Nursing Roadblocks

How to overcome common nursing problems and keep on breastfeeding.

Latching Problems

breastfeeding baby

PhotoAlto/ Matton

Open up a book on breastfeeding, and you'll find photo upon photo of serene mothers happily nursing their babies. Unfortunately, many new nursing moms don't have it so easy. Some women face physical obstacles that take time, patience, and sometimes professional help to resolve. But rest assured, there are few troubles that can't be handled. Here are the most common nursing problems and how to solve them.

When Baby Can't Latch Properly

Your baby's "latch" refers to his ability to position your nipple in his mouth so that he can get the most milk with the least effort. There are a variety of issues that can affect baby's latch. One of the most common is the fact that your newborn may simply have trouble figuring out how to use your breast to get food, according to international board-certified lactation consultant Janaki Costello.

If this is the situation, she recommends looking for hunger cues, such as rooting, and feeding baby before he's crying with hunger. That way, he won't be as distracted when he's trying to latch. It's also important to be patient. "It takes some babies several tries before they can latch on correctly," she says.

Sometimes, latching problems occur because of improper positioning; baby may not be taking enough of the nipple into his mouth, or you both may be resting in less-than-ideal positions. Though it may seem counterintuitive, you may have to grip your baby firmly by the back of his head and cram as much of the nipple into his mouth as you can.

Then, look down at baby; if your entire nipple and areola aren't in his mouth, you'll need to readjust the latch. Nursing pillows or rolled-up blankets can help prop both of you into a more comfortable, effective position. Another sign that baby's latch is incorrect: When your baby is finished nursing, the tip of your nipple appears sharpened into a point or flattened like the head of a screwdriver.

In rare cases, your nipples may need a little help. "I could only get my son to latch on with three people helping me because I had flat nipples," says Sue Graves, of Stow, Massachusetts.

Women whose nipples don't protrude enough for the baby to latch have a number of options: breast shells, which fit over the nipple and apply gentle pressure to help it protrude; stretching exercises; or a breast pump, which can help pull the nipple out.

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