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Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to bond with your baby while giving them all the nutritious goodness they need. But, we can face some struggles in the beginning – be it sore nipples, low milk production or troubles with latch.
Every journey is unique so let’s dive in and uncover some of these common breastfeeding problems as well as how you can tackle each one and fix them for good!
Common breastfeeding problems
Breastfeeding is a beautiful and natural way to nourish your baby, but it can come with its fair share of challenges. In this blog post, I will provide an overview of some of the most common breastfeeding problems and offer some real (tried and tested!) tips on how to overcome them.
1. Breast engorgement
This is when your breasts feel very full of milk, resulting in discomfort and sometimes breast pain that can be felt all the way to the armpits. Engorged breasts can make it more difficult for your baby to latch properly, so it’s important to take steps to prevent or alleviate it.
Solution: Try to feed more frequently or place compresses (or cabbage leaves – yes it works!) on your breasts to reduce discomfort. Apply a warm compress for 10-15 minutes after each feeding session and follow that up with a cold compress for the same amount of time. You can also express a little milk using a pump just to ‘take the edge off’.
Just hearing your baby cry is enough for your breasts to become more engorged – if your baby is fussing but not hungry try to get someone else to settle them so you don’t become very uncomfortable!
2. Low breast milk supply
Not having enough breast milk is a very common worry of breastfeeding mothers but actually only truly affects about 10% of women. Low milk supply can be due to stress, illness, or an incorrect latch.
Solution: Try nursing as often as possible with more frequent feedings – this will signal to your body that it needs to produce more milk for your baby’s needs. Eating nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains plus protein-rich foods like nuts or eggs, yogurt or cottage cheese will also help give you the energy needed for successful breastfeeding sessions. Be aware of foods which may not be good for breast milk. Try drinking plenty of water and taking supplements such as fenugreek or blessed thistle if necessary – these herbs are known to increase milk supply in some women.
You may like to try protein powders designed for breastfeeding moms as these can help increase milk supply as well as having a lot of other benefits. Learn more about my recommendations and how safe protein powders are for moms here.
3. Sore nipples and cracked nipples
Many moms experience sore or cracked nipples when they first start breastfeeding – it is a common breastfeeding problem caused by improper latching or positioning. Sore, bruised and/or cracked nipples can be excruciating and the thought of breastfeeding can make your toes curl and your eyes water!
Solution: To help prevent sore, bruised or cracked nipples ensure that your baby’s latch is correct and that their mouth covers most of the areola (ask a lactation consultant for support). Also consider changing breastfeeding positions frequently to reduce friction and irritation. If your nipples feel tender, sore or have cracked, use lanolin cream or breastmilk as natural remedies to soothe dryness and protect from further damage.
Cracked nipples need some time to heal – use a nipple shield or simply express from that breast via hand or breast pump and give the milk in a bottle for a couple of feeds – your baby will not forget how to breastfeed in a few hours! Read about this and many other debunked parenting myths here.
4. Milk blister
A milk blister occurs when a tiny pocket of milk becomes trapped under a layer of skin. It’s usually not painful, but it can be uncomfortable and make breastfeeding difficult.
Solution: To help treat a milk blister, use a warm compress to soften the area before each feeding session.
5. Tongue tie
This is when the thin piece of tissue that connects your baby’s tongue to the floor of their mouth is too short or tight, making it difficult for them to properly latch onto your breast. This can cause a lot of trauma to the nipples and is associated with shorter breastfeeding duration.
Solution: If you think your baby has a tongue tie, get it checked by an expert as soon as possible. A frenotomy (a simple procedure where the frenulum is snipped) may be required to loosen the tissue and help your baby latch onto your breast with ease. Consult with an IBCLC-certified lactation consultant who can provide further advice and treatment options.
6. Plugged milk duct
Plugged or clogged milk ducts occur when your baby is unable to fully empty one or more of your breasts so the duct does not drain properly resulting in a blocked passage. This is usually associated with engorgement. You may feel a small, tender lump in your breast.
Solution: To help unclog the plugged duct, gently rub the affected area or use a warm compress on the affected breast before breastfeeding and try different nursing positions that allow for a deeper latch. You can also try to continue breastfeeding your baby on the affected side first at each feeding until the duct is cleared.
7. Inverted and elastic nipples
Unsure about the state of your nipples? Gently pinch your areola with your thumb and index finger. If your nipple retracts rather than protrudes, you may have inverted nipples. Inverted nipples can make it harder for your baby to latch on properly but with a little support, you and your baby can learn. Elastic nipples can pose additional challenges – read more about them on my blog.
Solution: Use a nipple shield or manual stimulation before feedings to draw out the nipple. Additionally, use a topical firming cream or consult with an IBCLC-certified lactation consultant for further advice and treatment options. A common parenting myth is that there must be something wrong with your breast if your baby won’t latch – it is a learning experience!
8. Pierced nipples
If you have pierced nipples, be sure to wait at least 6 weeks after the piercing heals before attempting to breastfeed.
Solution: Use a topical firming cream or consult with an IBCLC-certified lactation consultant for further advice and treatment options. It is recommended to remove your piercings for the entire duration of breastfeeding.
9. Very large breasts
Naturally, most women’s breasts grow during pregnancy. If yours are on the larger side it can be difficult to get your baby positioned properly for feeding.
Solution: To help, place a pillow or folded blankets on your lap to create an incline and support your breast so that your nipple is at the same level as your baby’s mouth. The football hold or laid-back breastfeeding on a comfortable chair can also work well for those with larger breasts.
This is a breast infection of the tissue which can cause swelling, redness, and fever often initially felt as a tender and sore lump. It occurs when the area around the milk ducts becomes inflamed due to bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus or Streptococcus agalactiae entering the breast tissue. This can occur if bacteria from the baby’s mouth is able to get into the breast tissue when breastfeeding, or due to cracks in the nipple caused by an improper latch or dry skin. You may develop flu-like symptoms as the infection worsens.
Solution: To help treat mastitis and relieve pain, be sure to rest as much as possible and apply warm compresses or take a hot bath. Use antibiotics prescribed by your doctor and massage the affected area before feedings. It is both safe and advisable to continue feeding on the affected breast.
Yeast infections, also known as thrush, can occur when an overgrowth of yeast develops in your baby’s mouth or on your nipples. Signs of a yeast infection include soreness and burning sensations.
Solution: To treat the infection, use antifungal medications prescribed by your doctor and make sure to wash all breastfeeding items thoroughly with hot water.
Risk factors for breastfeeding problems
Breastfeeding can be a daunting task for mothers, particularly when they don’t have the right family and friends to help them or receive inaccurate advice from healthcare providers. Even more so if breastfeeding becomes painful. It is essential that moms seek assistance in order to ensure their baby receives enough nourishment.
Lack of support
Nurturing your little one through breastfeeding requires a lot of resilience! Sometimes moms don’t receive the backing they need from their family or friends because they may not support the idea of breastfeeding or they simply don’t understand how tiring it can be. It is absolutely essential to creating a support system that moms can rely on when in need of advice or help!
Maternal stress is one of the most common risk factors for difficulty breastfeeding. Moms who are stressed may find it more difficult to relax and breastfeed their baby, leading to a poor latch, less efficient milk transfer, and ultimately a lower milk supply. Stress can also interfere with a mom’s ability to recognize and respond quickly to her infant’s hunger cues, making it more likely that the baby will become frustrated while trying to feed.
Stress hormones such as cortisol can decrease prolactin levels in the mother which can inhibit milk production. It is important for mothers who are experiencing stress to take measures to reduce it like getting adequate rest, avoiding caffeine, and taking time for themselves each day in order to keep their mind and body relaxed when breastfeeding.
If a mom is ill during the postpartum period it can affect her ability to successfully breastfeed her newborn due to fatigue from her sickness or from medications she may be taking. Moms who have illnesses like mastitis or thrush need additional treatment on top of nursing their baby often in order to heal properly and maintain an adequate milk supply.
Women suffering from depression or anxiety after childbirth should also be mindful of how this condition affects them both mentally and physically as these issues can interfere not only with bonding with their child but also with establishing good breastfeeding habits.
Baby’s health and birth defects
The health of the baby is another key factor that affects breastfeeding success. Babies born with certain birth defects may have trouble latching on early on due to low muscle tone or difficulty forming suction at the breast.
- Colic and reflux: Both conditions can have a negative effect on breastfeeding – babies may be less interested in feeding due to discomfort caused by colic -this may lead them to gain weight slower than normal infants or not take in enough nutrition.
- Laryngomalacia: This condition involves a soft, floppy larynx that can cause breathing difficulties in infants, potentially complicating breastfeeding due to issues with latching and sustaining feeding.
- Down syndrome: Babies with Down syndrome may have low muscle tone and unique facial features, which can make latching and effective sucking challenging.
- Cleft lip or cleft palate: These congenital conditions result in a gap in the lip or palate that can significantly interfere with the baby’s ability to create a vacuum and latch effectively.
- Cystic fibrosis: Infants with cystic fibrosis may have trouble gaining weight and absorbing nutrients, which can complicate breastfeeding efforts.
- Galactosemia: In this genetic condition, babies cannot properly process galactose, a sugar found in breast milk. Breastfeeding is contraindicated and babies can be fed with a special lactose-free formula or pumped breast milk.
The best way to help improve a baby’s comfort during breastfeeding is to make sure they are securely latched onto the breast. If latching is not secure then air can enter their digestive system which will cause them further distress and discomfort. If your baby has reflux, then it might be beneficial to feed them in an upright or semi-upright position as this will reduce the risk of milk being regurgitated.
Moms of newborns with medical complications need to seek guidance from healthcare providers to ensure that their little ones are getting all of the nutrients they need through either breastmilk alone or supplemental formula if needed.
Breastfeeding after c-section
Breastfeeding after a C-section can be quite a challenge, especially for first-time mothers. It is important to take extra care in preparing for breastfeeding and make sure that you are physically ready after the procedure.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also recommends early initiation of breastfeeding after cesarean delivery. They state that “Breastfeeding should be initiated as soon as possible after cesarean delivery, ideally in the operating room or in the recovery room”.
The position of your scar may affect how you latch your baby onto the breast and could make it more difficult due to discomfort or pain during feeding. If this is the case, try using a pillow above or below your incision area when feeding to provide additional comfort. Find a comfortable breastfeeding position and don’t be afraid to try different ones out. Popular post-c-section positions include reclining, side-lying, or football hold as these avoid putting additional pressure on the surgical incision area.
Breastfeeding can help with c-section recovery. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “Breastfeeding releases hormones that promote uterine contractions, which can help reduce bleeding and promote healing after delivery, including after a cesarean delivery”.
Breastfeeding premature babies
Breastfeeding premature babies requires special attention due to their fragile health status and inability to properly coordinate a good latching technique. One tip is, if possible, to express milk prior to feeds using a pump. This can allow extra time to establish a good latch while nourishing the baby with mother’s milk – breastmilk has valuable immune system benefits helping improve the overall health status of premature babies.
Often twins, triplets etc are born with low birth weight and many require extra medical attention at birth. There can be physical barriers to initiating breastfeeding plus the pressure on moms to feed 2 (or more) mouths! Here is where an excellent support system of family and professionals can make a huge difference allowing mom time to pump, rest and establish a good latch with multiple babies.
Overcoming breastfeeding problems
There are so many obstacles and bridges to cross on a breastfeeding journey! Latch, lack of support or advice, pain, poor health (of mother and/or baby), stress – the list goes on. But what positive steps can moms take to optimize breastfeeding success and overcome breastfeeding challenges?
Seek help from a lactation consultant
Seeking help from a lactation consultant is a great way to ensure your breastfeeding experience is successful. A lactation consultant can provide you with personalized and expert advice on everything from latching techniques to milk production, and more. Whether you are preparing to breastfeed or in the postpartum period, they can also answer any questions you have about breastfeeding and can provide invaluable support during your journey.
Contact a breastfeeding specialist service such as La Leche League International – they are an excellent source of support and help in those first few weeks and beyond on your breastfeeding journey.
Correct breastfeeding positions
Correct breastfeeding positions are key to ensure proper latching. A good latch will be painless, ensure a long and sufficient feed, increase milk supply and overall make breastfeeding a pleasure. Take the time to work out the best position for you and your baby (by the way every baby is different so your second, third etc baby may feed totally differently from the previous one!).
Some common positions include the cradle hold, football hold, cross-cradle hold, side-lying position, and reclining position.
Comfortable position for you: use pillows to support you and your baby plus a footstool and comfortable breastfeeding chair if desired.
Comfortable position for your baby: your baby should be close to you and should not have to turn his/her head to reach the breast.
Hold your breast: so it is not pressing your babys chin.
Latch: Wait for your baby to open his/her mouth then pull close (don’t pull the head, more the top of his/her back). Chin should touch the breast first then nose.
Enjoy! If you’re not sure if your baby is properly latched, don’t be afraid to break the seal. Put your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth and pull your breast out. Try again until you get a seal with both the nipple and the areola covered.
Express milk manually or use a breast pump
Manual expressing is done by simply squeezing the nipple and collecting the flowing expressed milk in a container. It may take some practice to get used to this technique but once mastered, it can be a great way of ensuring that your baby is still able to get all of the nourishment they need.
Using a breast pump is also an effective way to ensure that you’re able to feed your baby while still having time for yourself and giving your nipples a break. Consider investing in a double electric pump so that you can effectively express milk from both breasts at the same time – this will make the whole process much quicker and more efficient overall.
Take care of yourself
Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself too! Breastfeeding can be exhausting – not only physically but also emotionally. Make sure to get enough rest and quality nutrition so that your body has the energy it needs to keep up with the demands of breastfeeding. Try to find time for yourself and your partner as well – this can help you both stay connected and will allow you to keep your focus on the important task at hand.
Part of taking care of yourself includes being informed about how lifestyle choices affect breastfeeding. Use simple calculators to get an idea of how much water you should be drinking, how many daily calories to consume when breastfeeding, and how many alcoholic drinks are safe.
Read my blog post Successful Breastfeeding: A Comprehensive Guide to learn more about how breastfeeding can be supported.
Breastfeeding is a wonderful opportunity to bond with your baby, but it can also come with its share of challenges from issues with physical and mental health to the mechanics of breastfeeding. At times it can seem the odds are stacked against you!
However it can be more enjoyable if you learn about different latching techniques, comfortable positions for you and your baby, expressing milk manually or using a breast pump, and taking care of yourself.
With the right information and support, many problems can be overcome. Seeking advice from lactation consultants, as well as establishing a good support system at home with your partner, friends and family can make a huge difference in overcoming breastfeeding problems. Remember, every mother and baby is unique, so don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help if you encounter any difficulties with breastfeeding.
This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child, please contact your healthcare provider.
Breastfeeding is a very emotive subject – some mothers can feel very despondent if they experience unhappiness or severe difficulty when nursing their new baby. There is an assumption that, because it is a natural process, there must be something wrong with you if you cannot breastfeed perfectly straight away. The truth is that it is a learning curve for both you and your baby. Centuries of women having babies have taught us that mothers need support and guidance in this important but very challenging endeavor!
If you take anything away from this post let it be this: take all the help and support you can get and whatever decision you make with regard feeding your baby it will be the right one! Happy mum, happy baby!
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