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Honest women will tell you that breastfeeding can be challenging, especially at first. While 3 out of 4 new moms begin nursing after giving birth, about 67 percent are no longer exclusively breastfeeding at three months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To help keep you on the good end of those statistics, here are some of the more common difficulties you might encounter, along with ways to overcome them.
Sore Nipples: This is by far the most common problem that breastfeeding moms face, says Jack Newman, M.D., co-founder of the Newman Breastfeeding Clinic and Institute in Toronto and co-author of The Latch and Other Secrets to Breastfeeding Success (Hale Publishing) and The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers (Three Rivers Press). A poor latch, meaning the baby’s mouth and tongue aren’t positioned properly on the nipple and areola, is often the culprit. In fact, a study of 570 mothers in Denmark found that after one week of breastfeeding, about half of the women were using a less-than-ideal breastfeeding technique, mostly due to a poor latch or improper positioning of the baby.
Many hospitals have lactation consultants available to help during those first days after delivery. Use them. If your hospital doesn’t offer that assistance, consider hiring a consultant on your own—even if you aren’t having problems. “Some babies are born with their mouths open wide ready to latch on, while others need support,” says Sarah Coulter Danner, R.N., C.N.M., CPNP, a pediatric nurse practitioner, midwife and lactation consultant in Rapid City, S.D., and acting president of Baby-Friendly USA.
Sore nipples, which can crack and bleed in the worst cases, usually get better once you’ve learned how to position and latch the baby correctly. In the meantime, placing glycerin gel pads in your bra between feedings can help. So can using a nipple cream to soothe traumatized nipples and keep the skin moist, which aids in healing, says Corky Harvey, M.S., R.N., IBCLC, co-founder of the Pump Station & Nurtury in Los Angeles. (For some of our favorite remedies, see “Breast Friends: Nipple Creams”)
There’s no reason to use a nipple cream as a preventive measure, Harvey adds; the nipples and areola make their own lubricant. What’s more, you want to avoid unnecessarily using creams that could mask your natural smell, as your scent helps trigger your baby’s urge to nurse.
Tongue Tie: Affecting about 4 percent of babies, tongue tie occurs when the frenulum (the tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is too tight, restricting its mobility and making breastfeeding difficult. One study found that moms of tongue-tied babies were three times more likely to give up nursing after a week than babies without the condition.
To check your baby for tongue tie, look closely at his mouth when he’s crying: A tight frenulum can prevent the tongue from extending past the gums and can pull the tongue into a slight heart shape with an indentation at the tip. If you’re suspicious, call your pediatrician or a lactation consultant right away; in addition to causing sore nipples, tongue tie can prevent your baby from getting enough milk. The good news is that doctors can easily fix it by snipping the tissue with surgical scissors— no stitches or further care required.