8 Common Breastfeeding Pitfalls

How to Avoid Common Lactation Pitfalls

For new moms especially, kicking off a breastfeeding relationship is both fulfilling and challenging. In the beginning, there are a lot of things to remember. And in a time when you are building the foundation for a breastfeeding relationship, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success. Ashland Women’s Health IBCLC Katie McGee shares eight common breastfeeding pitfalls—and how to avoid them.

Pitfall 1: Infrequent or ineffective nursing in the first two weeks.

Result: Low supply, poor infant weight gain.

Solution: If your goal is to make enough milk to carry you through your baby’s first year and beyond, what you do the first two weeks is critical to your lactation success. Clear your schedule.  Wear your PJs. Hold off the extended family and friend visits for a while so you can focus on recovering and nursing your baby. You have this short two-week window to let your breasts know that they need to make milk for your baby. Once this time period has passed, the opportunity to increase milk production, though possible, is exceedingly more difficult.

    • Starting early matters (within an hour of delivery).
    • Frequency matters. “He CANNOT need to nurse again!” Oh yes he can. (10, 12 or more times a day may be shocking at first but it is important—both for his growth and your milk supply.)
    • Effective latch, positioning and milk removal matters. It is the removal of milk from your breast that signals your body to send more milk.

Pitfall 2: Watching the clock, not the baby.

Result: Fussy baby who has a hard time latching.

Solution: Don’t wait for a certain number of minutes or hours to pass. If you baby is showing hunger cues, it is time to nurse. Tiny tummies, immature GI tracts, rapid brain growth, well absorbed and perfectly utilized mother’s milk all contribute to your baby’s need to nurse often. It is important for your baby to be able to nurse unrestricted by time. Your baby will settle into a routine, even a predictable one. As the weeks pass, baby will become a more efficient nurser, and you’ll become an expert with or without a nursing pillow, but for the first couple of weeks, expect to be nursing a lot. Watch the baby, not the clock. Strict schedules and breastfeeding do not mix.

Pitfall 3: Ignoring painful breastfeeding.

Result: Possible skin openings, infections and more.

Solution: Breastfeeding pain or pain with pumping is an urgent sign that something is not right. Although there are some breastfeeding mothers that continue to have discomfort longer term, most pain can be resolved, and quickly. Proactively ask for lactation feedback in the hospital and plan to meet with a lactation professional in your home within the first 10 days of life, if possible. Most pain has a cause and a correctable solution, so don’t suffer in silence.

Pitfall 4: Introducing pacifiers too early.

Result: Low infant weight gain and low milk supply.

Solution: There is much research evidence showing an association with early pacifier use and lactation challenges. There is a concern that hunger cues are masked with the pacifier. For example, if the baby cries to nurse and is soothed with a pacifier, that could result in  fewer feedings at end of 24 hours, decreasing the stimulation and emptying of the breast, which could lead to reduced milk supply. Along with low weight gain accompanies the possible need to supplement with formula. Try to hold off on pacifier use until your supply is well established and until the baby is on a steady pattern of weight gain.

Pitfall 5: Focusing on an app, not the baby.

Result: Unnecessary stress.

Solution: Babies have been successfully breastfeeding as long as mankind has been in existence. It takes support and patience, but there is no code to crack and no secret answer a graph on your phone is going to provide. Tracking every diaper, time off and on the breast, peep made and tiny spit-up is giving yourself a lot of work. Length of time on the breast actually reveals very little about how breastfeeding is going. Instead of staying updated with an app that consumes you, stay connected to your new baby—skin to skin, or physically close. Learn his cues, respond quickly to his needs and stare into his eyes gazing into yours. These are the actions that develop your new invaluable instincts—instincts as a mother who knows him better than anyone in the world, to carry you through years of motherhood with strength and confidence.

Pitfall 6: Thinking breastfeeding is just about food.

Result: Frustration at breastfeeding frequency and confusion regarding the breastfeeding relationship.

Solution: Breastfeeding is not all about feeding and nutrition. The baby is coming to the breast to be connected to you, soothed by you, held by you, comforted by you and, yes, wonderfully, beautifully, pacified by you. These are all parts of the nursing relationship, yet challenging for outsiders (sometimes even health care professionals) or those who have not witnessed it first-hand to understand.  He needs to nurse, he needs you. It is a short period of time but an intense one. It is not easy being someone’s whole world. Support from other nursing mothers can be invaluable to a new nursing mom.

Pitfall 7: Pumping infrequently or with the wrong pump for your situation.

Result: Low supply.

Solution: For mothers who need or choose to pump in those first two weeks, there is strong evidence supporting pumping within the FIRST hour after delivery. This is associated with making more milk over the long and short term. If your plan is to establish a supply without nursing, or if you are separated from your newborn due to a NICU stay or some other reason, pumping effectively and efficiently with the right technology is important. At least eight sessions per day, (with at least one of those at night), pumping for at least 15 minutes per session and no more than 30 minutes per session, utilizing a hospital grade multi-user rental pump designed to establish a full milk supply are ideal.

Not all pumps are created equal.  Most of the personal-use double electric pumps are designed for later use, when a supply is already well established. Single and hand pumps are not ideal for establishing a milk supply. Though hand expression is a great skill to learn, it is not a replacement for an effective pump in milk supply establishment. An Ashland Women’s Health team member would be happy to help you choose a pump that fits your situation. Note: If you are nursing effectively, it is not necessary to pump at all during this timeframe.)

Pitfall 8: Waiting before seeking lactation help or support.

Result: Reversible lactation problems turn into bigger, potentially irreversible problems.

Solution: Request the lactation help you and your baby deserve now. Through the Lactation Network from Ashland Women’s Health, moms and babies get the insurance-covered breastfeeding support they need for a successful breastfeeding experience. Whether you’re experiencing sore nipples, latching issues or low milk supply, the Lactation Network pairs moms with local IBCLCs who offer one-on-one help in the comfort of your home, with no out-of-pocket costs to you. Even if you’re not experiencing any breastfeeding troubles, the Lactation Network is a great resource for all moms who want to get expert tips and tricks for breastfeeding, pumping and going back to work.