World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated on the first week of August every year to raise awareness and give support to mothers in their nursing journey.

Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival, according to the WHO. Studies have shown that breastfeeding lowers the risk of certain illnesses in children and boost their immune system.

"From better bonding to reducing the risk of diarrhea, respiratory infections and protection against health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, obesity, and allergies, the benefits of breastfeeding are manifold. Breastfeeding also helps mothers lose weight, reduce the risk of cancers like ovarian and breast cancers, and osteoporosis later in life," Angie Whatley, an international board certified lactation consultant from West Memphis, Arkansas, told Medical Daily.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months and continued breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods for up to two years or longer. Although 75% of mothers in the U.S. start out breastfeeding, only 13% of babies are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Many people are aware of the benefits of breastmilk but several issues during the initial stages of breastfeeding discourage mothers from continuing the process. The most common issues include painful sore nipples, latch issues, breast engorgement and lack of milk supply.

  • Sore/ cracked nipples - The condition occurs when the latching is improper or when the breasts become overfilled with milk. The painful condition is experienced by around 90% of breastfeeding mothers, which may prevent them from continuing nursing.
  • Latch issues - It happens when the child does not latch on or suck properly. Many factors such as prematurity, jaundice, infection, heart disease, cleft lip, tongue tie and a mother's medicines can affect a baby's ability to coordinate the suck-swallow-breathe actions.
  • Breast engorgement - It is a condition that occurs in the early days of breastfeeding, between days three and five, that makes the breast hard, painful and swollen when it is full of milk. Although some degree of engorgement and a mild fever is normal, it could be a sign of infection if the fever continues. It can lead to mastitis or the infection of breast tissue if the condition gets severe and left untreated.
  • Oversupply or lack of milk - Both hyperlactation (oversupply) and inadequate milk supply affects baby and nursing mothers. While low milk supply hinders the growth and development of the nursing infant, hyperlactation can result in colic pain and diarrhea. Oversupply of milk can cause breast abscesses and mastitis in mothers.

Avery Young, an international board-certified lactation consultant from Atlanta, shared her thoughts about the issues faced by new mothers.

"One of the main problems faced by new mothers who start breastfeeding is the unfortunate levels of pain and damage that often accompany feeding. The overwhelming majority of women leave the hospital in pain, and well over half of them have physical damage to their nipples that can sometimes snowball into bigger issues. Latch pain and damage are linked to an increased risk of mastitis, infection, inflamed ducts, reduced supply and post-partum depression and the rates of damage haven't improved significantly over the last twenty years or so," Young told Medical Daily.

Tips for a better breastfeeding experience

1. Attend prenatal breastfeeding classes - Attending a good prenatal class during pregnancy gives expectant mothers a better understanding of how breastfeeding works and prepares them well ahead for the process.

"Prenatal classes give mothers an idea on what to expect during breastfeeding, normal newborn baby behaviors, the importance of nursing often and ways to prevent or deal with early challenges. Taking a class locally if available helps to connect to a specialist to build a rapport so you may be able to reach out or get resources if needed after birth," Whatley said.

2. Get the right nutrition and rest - Mothers should get adequate rest, hydration and good nutrition to ensure a steady supply of milk. The mother's nutrition not only affects the quality of the milk for the baby but also their physical health after delivery.

3. Reach out for help - It is natural for new mothers to feel overwhelmed with the process of breastfeeding.

"Latching and feeding a baby is natural but it's not instinctive for the mother. It's just instinctive for the baby. It's a learned skill for the mother," Young said. Reaching out to a lactation consultant and getting support from people around will help to ease the issues.

4. Find the right lactation consultant - Not all lactation support may have the same level of training, and not all pre-natal classes may cover all the issues faced by nursing mothers, Young said. Finding the right lactation consultant may help them achieve their feeding goals.