Mums talk reality: Breastfeeding challenges and solutions

Read the stories of the eight mums featured in this article...

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Nobody ever said parenting was easy… and if they did, they were lying. Every choice, decision and step related to raising children comes with its challenges.

And when you are doing these things for the first time, it’s safe to say that things can sometimes get confusing, leaving first-time parents feeling low and de-moralised, if they don’t get the appropriate guidance and support.

Breastfeeding is one of those things.

With an increasing amount of focus being put on the benefits on breastfeeding by global and local health authorities such as the World Health Organisation and the Health Promotion Board of Singapore, plenty of awareness is certainly being created among new and expecting parents.

Yet breastfeeding a newborn is often not as easy as it seems, neither is continuing breastfeeding for a long period of time, unless proper support systems are in place.

It’s one thing reading about correct latching techniques, holding positions and expressing milk — easy enough.

But it’s another experience altogether dealing with sore, cracked nipples and bleeding, engorgement, a baby who struggles to latch, a baby who (you feel) is permanently attached to your breasts, mastitis, low/ over supply issues and more.

This article therefore, is for all you mums who might be facing difficulties with breastfeeding.

Here, you will read the stories of eight mums*, who, just like you, have encountered rough patches with nursing… but have persevered through it all.

While you may see similarities in their stories and your own, we hope you are encouraged to persist in your efforts, just like these mums, when you read about how they tackled the issues they faced, showing every problem really does have a solution.

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Breastfeeding challenges: breastfeeding a newborn isn’t always easy…

1. Xiao Li

The challenge

“Sleepless night and LO keeps biting now as he is teething now but proud of how well he is now.”

The solution

“I will stop breastfeed and tell him mummy is in pain. The I will restart in a while again. If he bites again then I stop again. Now finally he behaving but still on and off when he feel the nipple in, he starts to bite!”

2. Laura Cheah

The challenge:

“The initial stage and stress when my baby would constantly latch and cry, and older generation people would say ‘it’s because you don’t have enough milk’. This is not something a new mother would like to hear, and was quite stressful initially.

The solution

“With the right knowledge and support together we can change the old mindset.

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“Because of this group (an online breastfeeding support group*) and also the support of friends, plus information I gathered from reading online, I manage to pull through, and spread the correct information about what and how breastfeeding is like.”

More breastfeeding challenges and inspiring stories on the next page.

3. Amy Tan

The challenge

“I find the most challenging is overcoming negative comments from family (in laws), sarcasm about no milk, trying to force me to formula feed, keep suggesting formula whenever baby cries and saying that I am not a good mum because I insist on direct latch.

“It’s bad enough I already have too much heart pain when baby cries, plus the stress of insufficient sleep. Instead of having encouragement that I need desperately, instead I have to withstand these accusations. It’s enough to make me cry along with my baby!”

The solution

“What got me through was joining this group. Suddenly, I have encouragement and positive advice to help me on my breastfeeding journey! The advice really helped and now my baby is latching properly, fusses less and my milk supply has regulated.

“Because of all the sarcasm about no milk, I was over-pumping which resulted in me having too much milk, which makes baby choke and refuse to drink. But with the help of this group, I was able to diagnose this problem. Now, I have stopped pumping and direct latch only. And I have the confidence that this is the right thing to do.

“Now, I have calm confidence instead of panic, frustration and self-doubt”

Aisyah and her beautiful family! Image provided by Aisyah

4. Aisyah Abdullah

The challenge

“I came from the subfertility group, it took us three years to get our first child. I had to undergo a major operation (laparotomy) to enable me to concieve, due to a condition called endometriosis

“When I conceived my first child, I was determined to breastfeed her. Mostly because I am asthmatic and I wanted to reduce her risk of getting asthma from early introduction of cows milk

“But as natural as breastfeeding is, it did not come naturally to me. Cracked nipples, poor latching, sleep deprivation are among the obstacles I had to endure. Nonetheless I managed to exclusive breastfeed her for the first four months.

“The biggest challenge was when I return to work , as an obstetric and gynaecology doctor, with 7am to 11 pm routine daily for 14 days straight. I had to use my late lunch breaks to express milk and I would cry from missing my baby so much.

“After the 14 days, oncalls started for me. That’s 24 hours plus another 9 hours working , 2-3 times a week . Tiredness plus lack of opportunity to express milk , proved disastrous to my milk supply. Nonetheless I managed to breastfeed her till she was 1 year old.”

The solution

“I think a great support system is as crucial as knowledge and a good breast pump for working mums to ensure the success of breastfeeding.”

Breastfeeding a second or third child may be easy for some, but still presents challenges for other.

5. Anne Koh

The Challenge

“I had very little milk with my first kid. She didn’t latch and whenever she was near my breasts, she would cry. I had to pump every 3 to 4 hours even at night, using an alarm clock to wake up. My total yield for both breasts for the first two months was just 1 to 2 oz and I had to mix with formula.

“Nevertheless, I keep latching her whenever I could. By the third month, my effort paid off and she was willing to direct latch. But I still needed to pump in the day.

“With my second kid the milk was overflowing and I needed to donate. She latches well, but I had blocked ducts almost every month. It was terribly painful and I had high fever above 39.”

The solution

“I took paracetamol and kept pumping. Hot compression worked and massage too, even though it was very painful to push the lump towards the nipple. My kid is two years old and still breastfeeding.”

Non-stop latching, cracked nipples and more… next page please. 

6. Evelyn Cheo

The challenge

“For me, the hardest period in breast feeding was the first month where I had to deal with the uncertainty about my milk supply, “almost non stop” latching from baby and bleeding, cracked nipples.

“In the first month, my baby just kept wanting to latch. Initially, I thought it was due to low supply and I was discouraged by my confinement nanny to breastfeed my baby as she suggested that frequent latching was due to my low supply and my baby was hungry. I was really worried initially.

“Luckily, my friend had added me in breastfeeding mums group and I decided to seek advise from this group. I realized that my confinement nanny was not pro-breastfeeding and had given me the wrong advice.

“Also, because my baby latched almost non-stop in the first month, it was very draining and I was so sleep deprived. Plus, I had cracked and bleeding nipples which were so painful.”

The solution

“I saw that many mummies from the Breastfeeding Mums group experienced tha same things that I was going through. This motivated me to persevere and continue.

“When it came to the cracked, bleeding nipples, I overcame it by my determination to provide the best for my baby, and I simply endured the pain.

“But after the first month, my breastfeeding journey was smooth sailing thankfully.

The support of friends and family can often make a huge (positive) difference to a mum’s breastfeeding experience.

7. Tan Shi Min

The challenge

“I am an oversupply mummy. LO#1 couldn’t latch on as he was a preemie. I had to pump regularly else I would get engorged, blocked ducts and mastitis easily. Also, he was always out of the percentile chart – oh yes! That skinny! So I was often told to stop and offer him formula instead.

“I was so stressed and blamed myself for everything and even fell into mild depression at one point. LO#1 is now 3 years old and I gave him breastmilk for 1.5 years. Looking back, I never regretted the path I took. Tough but worthy!

“LO#2 was a full term baby and could latch on well. I still needed to pump regularly to relieve myself as I am still an oversupply mummy and I suffer from sore nipples all the time. It’s now been 1.5 months of breastfeeding and counting! I will persevere!  I’m blessing two other babies with my milk too!

The solution

“If you are an oversupply mummy like I am, think about blessing other babies with the extra milk you make. It’s another level of satisfaction because not all mummies can do that.

“And to mummies with low supply, its OK to accept help while you push on!”

8. Sheela Das

The challenge

“Breastfeeding my first baby was so tough, right from the start. He wouldn’t latch on at first and I was struggling so much that the nurses at the hospital told me to give him some formula. Luckily I didn’t listen to them and insisted on getting a lactation consultant, who showed me the correct way to hold him, and get him to latch on.

“After he mastered the art of latching on, it was like he was permanently glued to my breasts for at least 1.5 months. He was a breastfeeding-sleeper — meaning he would fall asleep with my nipple in his mouth soon after latching on. The moment I tried to place him in his cot, he would wake up.

“I was so tired and sleep-deprived and I also had very sore nipples. I think I even developed nipple thrush but didn’t know that I had, and just pushed through the pain. Ended up breastfeeding him for 2.5 years.

“I didn’t have any of these issues with my second child, who was anyway a much more efficient drinker. He too nursed for over two years.”

The solution

“Definitely arming myself with lots of knowledge about breastfeeding helped me stand up to those nurses who wanted me to give formula to my two-day old baby and ask for a lactation consultant.

“I also had extremely supportive friends and my husband too was very supportive right through my breastfeeding journey. Plus, I was personally very determined to get through the first two months (with my first child), telling myself it would get easier after that… and it did!”

*All these mums are members of  either the Breastfeeding Mums Group, or the Breastfeeding Advocates Network (or both!) on Facebook. 

If you too are having trouble with breastfeeding, do consider joining a support group such as these. The members are a treasure trove of support, information and experience. 

Did you encounter any breastfeeding challenges? Share your own story with us in the comment box below.