasn't sure she could. "I had extremely flat nipples," she explains. Hospital nurses gave her a nipple shield, a thin silicone device that can draw out a nipple and make it more accessible to a baby, but they didn't offer a lot of advice on how to use the shield. Audra tried to nurse but couldn't latch on successfully, even with the device.
The day Morrison left the hospital, she called MilkWorks, a breastfeeding center in Lincoln, Neb. She met with a lactation consultant who taught her how to use the nipple shield properly, and soon Audra was breastfeeding beautifully. "Without the support of a lactation consultant, I don't think I would have been able to breastfeed," Morrison says. "But I've been nursing for a little over eight months now."
Some women may think that because breastfeeding is natural, it will be easy for mother and baby to master. But that's not necessarily the case. "You're told it's natural, but you're not told it's a learned experience," says Sharon Birdseye, RN, IBCLC, owner of Lactation Consultants of Atlanta. "It can feel awkward at first."
Do you think that you, too, might need a little help? Read on to find out some of the reasons women just like you seek help from an expert—and how they learn to breastfeed like a pro.
Problem: A difficult latch
"The biggest area of concern is latching on," Birdseye says. Without a good latch, sore nipples, breast infections and other problems may occur, and your baby may not get enough milk.
Take the case of Laura Ayo of Knoxville, Tenn. When Ayo gave birth to her daughter, Chloe, two years ago, she felt pain whenever she nursed. "I knew something wasn't right, but I didn't know what it was," Ayo says. Within a week, her nipples were sore and cracked, so her pediatrician referred her to a lactation consultant, who was able to see her right away.
During the visit, the lactation consultant examined Chloe's mouth and found that the baby had ankyloglossia (also known as "tongue-tie"), a condition in which the tongue is restricted because of a short frenulum, the tissue connecting the tongue to the base of the mouth. Ankyloglossia can prevent a baby from latching on to the breast and sucking properly.
The lactation consultant told Ayo that in severe cases, doctors make a cut in the frenulum to allow the tongue to move. But she predicted that Chloe's frenulum would stretch naturally over time—which it did. In the meantime, the consultant taught Ayo the "football hold," which made it easier for Chloe to pull the nipple into her mouth than with the cradle hold Ayo had been using. But that's not all she did.
"She showed me a different way to nurse Chloe," Ayo says. "I basically had to squish my breast to get the nipple far into her mouth, past the tongue-tie. We practiced, and by the time I left, I felt confident I could do it on my own. Within days we were fine." Ayo breastfed Chloe for 15 months.
Though Ayo's case involved a physical cause for a difficult latch, many breastfeeding moms simply need a few pointers on proper technique and positioning. For our simple, step-by-step tips, plus photos, visit fitpregnancy.com/latch.