You’ve just given birth and now there’s one more thing to add to your list of firsts: breastfeeding. Even if you planned to nurse from the moment the pregnancy test was positive, the learning curve can feel steep and the pool of breastfeeding resources can feel shallow.
Whether you’re in the stage of preparing to breastfeed when baby arrives or already boob-deep in the highs and lows, know that it’s natural to have concerns about nursing.
To help, we reached out to a panel of experts for the one biggest piece of advice they have for new breastfeeding moms.
Seek support early and often
Carrie Bruno, registered nurse, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and founder of The Mama Coach: Bruno says the pressure on new moms to successfully breastfeed can actually be detrimental. According to her, the idea that breastfeeding is easy is simply not true—although it can eventually be if a mom has support. She wants new moms to understand that it’s okay to ask for help, even before the baby comes.
“I describe the initial two to three weeks of a breastfeeding journey to be a rollercoaster ride,” Bruno tells Motherly. “She will have a great feed where she thinks it's not a problem and the very next feed could leave her in tears.”
This can be compounded when a mom doesn’t know where to find resources. Bruno says to do some homework before baby arrives, such as finding out where there is a local breastfeeding clinic or which lactations consultants are available. Bruno says, “Finding this info before she has the baby can decrease the stress postpartum and help her get support sooner.”
Get help if it’s painful
Diana Spalding, midwife and Motherly's Birth Editor: Spalding advises all new moms to seek support from partners, lactation consultants, pediatricians and people in their villages. She says, “Please know that you are not alone. Be gentle with yourself and know that no matter what, you are doing an amazing job.”
Spalding adds breastfeeding should never be painful for moms, so a medical professional should be alerted if it is. According to Spalding, as many as one in 10 babies has a tongue or lip tie and this can be reason for painful feeds.
“Adjusting to breastfeeding can be uncomfortable at first for the nipples, but it should never hurt—severe pain is usually an indication that something is up, and it's often latch related,” she says. “If the baby can't get a deep enough latch, they end up kind of chomping down on the tip of the nipple, which really hurts.”
She notes many moms report that having a tie corrected isn’t an immediate fix, but it does ultimately help.
Prioritize establishing a good latch
CJ Blennerhassett. Registered Midwife: Another experienced midwife, Blennerhassett says the single biggest technical tip she offers to new nursers is simple: Focus on getting a deep latch—which looks like getting “a ton of tissue in the baby’s mouth.”
Once baby has a good mouthful of boob, families may start to focus on some of the emotional challenges around breastfeeding. According to Blennerhasset, while couples often imagine sharing the baby duties equally, in reality the nursing parent will be doing the majority of work involved in the feeding.
That can be hard for either partner when they realize the balance isn’t quite what they’d imagined, but accepting reality and accepting help with other baby duties can help both parents feel more involved.
“Partners and members can find other ways to support that workload,” Blennerhasset says. “That’s okay.”
Trust your instincts
Meg Nagle, aka , International Board Certified Lactation Consultant: A mom of three and La Leche League leader turned well-known lactation consultant, Nagle says moms need to trust their instincts—whether they’re breastfeeding their first baby or ninth. If you’re in pain or struggling, it doesn’t matter if someone tells you the latch looks good. If it’s not working for you, it’s not working.
“It’s really important that we’re assessing a breastfeed on how it’s feeling and whether or not the baby’s gaining weight and is content—not how the latch is looking,” Nagle says. “If you are going to seek someone’s help—if that’s a lactation consultant or a doctor or whoever—it’s so important that you’re seeing someone who is listening to you and really taking into consideration your feeling and your insight as well.”
If you are struggling with a nursing challenge, don’t be hard on yourself. Breastfeeding worries are as common as breastfeeding itself—but also often surmountable with guidance. Check out local breastfeeding groups and don’t be afraid to say when it’s hard.
Like anyone trying something for the first time, you (and baby) may need a bit of practice.