Making Breastfeeding Manageable

Breastfeeding can be tough! Whether it’s your first time to feed a baby with your body or your third, each baby takes time to learn how to breastfeed. Plus, you as their parent will likely also have a learning curve figuring out how your body works with that of this new person. Here we’ll discuss one evidence-based strategy to make breastfeeding more manageable.

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Midwifery, behavioral economist David Comerford of the University of Stirling and researcher Tracy McGillivray of the National Health Service Lothian in Scotland report that many people stop breastfeeding sooner than they would like. [1] To test whether having more information about breastfeeding in advance of the baby’s birth would help people meet their breastfeeding goals, Comerford and McGillivray recruited 81 pregnant people who were taking childbirth education classes in Scotland.

In the pilot study, the researchers randomized the participants, who all indicated that they intended to breastfeed their babies. To one group, they gave an obstacles/tips card, which describes common breastfeeding issues and suggestions for overcoming them. A second group received the same card with an added place on the back to indicate how long they hoped to breastfeed, and a third group did not receive a card. After the participants’ babies were born, they completed surveys about whether or not they were breastfeeding their babies at discharge from the hospital and again 10 to 14 days after birth. They found that each group had similar rates of breastfeeding at hospital release, but people who received the tip cards were much more likely to still be breastfeeding their babies 10 to 14 days post birth.

By designing the card and giving it to the women before their babies were born, when they still had some time to strategize and plan for the early days of baby’s life, the researchers hoped “to help women anticipate some of the challenges they would face in those early days after birth when establishing a breastfeeding routine,” Comerford writes in a perspective piece published in The Conversation in October. [2] He and McGillivray also wanted “to reassure women that it is normal to experience difficulty breastfeeding,” he continues. And the strategy worked, as “women who received the cards were four times less likely to quit breastfeeding than women who had not received them.”

If you’re at the point the participants in the study—right about to have your baby or wanting, but struggling, to continue to breastfeed—the following summary of the obstacles and tips from McGillivray and Comerford’s study might be helpful:

Problem 1: Breastfeeding is painful.

Suggestions: It can take a while to figure breastfeeding out, both from your perspective and that of your baby, meaning breastfeeding can cause discomfort and pain at first. There are helpful videos to watch to make sure baby has a good latch, and you can also ask your doctor, midwife, pediatrician, and international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) for help. If baby has a tongue or lip tie, where they have a bit of extra skin that restricts lip and tongue movement, that can also cause pain during breastfeeding.

Problem 2: Having enough milk

Suggestions: Babies eat small amounts of milk very frequently, as breastfeeding is tiring and they can only eat a little bit at a time. If your baby wants to eat all the time, it doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk. The more baby nurses, the more milk your body will make, so put baby to the breast as often as they want to go—at least 10 times in 24 hours is normal. You can also check out this blog post from The Pulse about having enough milk.

Problem 3: Figuring out your routine

Your new normal will likely be tough and will likely change minute to minute. Do everything you can to go with the flow of what you and baby need. Get help as often as possible in the early days!

Problem 4: When I’m breastfeeding all the time, others don’t get time with the baby.

It’s true that breastfeeding can take a lot of time—especially with little babies who eat often and aren’t very efficient, so usually eat for longer. At the same time, there are a lot of things that other caregivers can do to bond with the baby. While the breastfeeding parent is napping, the other parent can hold the baby and maybe have some skin-to-skin time. In my family, my spouse was in charge of “Dad Magic,” where he played soft music on our smart speaker and danced our babies around to get them to sleep.

  1. A. Comerford and T. McGillivray, “Effect of obstacles/tips card on breastfeeding drop-off,” British Journal of Midwifery, 2021.
  2. Comerford, “Breastfeeding is tough: new research shows how to make it more manageable,” The Conversation, 2021.
Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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