Ten Most Common Breastfeeding Problems and How To Fix Them

Verified by: Jerilyn Pleticha, BSN, RN, IBCLC

Breastfeeding is a natural process and is proven to be good for both mother and baby. The health benefits for the child are well documented, breastfeeding can help you bond with your nursing child.

However, just because breastfeeding is a natural process, it isn’t always an easy one. Many mothers experience difficulties when nursing their little ones. Some of them are minor annoyances, and some of them slightly more concerning for a new mom.

Ahead are ten of the most common breastfeeding problems that you might come across, along with some tips on solving them.

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Flat, Inverted, or Large Nipples

First of all, we’ll start with a potential issue that you may well notice before you even try breastfeeding your baby. Some women may have large nipples, which can be difficult for a newborn to latch onto. Or, you may have flat or inverted nipples.

If you’re not sure, you can try to gently pinch the areola with your thumb and index finger. The vast majority of women have protruding nipples, but a woman with flat nipples will find that either the nipple doesn’t protrude at all, or it might even retract if she has inverted nipples.

You needn’t worry if this is your situation. If you have no other breast conditions, your body can still produce milk. And you can still breastfeed your baby.

However, you may need a little extra help. You can always discuss this with a medical professional, who can refer you to a board-certified lactation consultant. Otherwise, there are a few things that you can do to help your baby to feed.

Once the baby has latched onto a flat or inverted nipple, the suction that they produce should draw the nipple out. You can help this process along by pressing on your areola while nursing.

Or you can massage the nipple with your first finger and thumb to draw it out before attempting to nurse. Another trick is to use a suction device, such as a breast pump, to cause the nipple to protrude; and then latch the your child.

Between feedings, your consultant may recommend a breast shell, which can help to draw out your nipples. A breast shell has two layers, one that puts gentle pressure on the nipple, and another that protects the nipple.

If all else fails, you can use a nipple shield while feeding. This is a silicon overlay that can help the baby to latch onto the nipple, as the milk comes out through a hole in the shield. However, a nipple shield isn’t a perfect solution.  Ask a lactation consultant how to properly place on the breast first, as it easy to wear incorrectly, and may lead to other breast issues, such as low milk supply.

Leaking Breasts 

One common nuisance that nursing mothers encounter is that of leaky breasts. This might not be as concerning or uncomfortable as some of the other issues listed here, but leaking breasts can be both embarrassing and irritating.

Your breasts tend to leak when they’re overly full, or if you’ve missed a feed. It’s essentially your body’s way of saying that it’s time to either nurse or pump. Once hormone levels have settled into the nursing process, leaking will likely become less of a problem.

However, some mothers find that leaking crops up when they’re starting to wean their child, as the weaning process means that you deliberately feed less often. In any case, there are some things that you can do to mitigate leaking breasts.

First of all, try not to let your breasts get too full. You can do this by either nursing or pumping, especially if you aren’t yet weaning your child. One of the easiest things to prevent your leaking breasts from getting your clothes wet is to wear breast pads. These catch the milk and prevent wet spots. However, make sure that you change the pads when they get wet.

Difficult or Painful Latching

A measure of difficulty with the latching process isn’t unusual, especially on your first attempt at breastfeeding. Even if everything else is normal, both you and your baby are new to this, so a bit of initial discomfort and a slow start doesn’t mean that there’s a problem.

Most mothers require some time to adjust, your nipples will likely be initially tender. because you may have no prior experience.

This means that the latch can sting a bit, at least until your nipples toughen up. If you find that this initial pain lasts for longer than a couple of minutes, or is hard to handle, you may need to have a closer look at your nipples to ensure that they aren’t sore or see a lactation consultant or medical provider to ensure the latch is correct, which also may cause unnecessary pain.

However, difficulty latching might be due to a couple of other factors. Large or inverted nipples can cause some problems, as we know. Big breasts can also make latching trickier for you and your baby. Even if these factors aren’t the case, some babies take longer to get used to the latching process, which can lead to them becoming fussy as they aren’t getting enough milk.

There are ways to help your baby to latch on. You can experiment with different positions to make it easier for both of you. One technique is to cup your breast in a ‘C’ or ‘U’ shape with your hand and aim the nipple towards the roof of the baby’s mouth.

Watch the baby open wide before bringing baby swiftly to the breast, as if he is eating a big sandwich. You can reposition your baby so their mouth covers more of the aerola than just the nipple.

It’s important to make sure that your baby is able to latch correctly, so that they get the milk they so need. If you’re still struggling, it might be an idea to contact a lactation consultant who can help you to find a technique that works for you and your baby.

There’s also the possibility that your baby is tongue-tied, which would make latching more difficult. A pediatrician or lactation consultant can verify if this is the case.

Sore or Cracked Nipples

Sore and cracked nipples are painful and perhaps worrying, but they can be dealt with. It can It can be from an improper latch, poor pumping technique, thrush, or dry skin. , from an improper latch, poor pumping technique, thrush, or even just dry skin. As ever, a lactation consultant can give you hands-on assistance.

If the issue is with latching ensure  that your baby is properly positioned when feeding, so that the majority of your lower areola is in their mouth.

Dry skin is an unfortunate reality for many mothers as the nursing process can dry out the skin. Allowing breast milk to dry on the nipples may soothe some discomfort.

Cracked nipples can be painful, and potentially lead to an infection. Gently wash with water regularly, but avoid harsh soaps and creams. Soap can be painful on broken skin, so warm water is a good alternative.

Pat dry with a soft towel. After feeding and washing, apply a nipple ointment coconut oil, or breastmilk and allow to air dry will protect and moisturize the skin. Keeping cracked nipples out in the open air, helps them heal faster.

Low Milk Supply

One of the breastfeeding issues that worries many mothers is that of low milk supply. This is understandable, but how can you tell that you have a low milk supply?

First, it helps to understand the idea of supply and demand. Your body will naturally adjust to your baby’s needs, so the more they feed, the more milk you will produce, and vice versa.

Shortly after you’ve began breast feeding, you may find that your breasts feel less full and that your nipples aren’t leaking. This doesn’t mean that you have a low supply. It’s likely that you’ve just adjusted to your baby and are now producing enough milk.

However, if your baby isn’t gaining weight as much as you and your pediatrician would hope, you may have a low supply. Again, if we use the supply and demand principle, we can likely mitigate this problem.

First of all, make sure that you are healthy. Get plenty of rest and ensure that you’re well fed and hydrated. It seems obvious, but some mothers are prone to forgetting about these things.

Next, you can try to boost your supply by nursing your child more often, as well as using a breast pump. These encourage your body to produce more milk.

If you still aren’t producing enough milk, you may need to speak to a doctor. You should also bear in mind that formula milk is far better than too little milk. So, don’t be afraid to supplement your feedings with formula if need be.

High Milk Supply and Engorgement

When your breasts are full of milk, or engorged, they feel very full and heavy, and can even be painful. Engorgement is common shortly after giving birth, as your body is still figuring out how much milk is required and is relieved by breastfeeding your baby.

You can also become engorged if your baby isn’t latching correctly, or if you leave it too long between feedings. This can be dealt with by correcting your babies positioning on the nipple and be feeding them more frequently.

Engorgement itself can make it harder for the baby to nurse, as the breasts are overly firm. If this is the case, you may need to hand express before feeding your baby. This gets the milk flowing and softens the breast enough.

Another cause of engorgement is an excessively high milk supply. In this case, be wary of the urge to pump your breasts to relieve the pressure, as your body will continue to produce that level of milk. Rather, feed your baby before they’re too hungry, so that they suck less vigorously.

If you are experiencing pain because of engorgement, you can relieve it by hand expressing a little milk and applying a cold compress. Be sure to burp your baby often, as engorged breasts lead to a forceful letdown, which in turn often causes gassiness.

Clogged Milk Ducts

When breastmilk sits in the breast for too long, it can become overly thick and cause clogged or plugged milk ducts. This is more likely to happen if you’re producing a lot of milk very quickly, or there are long gaps between feeds. Another risk factor for clogged ducts is overly tight or underwired bras.

Clogged ducts can be painful, and may appear as a tender spot, sore lump, or a reddened area on the affected breast. To relieve this pain, you can massage the sore area and apply a warm compress before feeds.

One of the best ways to dislodge the plugged milk is to start nursing your child on the affected side. Most babies suck strongest at the beginning, so this is when they’re most likely to get rid of the clot and to allow your milk to flow more freely.

After the clog has shifted, it’s not unusual to feel a little tenderness in that area for a week or so, but that should fade. To stop this issue reoccurring, make sure that you’re getting plenty of rest and that your breasts aren’t overly compressed or irritated by ill-fitting bras or pumping parts.

Mastitis

Mastitis is a common bacterial infection in the breast. Engorgement, clogged ducts, and cracked nipples are common causes of mastitis. By treating these problems as quickly as possible, you may be able to prevent mastitis from developing.

The symptoms of mastitis are:

  • A swollen area of the breast
  • A lump or hard area on your breast.
  • A burning pain in the breast, it may be constant or only present during nursing
  • Nipple discharge, which can be white or may contain streaks of blood.
  • Flu-like symptoms, like a high temperature, aches, fatigue, and chills.

Usually, this infection only effects one breast. Like with clogged ducts, it’s important to continue breastfeeding and to ensure that the affected breast is drained. Moms that use warm moist compresses, massage their breasts during breastfeeding and pumping, and use ice compresses afterward; find this helps the pain decrease.

Thrush or Other Fungal Infections

Unfortunately, babies can carry yeast infections in their mouths, most commonly thrush. When feeding, your baby may well pass the thrush onto you, especially if you struggle with cracked nipples which make any kind of infection more likely.

Thrush may cause nipple itchiness, a rash, redness, and shooting pains in the breast either during or after a feed. You can continue nursing your child while you have thrush, but it’s important to consult a doctor who can provide antifungal medication for both you and your baby.

If only one of you is treated, the other can simply pass the infection back during a nursing session. Unfortunately, over the counter medications are unlikely to be effective, which is why you should see a doctor.

You can help the treatment along and reduce your discomfort at home. To prevent reinfection, make sure that you sterilize everything that comes into contact with your baby’s mouth by putting it in boiling water for ten minutes.

You should also switch out your bra every day, and wash anything that comes into contact with your breasts on a high heat. Airing out your breasts as much as possible will help to make you feel more comfortable and prevent the rash from worsening.

Sleepy Baby, and Other Baby Related Issues

Sometimes, babies are especially sleepy and can be prone to drifting off while nursing. This is normal, and makes sense, as the nursing process is comforting to both mother and child. However, when a baby is asleep, they aren’t feeding.

One way to keep your baby engaged is to make sure that the milk is flowing well. The first let-down at the start of the feed will always have the fastest milk flow, but it will eventually slow down. When you notice your baby drifting, you can massage your breast to increase the milk flow and to keep your baby focused on nursing.

Otherwise, you can try gently rubbing your baby’s head and shifting their position to wake them up. Undressing the baby will make sure that they don’t get too warm, which makes them sleepier. A sleeping baby is lovely, but we need to make sure that they’re getting enough food.

Another common hiccup that can happen with our baby is what’s known as a “breastfeeding strike”, or “nursing strike.” This is when your baby, despite being perfectly happy with your breast milk for the past few months, suddenly stops nursing.

This doesn’t mean that your baby wants to wean off breastmilk but may be because the baby is stressed or uncomfortable. You can get them back into nursing by making them more comfortable. Try skin-to-skin contact, or shift nursing positions until their happy.

During the strike, protect your milk supply by pumping your milk and storing it. You can feed your baby with this stored milk, while regularly attempting to breastfeed your baby. As always, don’t be afraid to contact a medical profession for some extra help if need be.

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