If you’re a momma-to-be and are worrying about what breastfeeding will be like, or are currently breastfeeding and are encountering some difficulties, that’s okay. Breastfeeding isn’t smooth sailing for everyone, and you’re bound to come across some problems. But, like all problems, they also have solutions–so don’t worry! Today, we’re listing down some of the common problems breastfeeding moms experience, and what you can do about them.
One of the easiest things to do is worry–worry that your child isn’t getting enough milk, worry that you aren’t producing enough milk for your child, etc. According to Dr. Ruowei Li, a breastfeeding researcher in Atlanta, Georgia, 95% of nursing moms can make enough milk, but those who stop breastfeeding, supplement, or introduce solids perceive that they aren’t. While this may or may not be the case for some, it’s always best to consult with a lactation specialist if you’re experiencing this challenge.
Keep in mind that breastfeeding takes time to get used to, so just because your breasts don’t feel full or aren’t leaking, doesn’t mean that you aren’t producing enough milk. The best way to check if your child is getting enough milk is by their weight gain and their wet diaper count. However, if you’re still concerned about it, some things you can do are to feed on demand (instead of on a schedule), try alternating breasts while feeding, or express pumping (pumping via hand).
It’s not just you who needs to adjust to breastfeeding, some babies go through an adjustment period too. This means that they may not get the hang of latching on to the breast just yet. In this case, what you can do is to try different holds and positions. If you’re unsure whether a latch is correct or not, you can always seek help from a professional. Canada-based lactation consultant Melisande Neal says, “Skin to skin is the way to go.” Try a semi-reclining position with your baby on your chest. When your baby is ready, he or she will move down to the breast and latch on. In the meantime, you may have to give your baby expressed milk via a cup or syringe. You can also try nipple shields or nipple formers to help you out.
While it’s normal for your nipples to feel a bit tender and sore in the first few days of breastfeeding, outright and consistent pain is not common. More often than not it is due to an improper latch, and can be fixed by trying out different positions. Your newborn should have a large portion of the lower part of the areola in his or her mouth, with your nipple against the roof of your baby’s mouth, cupped gently beneath the tongue. Consulting a lactation specialist is also a good idea. Try not to be too tense either–breastfeeding is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one, and your baby will feel when you’re tense–so don’t forget to take deep breaths and relax.
It’s perfectly normal for your breasts to leak milk in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. Remember, your body is still getting used to the changes it’s making for your baby, but this should go away by the six week mark. While there is no solution to prevent you from actually leaking, other ways you can address the problem is by having disposable or washable nursing pads with you at all times, and not missing feedings (as they tend to aggravate the problem if you do).
Breast engorgement is usually the result of milk build up. This can happen in the days after you start breastfeeding, when your milk ‘comes in’ and is not removed efficiently, or if you produce more milk than your baby can drink. You might feel swelling, tenderness, throbbing, and even experience low-grade fever.
Try breastfeeding often, especially on the engorged side, to help remove the milk and keep it flowing. Before nursing, you can also try hand expressing a little milk or even massaging your breast to help soften the areola. If you’re looking to relieve the pain, apply a warm compress on the breast (avoiding the nipple area) before feeding, and a cold compress in between nursing sessions. If the pain continues to bother you, seek help from a professional immediately.
While cracked or sore nipples can be caused by a variety of different factors, the main reason most moms have them is due to improper latching. (Don’t forget to check the positioning of your baby’s mouth!) Some things you can do is to try breastfeeding more frequently and at shorter intervals so that your baby will suck gentler as he or she isn’t that hungry yet. Washing your nipples with water or leaving some breast milk on them to dry (breast milk has antibacterial properties!) can also help. You can even try a lanolin-based cream, and wear loose cotton bras to help lessen the pain.
If your milk isn’t effectively removed from your breast, or you produce milk faster than it gets expressed, it can get backed up in one of the small ducts that transports milk from the breast to the nipple. When this happens, you may feel a firm lump on your breast (which may or may not hurt). (However, if you start feeling feverish and achy, this may be a sign of an infection, and you should consult a professional immediately.)
Don’t avoid breastfeeding on the affected breast. Breastfeeding every two hours or so can actually help loosen the milk, and keep it moving. You can also try massaging the area in a circular motion, then massage in the direction of the nipple. Other things you can try are a warm compress and wearing loose clothing (as tight clothing can constrict the milk ducts).
If your clogged or blocked duct is not remedied, it can turn into an infection called mastitis. The symptoms are the same as a clogged or blocked duct, including fever, nausea, vomiting, yellowish discharge from the nipple, and reddish and warm breasts. Once you experience these symptoms, seek professional help immediately. You should still continue frequent breastfeeding, but can also try a warm compress and massaging the breast.
Thrush is a common fungal or yeast infection which can get passed on to you via your baby’s mouth. According to Women’s Health, “This type of infection thrives on milk and is an overgrowth of the candida organism.” An overgrowth of candida can cause an infection with symptoms such as pink, shiny, and itchy nipples, achy breasts, a rash, and shooting pains in the breast during or after feedings. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult a professional immediately. The solution to a yeast infection is usually an anti-fungal topical ointment, gentian violet, or anti-fungal pills.
This is known as a “milk bleb” or “milk blister” and is caused by layers of skin forming over a duct opening and trapping milk behind it. Keep nursing and try to massage the bleb out. You can also try to gently squeeze it after a warm bath or shower to let the milk solids out and free the duct. Some moms also use a sterilized needle to pierce the skin over the bleb, therefore releasing the blockage and getting the milk flowing. However, it is highly recommended to consult your healthcare professional first on how to properly deal with it.
Sometimes producing too much milk has its cons. Your breasts may feel full and hard, making breastfeeding uncomfortable. Things you can do are try feeding your baby more frequently to prevent aggressive sucking, burping your baby often to remove gas and make room for more milk, using your fingers to reduce your milk flow–try putting a scissors-like hold on your nipple or breast so your baby won’t choke on the overflow of milk, applying a cold compress to relieve pain, and hand expressing just a little milk to relieve pressure.
Most moms tend to think that when their babies fall asleep while nursing they’re already full. But that isn’t actually the case. Sleepy babies tend to get sleepier when feeds are missed or when they don’t have enough caloric intake. So it’s perfectly okay to rouse your baby just to stimulate him or her to keep on feeding. You can try burping, a rub on the back, tickling of the feet, or even switching positions or breasts.
Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom with a ton of errands to do, or a working mom who just got back to work, finding time to pump can be a challenge. Some things that will help make it easier are getting the right equipment, like pumps and flanges. But, it’s also important to remember to be flexible. If it really is too much for you, think of other ways such as bringing the baby with you, going home in between errands to feed, and more.
While most of these problems will go away with simple remedies, at the end of the day, if you’re feeling unnecessary pain or are worried about your baby, it never hurts to consult a healthcare professional. You and your baby’s health and comfort should be top priority, and there’s definitely no shame in asking for help!
- Barnett, Love. “The 10 Most Common Breastfeeding Problems.” Scary Mommy. Date accessed May 29, 2019.
- Finello, Kristen and Nancy Gottesman. “8 Breastfeeding Problems and Solutions.” Parents. Date accessed May 29, 2019.
- Medela Staff. “6 Breastfeeding Problems in the First Week–Solved.” Medela. Date accessed May 29, 2019.
- Pitman, Teresa. “15 Breastfeeding Problems and How to Solve Them.” Today’s Parent. Last updated August 5, 2010.
- Spencer, Jeanne (M.D.). “Patient Education: Common Breastfeeding Problems (Beyond the Basics).” UpToDate. Last updated November 14, 2017.
- Ten Steps Staff. “Common Breastfeeding Problems & Their Solutions.” Ten Steps. Date accessed May 29, 2019.
- Women’s Health Staff. “Common Breastfeeding Challenges.” Women’s Health. Last updated August 27, 2018.