tired mum breastfeeding
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

Overcoming breastfeeding hurdles

There are times when breastfeeding may be more challenging than you had hoped. If your baby is unwell or has a tongue tie, feeding may be difficult but it is vital that you seek support to help you continue.

Speak to your midwife or health visitor about accessing help with breastfeeding. They may be able to offer some help themselves or they can point you towards services in your area designed to help people with breastfeeding.

Some areas will have a specific infant feeding support team which may be able to visit you in hospital or at home, while other areas may have drop-in services or a helpline you can call. The most important thing is that you seek help as soon as you realise there is a problem rather than struggling to cope alone.

Breastfeeding when your baby is unwell

Your breast milk contains vital antibodies and protective enzymes which will help your baby fight off illness. It is important to keep breastfeeding when they are unwell, unless you have specifically been told not to by their doctor.

Your breast milk will adapt to help your baby fight off a viral or bacterial infection as your body will produce specific antibodies to combat the illness. The number of leukocytes – cells which boost the immune system – in your milk will increase when your baby is unwell. Nursing is also a good way of comforting and soothing your little one. 

If your baby is unwell, it may change how they feed until they feel better. For example, if your baby has a cold, they may want to feed more often than usual but may stay on the breast for shorter periods, especially if their nose is blocked.

Feed your baby as often as they need to and be prepared to try out some different positions to find which works best. 

If your baby seems too unwell to feed or is sleepy or reluctant to latch on, you may need to express your milk to make sure they are getting enough. If you have never used a bottle before, you may want to use a syringe to feed them the milk – make sure it is sterilised first or use a small cup. Seek advice from your midwife, health visitor or GP as young babies can become dehydrated quickly.

Breastfeeding when you are unwell

Breastfeeding may be the last thing you want to do when you are ill but it is important to continue if you are able to. Don’t worry about making your baby ill as your milk will contain antibodies to protect them and they are less likely to catch your illness than if you were feeding them formula but still in close contact.

Do make sure you are looking after yourself as you are likely to find breastfeeding more tiring than usual. Get support from those around you, drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as you can. 

If you need to go into hospital, speak to the team caring for you and explain you are breastfeeding. If your baby is very young, it may be possible for them to stay in hospital with you. It is also a good idea to ask if there is a lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist at the hospital who can give you advice and support. 

What do I do if breastfeeding is painful?

If you find breastfeeding painful, seek advice from a breastfeeding specialist. If your baby is latched on properly and feeding well, it shouldn’t hurt, although some women may take a while to get used to the sensation.

If you do develop sore nipples, don’t stop breastfeeding as this will cause your milk supply to fall. Change your breast pads regularly and allow your nipples to dry after each feed. You may also want to add lanolin to your nipples to encourage them to heal. Some women also find adding breast milk to their nipples helps soothe them.

Ask your midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding support worker to observe you feeding your baby as they may be able to suggest some changes to your technique or positioning which will help. They can also check for a tongue tie, which can make breastfeeding more challenging.

What is a tongue tie?

Everyone has a strip of tissue known as the frenulum which attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth. If this is shorter than normal, it can restrict movement of the tongue and prevent your baby from latching on properly, which will often cause you to develop sore or cracked nipples.

Babies with a tongue tie may be reluctant to feed or they may gain weight more slowly than expected. They may also seem fussy and unsettled even after they have fed.

Other signs include a clicking noise during feeding and the tongue having a shape similar to a heart when it sticks out.

If a tongue tie is causing an issue with feeding, you may be advised to have a simple procedure called a frenulotomy, which involves snipping the frenulum to give the tongue a greater range of movement. This can be carried out by a trained tongue tie practitioner, who may be a doctor, nurseor midwife who has undergone specialist training.

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