- Nov 30, 2023
Breastfeeding is one of life’s most natural experiences and yet, no one really prepares you for the hurdles and challenges nursing mums sometimes have to overcome. “When does breastfeeding start to get easier?” my friend said as she looked down at her baby. Having been there myself, I can tell you it does get easier and here is some useful advice to alleviate any struggles you may be going through whilst breastfeeding your baby.
The Initial Challenges of Breastfeeding
In the early days of your breastfeeding journey, you might spot some common issues that a lot of nursing mums experience when their baby is born. As your milk starts to change from colostrum to breast milk, your breasts may feel engorged and sore. This will settle down after a few days as your body learns to adjust how much milk your baby needs from each feed. You might also notice that your nipples are sensitive or sore due to baby latching poorly to begin with. Especially if your baby is born prematurely, they might not have learnt the essential skills yet to latch and feed efficiently, which can also cause discomfort for mum.
During all these moments that happen so early on, it’s super important for breastfeeding mums to feel supported and have the perseverance to get over those initial challenges. The benefits and reward you get for doing so massively outweigh the short-term issues you overcome.
When Does It Start Getting Easier?
Most breastfeeding mums noted that breastfeeding got easier 2-6 weeks after their baby was born. Whilst this might sound like a long time, you’re both learning and adapting to a new skill which doesn’t just click overnight. Always know that there is help to get you through any struggles you’re experiencing and it’s always better to tackle these early on than let it build up to a bigger problem or quit altogether.
Breastfeeding in the first ten days
When your milk comes in, you’ll experience 2-3 days of discomfort as your breasts feel engorged and more sensitive. As your supply starts to settle and picks up on your baby’s feeding requirements, the discomfort will settle too. During these couple of days, you can use cabbage leaves, cool gel pads or warm showers to ease any pain.
If your supply doesn’t establish in the early days, you can use a breast pump to encourage milk production as well as feeding your baby directly on the breast. Encourage lots of skin-to-skin to increase your milk supply and try to minimise the use of dummies until you’re both established with breastfeeding.
Baby and Child Sleep Expert, Charlotte, says “Your latch, winding and any tension are 3 things you should consider if you are having any difficulties. Breastfeeding can be really hard and exhausting. It's so important that you're able to get the respite you need, not only for your breastfeeding journey to be successful, but also for your own mental health and wellbeing. From my experience as a baby and child sleep expert, you do not need to stop breastfeeding to help your baby sleep better.”
Be sure to look out for common breastfeeding symptoms that can lead to complications if they’re not treated. Conditions like mastitis and thrush can happen at any point when you’re breastfeeding so it’s important to recognise when something doesn’t feel right.
Breastfeeding after 2 months
As your breast milk supply is established, you might start to notice that your baby “fusses” at the breast more than they used to. This indicates that they are encouraging the milk to let down and prompt your body to produce more milk! From this age, your baby will be going through growth spurts and developmental phases that require more milk than their average feed. You can liken it to when you were pregnant, your body needed more calories and nutrients to accommodate the needs of your growing baby.
Cluster feeding can feel intense for nursing mums because your baby will want to feed for longer and more often. They will also be fussier at the breast and in their haste to bring on your milk, their latch can sometimes become sloppy again. If you can, express breast milk so that someone else can do a feed allowing you to rest. Cluster feeding will only last between 2-3 days and you will start to notice improvements in your baby’s feeding pattern as it returns to normal.
Most breastfeeding mums notice that after the first 6 weeks of nursing, breastfeeding gets easier because you have established a routine and your baby has practiced this skill repeatedly.
Mum of two, Hannah, says “I really wish they would tell all mums that it takes 4 weeks to establish breastfeeding - I was only told that with my second child and it made everything so much easier. I had expected for it to just work straight away. Also, the pain! It’s totally normal and goes away in about 2 weeks I’d say but I think knowing the end date of these things is really helpful! I think after 3 months it all sort of settles and becomes really normal, just get through those first three months and it all gets a whole lot easier after that.”
Learn more: Breastfeeding 101 - Learn the Language
Breastfeeding from 6 months
By this point your baby will be feeding efficiently which may result in shorter feeding times. As they are introduced to solid food, your baby may feed slightly less from you than before because they are also getting nutrition from the foods they are now eating. Your breast milk is still their primary source of nutrition and hydration so it’s important to maintain your milk supply by feeding every 3-4 hours.
Breastfeeding from 12 months
At this point you’ve endured all the above and you’re still feeding, that’s amazing! Depending on where you are in the world, you might be returning to work at this stage which brings on its own challenges for nursing mums. Being away from your baby for longer periods can affect your supply but this is easily resolved by using an electric breast pump to express milk while you are gone.
You might even be thinking about falling pregnant again and the changes your body goes through in pregnancy will also affect your milk. They say from about 5 months in pregnancy, you’ll notice a sudden decline in your breast milk production, which is caused by your hormones changing, as your body prepares itself to feed another mouth. You might also feel discomfort when you’re feeding because your breasts are more sensitive during pregnancy.
Every mother-baby pair is unique, but you’ll both fall into a routine, and you will see patterns emerge.
How to Ease Breastfeeding Pains
Spoiler alert, you don’t have to sit there in pain during and after a feed. There are lots of remedies and simple methods you can use to either alleviate pain or prevent it completely. Sometimes we hear “If it hurts, you must be doing it wrong” which isn’t necessarily true. Sometimes our bodies are trying to tell us something that’s completely unrelated to how well your baby is latched.
Try some of these tips to ease any breastfeeding discomforts:
The trick is to get your baby to latch over the whole areola so they can clamp the milk ducts underneath, which releases a better stream of breastmilk for them and prevents any blocked milk ducts for you. If your baby is only latching onto your nipple, this is going to cause you discomfort and your baby will start getting frustrated with the lack of milk! A little tip I picked up is to practice “nose to nipple”. Guide your baby’s nose to your nipple and this will help them latch properly to your breast. Don’t be afraid to unlatch your baby if they aren’t on the breast correctly.
Nipple care and moisturising
Finding a nipple cream to use before and after feeds will save you from sore, cracked, and blistered nipples. All nipple creams are safe to apply before your baby feeds. You can also use your own breast milk to gently moisturise the area around your nipple to prevent any dry skin. My favourite was Lansinoh nipple cream and if you want a vegan friendly alternative try Mama Mio Nipple Balm.
When you find a breastfeeding position that works for you and your baby, everything else will click into place. You’ll feel relaxed, supported and in the long run it will help your posture too. A nursing pillow can help take the weight of your baby whilst feeding.
You can watch videos of nursing mums on YouTube showing you different nursing positions to try and you can practice them yourself in the mirror. This also helps to build your confidence if you want to breastfeed in public or use a breastfeeding cover when out and about.
Consult with a lactation consultant
A lactation consultant is a trained professional who can give you support and guidance with anything breastfeeding related. They can advise you on how to feed your baby, feeding positions that may work better for you and your baby, advise how you can manage your milk supply, and lots of other queries. Ask one of the Lola&Lykke Maternal Health Experts your questions and get an answer online with the live chat feature.
Breast shields/nipple shields
A breast shield, also known as a nipple shield, can be placed over your nipple to protect the skin but still means your baby can feed directly at the breast. If you’re experiencing any discomfort due to cracked or blistered skin around the nipple, using a breast shield may be the way forward until the skin has had a chance to heal.
Use a breast pump to support breastfeeding
Breast pumps have multiple uses, and it allows breastfeeding mums to take a break from feeding directly on the breast if another caregiver can give them expressed breast milk in a bottle. A breast pump also helps nursing mums to maintain their supply and express milk to relieve engorgement.
A nursing strike is when your baby will, out of the blue, refuse to breastfeed. They may be distracted, feel uncomfortable or refuse just because they can! When your baby goes on strike it can leave you feeling engorged and heavy. A nursing strike only lasts for a day or so and if you have any concerns, it’s best to contact your paediatrician. We touch on nursing strikes in our breastfeeding e-guide. This comprehensive guide is here to address all your breastfeeding questions and concerns.
The Role of a Breast Pump in Breastfeeding
A breast pump is a manual or electric device that allows breastfeeding mums to express their breast milk and store safely for another feed. Breast pumps have proven useful to relieve engorgement, maintain milk supply and give flexibility to mothers who are away from their babies during the day.
Popular choices of breast pump feature a wireless design with ultra-soft silicone breast shields and a variety of stimulation and expression modes to choose from. Features such as these help to reduce pressure and optimise your milk flow.
After using Lola&Lykke’s Smart Electric Breast Pump, one mum said “This pump saved us in the early days! I had mastitis so breastfeeding was uncomfortable whereas expressing using Lola&Lykke’s Smart Breast Pump was not uncomfortable at all. I’ve used it a number of times to express so my partner can feed our daughter and enjoy this special experience.”.
Tips for Using a Breast Pump Effectively
To get the most out of using a breast pump, you should first consider how often you’re going to use it and prioritise the features that matter most to you. For exclusive breastfeeding mums, they may choose a single electric breast pump that they can use while feeding their baby on the other breast. Whereas exclusive pumping mums may want a double electric breast pump so they can pump more breast milk in less time. For nursing mums who are returning to work, they would benefit from a wireless breast pump that’s portable, rechargeable, and allows them to pump discreetly. Choose a breast pump that works best for you and your lifestyle.
Do I need to create a pumping schedule?
For exclusive pumping mums especially, you’re going to need a pumping schedule. Your newborn will feed on demand, so the more often you empty your breasts of milk, the more milk your body is going to produce. You’ll need to pump 8-12 times per day, every couple of hours to start with. For mums who are combining breastfeeding and pumping, you can alternate your feeds but you also need to express each time your baby has a bottle so you can maintain your supply.
How to store breastmilk safely
Once you’ve got a stash of expressed breast milk, it needs to be stored correctly. According to NHS, breast milk can be left at room temperature for up to 4 hours, or it can be chilled at the back of the fridge and used within 8 days . You can also get breast milk storage bags that allow you to freeze and thaw breast milk as and when you need it, if you use it within 6 months. Some breast pumps come with a cool bag which helps you to safely store breast milk while you’re away from home and keep it chilled for several hours.
A lot of breast pumps can be cleaned in the dishwasher and then sterilised for the next use. By cleaning your pump regularly, you’re maintaining it’s effectiveness and durability without having to replace parts so often.
Not sure which breast pump to choose? We did a little digging on everything there is to know about electric breast pumps and the different models that are available in our blog post, “Which Breast Pump is for Me?”. Having won the MadeForMums Gold Award for the “Best Breast Pump” 6-times in a row, we know a thing or two when it comes to choosing the right pump for you.
Other Strategies to Make Breastfeeding Easier
To help make your breastfeeding journey a smooth one, we’ve compiled a host of resources and support networks available to you, to guide you through those moments when it feels difficult. As well as our team of maternal health experts, you also have…
- The National Breastfeeding Helpline (0300 100 0212) is open for 12 hours a day from 9.30am in the UK to answer any breastfeeding related queries you may have.
- A digital tool called Breastfeeding friend from Start4Life that’s available on Amazon Alexa and Facebook Messenger to download.
- A community of mums on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube with guidance, support, and “How to” videos.
A problem shared is a problem halved and it’s true when I say that sharing your thoughts and accepting help throughout your time breastfeeding will help others to support you too. Balancing your self-care whilst breastfeeding can feel like a juggling act at times but it’s important to put yourself first so that you can provide nourishing breast milk for your baby.
With perseverance and the right support, you’ll notice that breastfeeding does get easier and each challenge that you experience just makes you that little bit more prepared and confident as you continue your breastfeeding journey. A solution-based approach is all you need to help you pull through the trickier times.
Reach out to your nursing mum friends for help, buy that breast pump if it means you can have some time for yourself, and talk to a consultant if you have any concerns. We’re here for you mama.
by Lola&Lykke Team
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- Nov 21, 2023