The bond between a newborn baby and a mother has been described as magical. Throughout history, a baby’s first source of nutrients generally comes from that bond, and newborns rely on that. However, in some cases, a woman may struggle to breastfeed her baby, and a health practitioner from the Texas A&M College of Nursing talks about why that may be and what can be done.

“Most women can breastfeed,” said Whitney Landman, MSN, BSN, a clinical assistant professor with the Texas A&M College of Nursing. “There are rare cases where there may be structural issues that won’t allow for the full production of milk in the mammary glands, which may make it difficult for a woman to breastfeed exclusively.”

Changing the way of thinking

Over time, there has been a debate about how babies should get their nutrients and when to switch to a bottle. The World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatric both recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for six months, then gradually be introduced to the foods the family eats while continuing breastfeeding for two years.

“There used to be a common phrase that said ‘breast is best,’ but it’s changed to ‘fed is best,’” Landman said. “New mothers should be educated on the benefits and encouraged to breastfeed if that’s their choice, as long as the baby is still receiving all of the nutrients they need to be healthy and safe.”

Breastfeeding after surgery

Women who have had a mastectomy, breast augmentation or other types of surgery can still breastfeed, but it may be a challenge. In these cases, it’s best to monitor the baby’s weight and wet—or dirty—diapers to ensure they’re getting enough nutrients.

If a woman has had a double mastectomy, she will not be able to breastfeed, as the tissue that allows and promotes breastmilk has been removed. In these cases, formula feeding or donated milk from a certified milk bank can be options.

“If choosing the milk bank option, it is important to choose a facility with strict screening, processing and distribution standards for the baby’s safety,” Landman said. “The hospital or birthing center where she delivers should be able to provide information on resources for obtaining the donated milk in her area.”

Finding new tools

Some new mothers may find it difficult for their babies to latch on during feeding, and this is not uncommon. One potential cause is an inverted or ‘flat’ nipple, which may make it difficult for the baby to feed properly. Landman recommended seeing a lactation consultant to determine the best tools that will work for you and your baby. Before you leave the hospital, be sure to work with the staff and your health care team to ensure proper nursing techniques.

“A new mother may run into some problems breastfeeding, but there is usually a way to help her along the way,” Landman said. “Sometimes, simply eating more can resolve low-supply issues; other times it may require your health care provider adjusting certain medications to help produce the right amount for your baby. Be sure to contact your health care provider and a certified lactation consultant if you’re concerned about your milk supply or feeding so you can find a solution that’ll improve your baby’s feeding and health.”

The benefits of breastfeeding  

Breastfeeding is an intimate bonding experience between a mother and newborn that also provides numerous health benefits for both. Newborn babies who breastfeed receive the hormones and antibodies in breastmilk that help protect them from illnesses. Research shows that breastfed babies have lower risks of asthma, ear and respiratory infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), type 2 diabetes and other illnesses.

Landman also noted that mothers who breastfeed are at lower risk of postpartum depression and breast and ovarian cancers, and babies who are breastfed are calmer because of the increased skin-to-skin contact.

Tips for feeding your baby

When you’re first starting to breastfeed, it’s best to know the signs that your baby is hungry. Newborns may nurse eight to 12 times every 24 hours during the first few weeks, and hungry infants may make sucking noises or mouth movements to show that they’re hungry. Don’t wait until they begin crying, as that may be a sign that they are too hungry, and they may be too hurried to feed, which could make it more difficult.

Also, be patient and comfortable as you’re feeding your child. A newborn may take about 30 minutes to finish feeding, so it’s best to find yourself a comfortable spot to share in the bonding experience with your baby.

— Dominic Hernandez

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