Common Breastfeeding Problems and Simple Solutions

A lot of women start out with the intention to breastfeed, and are surprised by just how many challenges it can present.

Some of these are related to pain, discomfort, and other physical concerns. Others are related to social and logistical issues. 

Breastfeeding Problems and Solutions

In either case, it is not uncommon to give up on breastfeeding. And in some cases, that might be the most appropriate choice.

But it is worthwhile to see if you can address the breastfeeding problems which are making your life difficult as you nurse. You could find that with some adjustments, you are able to continue more comfortably and conveniently. Let’s go over some common breastfeeding problems and potential solutions to try.

Breastfeeding Problems and Solutions: Health-Related

Problem: Thrush

Sometimes, babies get thrush. As thrush occurs in the mouth, it can pass to you while you are nursing your baby. If your nipples are cracked, it is easy for the candida to get inside, causing a localized yeast infection. 

Thrush can result in nipple pain, often severe, and frequently continuing as long as an hour after your session is complete. The pain is most likely to affect both your breasts, and start suddenly. 

Solution:

If you think your pain might be the result of thrush, take a look at your baby’s mouth. Notice any creamy white patches? That may be evidence of a candida infection. Sometimes you’ll notice that same white stuff on your baby’s lips. Diaper rash can result as well.

If thrush seems a possible culprit, visit your doctor for confirmation. All that is needed for the test is a quick swab, and that will tell you whether candida is present.

What if it comes out negative? That means that there is something else causing your pain, for example, the position of feeding.

What if the test is positive? The NHS writes, “If either you or your baby does have thrush, you’ll need to be treated at the same time as the infection can easily spread between you. It can also spread to other members of the family.”

Describing the steps to take next, the NHS continues, “Washing your hands carefully after nappy changes and using separate towels will help prevent the infection spreading. You’ll also need to wash and sterilise any dummies, teats or toys your baby puts in their mouth. You’ll need to wash any breastfeeding bras at a high temperature and change your breast pads frequently while you’re both being treated.”

Do you need to quit breastfeeding during the interim? Happily, the answer is “no.” So long as you are your baby are using the antifungal medication which your doctor prescribes and you are following the hygiene protocols listed above, you can go on breastfeeding and the infection should clear up for both of you. 

Significant improvements can be expected within just several days, continuing after that. 

Problem: Cracked Nipples

One common and painful condition during breastfeeding is cracked nipples. Sometimes, the cracking can be severe enough for bleeding to occur as well. 

Solution:

The trick is to figure out why your nipples are cracked and bleeding. It could be a result of thrush (see above), or it could just be because your nipples have become very dry. Incorrect use of a breast pump may lead to cracking. If your baby fails to establish a good latch, this too can cause this problem. 

Once you identify what you think might be the cause of your cracked nipples, you can take suitable measures to heal them. Making corrections to issues with latching or pumping might be all it takes, or treating your dry skin or thrush infection if one is present. 

Problem: Your Milk Ducts Could Get Clogged

Sometimes, ducts get plugged, and an infection forms. Poor drainage can lead to this condition, sometimes a result of a feeding schedule where your sessions are spaced too far apart. You also can end up with clogged milk ducts if you don’t wear a properly-fitted nursing bra. 

If you have a plugged milk duct, you can sometimes feel the obstruction under your skin, which may be a bit red, swollen, warm or tender. These are signs of infection. If you have an infected duct, it is also possible that you will develop a low-grade fever.

Solution:

If you think you might have a plugged milk duct, it is important to deal with it right away before your infection gets worse. These types of infections can progress into abscesses.

The first thing to do is stop doing whatever it is that is contributing to the problem. That may mean switching to a looser nursing bra, going onto a more frequent pumping schedule, etc.

Some other things you can do to try and help the clog unplug include:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Get adequate rest. 
  • Apply warm compresses or take hot showers.
  • If inflammation is present, cool compresses may be preferable.
  • Massage may also assist with removing the blockage.

In some cases, it might take just a couple of days to relieve the blockage completely, while in other cases, it could take a little bit longer.

Try and stay on top of new developing clogs. The faster you treat them, the more likely they are to clear up quickly without progressing into abscesses or mastitis.

Problem: Mastitis

Mastitis (inflammation of the breast) is sometimes a complication of blocked milk ducts, but may have other causes, including allergy or another infection. It can be difficult to differentiate from a clogged duct because the symptoms are so similar. But typically, they will be more severe. You might run a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. 

Like a clogged duct, mastitis can progress to abscesses, and is painful in the meantime.

Solution:

First of all, if you are currently wearing a tight nursing bra, get a looser one, or even consider avoiding bras for a while. Make sure that there is no improper latching when you are nursing.

Because mastitis is a more severe situation than a plugged duct, it is recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider when you notice symptoms. 

Sometimes, infection may be present. If that is the case (and this can be true of clogged ducts as well), you might need to take a course of antibiotics.

As with a clogged duct, resist the urge to pump less often. If anything, you may want to increase the frequency. 

Warm compresses can be helpful, just like with plugged ducts, as can massages. Continue to stay hydrated and get as much rest as you need to. Because the breast is inflamed, you may also want to apply cold compresses after feeding sessions. 

Problem: The Let-Down May Be Painful

When your nipple is stimulated during nursing, prolactin and oxytocin release, which combine to push milk to your nipple. This process is called “let-down.” Sometimes, it can feel unpleasant or even painful. 

Solution:

To figure out what to do about painful let-down, you first need to determine what the cause of it is. 

One possibility is infection. If you believe an infection may be present, you need to treat the infection to get relief during let-down.

Another possibility is that you simply have an overly full breast. You may want to take the time to empty it more thoroughly, even if that means doing some extra pumping.

Problem: Nipples That Don’t Protrude

Some women have nipples that simply don’t protrude very much, and are more on the flat side.

Logistically, this is not the greatest thing when it comes to breastfeeding for obvious reasons. It is more difficult to get the baby to latch if the shape of your nipple doesn’t aid in the process.

Solution:

Having flat nipples doesn’t mean you can’t nurse a baby. The job can be easier if you do some pumping first so that the milk is at the ready. Also helpful are breast shells and nipple shields. 

Problem: Baby Doesn’t Recognize Nipple

Sometimes, there can be an issue where a baby simply does not know what it is supposed to do with a nipple. This only happens if a baby has received food via a bottle first, or has used a pacifier first.

Solution:

The ideal way to solve this problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. This is usually as simple as making sure you breastfeed your baby from the beginning rather than using a bottle temporarily and then switching. You also should wait to offer a pacifier until after breastfeeding has commenced.

Problem: Under-Production of Breast Milk

Did you know that around 5% of women cannot produce sufficient breast milk? That is a significant figure, even though the vast majority of women will never have this problem.

Solution:

First of all, try and figure out whether you really are having a milk production problem or not. A lot of women assume something is wrong because they have a hard time getting what they need from a pump. But babies seem to be more efficient than pumps. 

So long as your baby is continuing to put on weight at the expected rate according to a scale, you probably are producing all the milk your growing child needs.

What if you are among the 5% of women who are under-producing milk? Should that turn out to be the case, then there are a few things you can try:

  • Try nursing more frequently. Even though this will empty out your breasts more, your body will also adjust to produce more milk.
  • Get a higher-quality pump. You might even consider renting one which is professional-grade for use in medical settings. 
  • Treat conditions which may be interfering with your milk production.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Avoid (if possible) medications which can interfere with the production of breast milk.
  • Try using a galactagogue. This refers to any substance, natural or otherwise, which can increase the production of breast milk. If necessary, there are prescription medications which you can use for this purpose. But there are also supplements for increasing low milk supply. 
  • Look at your diet.

You will likely get the bets results if you combine multiple methods above. Taking a supplement can really help, but it will do its job most effectively if you are also breastfeeding frequently.

Problem: Pain During Latching

Once your baby latches properly, you shouldn’t find breastfeeding all that painful. If it continues to be painful, it could mean that the baby has established an improper latch.

Solution:

Revisit your latching technique, and encourage your baby to latch correctly. The most comfortable latch won’t be a completely centered position over the nipple. It will be just slightly lower. You might be able to see part of the upper region of the areola, but not the lower region. 

Problem: Engorged Breasts

While some women struggle to produce sufficient breast milk, others have just the opposite issue. They may produce excessive breast milk and end up with full, engorged, hardened breasts. 

Solution: 

This can be unpleasant for you and make breastfeeding more of a chore, as your baby may hard a hard time latching properly. 

There are two things you can do about this. The first is to breastfeed more frequently. Doing so will help to prevent your breasts from getting engorged in the future.

If your breasts are already engorged and you cannot get the baby to latch correctly, try emptying them out a little yourself first. Once they are softer, the baby will probably be able to latch successfully.

Problem: Baby Falls Asleep

Another hassle can involve your baby falling asleep while nursing. This problem can occur frequently when your infant is still very young. All that sleeping makes it difficult to nurse efficiently and give your baby as much nutrition as it needs.

Solution:

Switching breasts earlier in a feeding session can help with this issue a bit, since you can take advantage of the more rapid milk flow early in the session from both breasts before your baby falls asleep.

You can also try and prevent your baby from falling asleep while feeding. 

Breastfeeding Problems and Solutions: Logistical

pumping

While many breastfeeding challenges involve physical health, there can also be some logistical challenges which can get in your way. Following are some additional breastfeeding problems and solutions. 

Problem: Leaking

Milk can leak out when you don’t want it to. This can be quite problematic at, for example, the office. The last thing you want when it is your turn to give a presentation at a meeting is to stand up and realize that your milk is leaking through your shirt.

Solution:

There are a few things you can do to try and prevent visible leaking. For one, you can consider bringing a portable breast pump with you on the go. You can take it into the bathroom with you and inconspicuously pump if you need to so that your breasts do not overfill.

The next thing you can do is wear nursing pads. You place these in your bra, and if you do happen to leak, their absorbent properties should help prevent the milk from leaking through your bra to show on your shirt. 

One more useful thing to know is that let down can sometimes be arrested simply by folding your arms and pressing them to your chest.

Problem: It is hard for you to pump at work.

What do you do if you are having a difficult time pumping at work because of time constraints or the attitudes of your boss or co-workers?

Solution:

First of all, you should know your rights. The Department of Labor states, “Federal law requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk (Section 7 of the FLSA). Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

So, your employer has no right to stop you from pumping when you need to do so. If you have privacy at your own desk (i.e. your own office), you might even be able to continue doing your work while you pump if you get a hands-free model. 

If your employer tries to interfere, it is your right to contact the Department of Labor for assistance.

Note that along with the federal law described above, your state may have additional laws in place to protect your rights as you are breastfeeding at work. Familiarize yourself with these laws. 

If there really is no possible way for you to conveniently breastfeed at your job, there are still some helpful workarounds.

You can breastfeed right before you head to work and immediately when you return home. Hopefully, you will not have issues with engorgement.

If you are worried about not producing enough milk, you can pump more frequently in your off hours and create a backup supply of milk. You can freeze this milk to store it.

It is possible for breast milk to keep for 4-6 months! So, something else you can do when you are still on leave from work is stock up to the best of your ability. That way, when you return to work, you’ll have all that extra milk in your freezer for the months ahead.

Problem: You don’t like breastfeeding publicly.

Breastfeeding publicly can be problematic for a variety of reasons, and the issue is in the spotlight nowadays. That means that you can feel like you are in the spotlight if you nurse your baby while you are out and about. 

Solution: 

If possible, you can always try and arrange your schedule so that you are not stuck nursing in public. If that is not doable, there are wearable covers you can buy to conceal what you are doing (everyone will know what it is, but no one will be able to “watch” anything). Alternately, you can create your own cover just by bringing a blanket with you. 

Problem: For other physical or psychological reasons, breastfeeding isn’t an ideal fit for you.

Solution:

Sometimes there are still adaptations that you can make, but not every woman chooses to breastfeed. Pumping milk and bottle-feeding your baby remains an option.

Conclusion: Many Breastfeeding Problems Can Be Overcome With Simple Solutions

It can be frustrating working through breastfeeding challenges, and you may feel tempted to throw in the towel. 

But now, you are more familiar with the different obstacles you can encounter and some possible workarounds.

It could be that with a few simple changes in your routine, you are able to overcome breastfeeding difficulties after all. Good luck, and continue checking out our blog for additional breastfeeding tips and tricks, nutritional recommendations, and more!


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