6 tips to make breastfeeding easier

Breastfeeding is a great option for mothers and babies. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for babies — and it changes to fit babies’ needs as they grow.1

Plus, there are health benefits. For babies, these include a lower risk of stomach bugs and ear infections. And for moms, a lower risk of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.1

For many moms and babies, though, breastfeeding takes practice. A baby may struggle to latch on. A mom may find it difficult to make milk. And nipples can become sore and dry. Also, not all moms will want to or be able to breastfeed — and that’s okay. Formula is a great source of nutrition too.

If you are trying to breastfeed, read on for some tips that may make it easier for you and baby if you experience challenges.

1. Check the latch

Latching is when a baby attaches their mouth to their mom’s breast to feed. And how you place your baby onto the breast makes a difference, notes Ruth Hale, a lactation consultant and the owner of Birth to Breast in San Diego, California.

Often, parents line up their baby’s mouth with the nipple. While this might seem logical, it won’t create a comfortable latch. “This is because this position leads to the baby’s chin being tucked into their own chest, which limits how far the mouth can actually open,” says Hale.

Instead, position the baby so that their nose is level with the nipple and their chin is touching the areola (the darker skin surrounding the nipple). “In this position, the baby will open their mouth and tilt their head back. This allows the baby’s jaw to open wider and the nipple to activate the baby’s suck reflex,” Hale says.

2. Look for turned-out lips

Once your baby latches on, their lips should be turned out while nursing.2 Turned-out lips mean the baby is getting the deepest latch possible. This helps mom avoid dry, sore nipples, since the baby has more of the breast (versus just the nipple) in their mouth.

If the baby’s upper lip is tucked down, gently push up on the skin between your baby’s nose and upper lip to nudge it free, Hale suggests. Lower lip tucked? Place your finger on the baby’s chin and hold it there while they nurse. “This will often widen the mouth slightly and help untuck the lower lip,” Hale says.

3. Try using a breast pump

A breast pump will help you stock up breast milk for later use. It gives you more flexibility if you have to be away during a feeding. And it gives your partner and other caregivers a chance to bond when they bottle-feed the baby.

There are different types of breast pumps. They typically fall under 2 categories — manual or electric.

  • A manual pump involves hand-squeezing a handle or lever to apply and release gentle suction to get milk from one breast at a time. They are good for moms who pump occasionally or need to use a pump on-the-go
  • An electric pump plugs in or uses batteries to automatically draw out milk from one or both breasts at a time. They’re great options for moms who pump regularly.3

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of a breast pump or a rental, though there may be guidelines, including the type of pump that is covered.4 Check to see if your health plan offers coverage.

If you’re a UnitedHealthcare member, sign in to your health plan account to view your benefits or call the number on your health plan ID card.

4. Empty the breasts often

It’s normal for breasts to feel tender and full if you’re breastfeeding. But if they feel warm, hard and painful, they may have too much milk in them. This is known as engorgement.5

Engorgement happens when milk remains in both breasts. It can occur any time, but it tends to happen most in the first days after giving birth. That’s when milk transitions from early milk (colostrum) to mature milk. It may also happen if you miss feedings.5

Engorgement is uncomfortable. But it may also lead to issues like breast infections. It may slow or lower milk supply as well.5 To prevent engorgement, it’s a good idea to completely empty the breasts every 2 to 3 hours. That could mean breastfeeding or pumping to coax out the milk.5

Placing a warm, moist washcloth on your breasts before feedings also helps. So does massaging the breasts. To get the milk flowing using massage, move your hands from the chest wall to the nipple.5

If the pain persists along with additional symptoms like a reddish, wedge-sharped lump or a fever, reach out to your doctor. This is called mastitis. 

5. Supplement with formula if needed

Combining formula feeding with breastfeeding may make life less stressful as you learn the ins and outs of breastfeeding. It can also help your baby get the necessary nutrients, if you are having a tough time producing enough milk.6

When and how often you use formula depends on your preferences and your baby’s needs. You could try alternating between breast milk and formula during your baby’s daytime feeding schedule. Or, if you have a low milk supply, you could use formula to make up for the shortage.

If you decide to continue breastfeeding, though, try to continue pumping milk regularly to boost or maintain your supply. That way, your baby will still get breast milk along with the formula, if you are mixed feeding, also called combination feeding.6

6. Get comfortable

Newborns may take as much as 20 minutes to nurse, on 1 breast or both. Older babies take roughly 5 to 10 minutes on each breast. So, it pays to find a comfortable spot to breastfeed, because newborns usually nurse every 2 hours or so.7

“To make the actual breastfeeding easier, I recommend nursing in bed or on a couch, so you can have your legs up and can lean back,” Hale advises. That will help ease any tension from your shoulders and back, she adds.

Pillows may also help you get comfy. Place them so they support your arms, elbows, neck or back during feedings.8

If you are still experiencing issues, it may help to see a lactation consultant, suggests Hale. Just remember that, in the end, it doesn’t matter how you feed your baby. What matters most is that your baby is growing and thriving — and you feel good about your choices. 

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