Updated: Aug 1, 2021
by Alissa Pemberton – Midwife, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
& Holistic Sleep Coach www.motherandmilk.co.uk
The 3 most common breastfeeding mistakes – and how to fix them. Alissa Pemberton | Midwife & International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)
Breastfeeding is much like riding a bike. If you’ve done it before, and you’ve got some idea of what to do, it’s pretty straight forward. Imagine you’ve never seen a bike before, let alone ridden one – would you know what to do if one was put in front of you? Probably not. There is a wealth of conflicting advice out there about what we should and shouldn’t do when feeding our babies. Over ten years of working with mums and babies I’ve come to believe that these three common mistakes can have the most significant impact on our breastfeeding journeys.
Pushing Through The Pain I’ll let you in on a little secret – breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt! Your nipples don’t need to ‘toughen up’ or ‘get used to it’ and your baby isn’t being lazy! If breastfeeding is consistently hurting and your nipples are pinched, cracked or damaged after feeds then your baby is feeding with a shallow latch. When a baby has a deep mouthful of breast, your nipple will sit right back near the soft palate (that arch in the roof of your mouth) and it won’t be touching anything. If they have a shallow latch, the nipple will sit against the hard palate and be pinched every time your baby lifts their tongue to suck – that’s where the pain comes from! If feeding is painful – seek support from a qualified breastfeeding professional to help correct your baby’s position and latch, and rule out complications like tongue tie. Start first by checking your positioning - make sure baby is Close - ensure they're as close to you as can be (tuck them into that little shelf below your breasts and above your mum tum!) Make sure they're lower arm is wrapped around your breast to give you a little hug and isn't sitting between their body and yours. Head free - Babies need to be able to tip their head back (think about the old Coca Cola ads - that's the position you want!) in order to attach deeply to the breast and feed effectively. If you're holding them with the same arm as breast make sure your hand is resting across their back and shoulder blades, not their bottom so that their head is resting on your wrist and isn't stuck in the crook of your elbow. In-line - Your baby should be turn to face towards you so that their head, shoulders and body and all in a line. Try to avoid laying your baby on your lap or on a feeding pillow which forces them to turn their head to the side to latch. You'll find out yourself if you try to turn your head to the side and take a drink - it's pretty difficult and uncomfortable! Nose to nipple - You'll hear this phrase a lot, but it actually makes a huge difference. Your baby should be positioned so that the nipple is pointing at their nose, and not near their mouth. What does this do? It means your baby has to open their mouth wider to reach up and take the nipple in. If your baby has their head tilted back, they'll come towards the breast with their chin leading. Wherever that chin lands is where it will stay, so if it's away from the nipple they'll have to open a wider mouth and take more breast in. More breast = deeper, more comfortable latch.
Falling into the Top Up Trap It’s becoming increasingly common for parents to be advised to top their babies up with formula in the early days of breastfeeding. Often this happens if baby loses a large amount of weight around day five (about 7-10% of birth weight is considered normal). There are some situations where formula is warranted, BUT it’s important to consider what’s actually causing the problem. Is your baby not latching well, and therefore not obtaining as much milk? Is your baby excessively sleepy from a complication such as jaundice and not feeding regularly enough? Is there a delay in your milk coming in? It’s vital to long term breastfeeding success to figure out what’s causing the problem, and if top ups are required it’s great to start expressing breastmilk first! This will help to boost your milk supply, and provide the top up for baby so that once they can return to exclusively breastfeeding you’ll have a great milk supply there for them.
Feeding to a Set Schedule How many adults do you know who eat their meals and snacks at exactly the same time interval every day? Most of us just tend to grab food when we feel hungry – it’s the same for our babies! Their feeding patterns might not always seem logical to us – but it’s part of natures grand plan to build an abundant milk supply by having baby feed frequently in those early weeks. One of the main ways your body determines how much milk to make is caused by feedback from a protein within your milk. Think of it like tins of baked beans on a supermarket shelf – if there’s lots of tins left on the shelf, the manager won’t order any more. If people are regularly taking tins off the shelf to purchase, they’ll continue ordering extra to replace them. Your milk supply works in a very similar way – the more milk you remove, and the more frequently you remove it, the more your body produces to replace it. So if you are only feeding your baby at certain times rather than on demand, or only feeding from one breast per feed there’s milk being left for long periods in your breasts – over time this sends the message to your brain to produce less. When your baby then requires more milk (like during a growth spurt or just as they age) there isn’t enough available for them.
Try to always let your baby feed on demand and remember they may not always be feeding for hunger – breastfeeding can be comfort, pain relief, a way to settle off to sleep or just to reconnect with mum.
Breastfeeding, like parenthood, is a bit of a rollercoaster ride – and the best thing you can do is reach out and get help if you’re unsure. Attend a drop in group, see a lactation consultant or get in touch with a national breastfeeding helpline for some advice.
If you have concerns regarding your baby’s feeding – consider getting support from a local IBCLC. Check out www.lcgb.org for listings across the UK or visit www.suffolkbreastfeeding.com to get in touch.