While breastfeeding is a natural biological process, it usually doesn’t feel like second nature right from the start. In addition to the trial and error that often happens as you settle into a rhythm with your baby, many people encounter a handful of common breastfeeding problems, from latching issues to breast engorgement and low milk supply.
If you’ve decided to breastfeed, try not to get too discouraged by these challenges. There’s usually a solution and experts to walk you through it, including our Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs).
Take a look at some of the most common breastfeeding problems and how to solve them.
The problem: Your baby’s latch, or how they take your breast into their mouth to feed, affects many aspects of breastfeeding, from how much milk you produce to how much your baby eats, not to mention how sore or not sore your nipples are. The key to a good latch is to cover not only the nipple but the surrounding areola as well.
It isn’t hard to tell if your baby’s latching correctly. In fact, you’ll probably feel it — pain during nursing and sore nipples are two primary indications of a poor latch. You may also hear clicking noises, which typically mean that your baby is only sucking your nipple.
How to solve it: To encourage a good latch at the beginning of a feeding, gently place your nipple just beneath your baby’s nose to help them open their mouth wide. Position them so that their bottom lip is beneath your nipple. Bring the baby onto your breast rather than the other way around.
To correct a poor latch, place your finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth to gently unlatch and try again. Never pull your baby off of your breast without unlatching first. You’re on the right track if your baby’s chin and nose touch your breast and if their lips are turned outward rather than tucked in.
A lactation consultant can offer suggestions to keep your baby well-fed and happily latching. (The same goes for all the other breastfeeding problems mentioned here!)
The problem: As milk production ramps up in the first few days after childbirth, your breasts will become full and rock hard. Not only is this often incredibly painful for you — sometimes just putting on a bra can hurt — it can make it more difficult for your baby to properly latch.
Breast engorgement is very common when your milk first comes in. For many women, the worst of it is over after about 24-48 hours, as they get into the routine of breastfeeding, though it can last longer for others.
Your breasts may become engorged at various points throughout your breastfeeding journey if you go longer than usual between feedings or if your baby isn’t fully emptying your breasts.
How to solve it: The discomfort of engorged breasts is no joke, and knowing that it’ll pass eventually isn’t all that helpful in the moment. Thankfully, there are ways to reduce swelling and pain, including the use of cold compresses, cabbage leaves, and hand expression. Wearing a nursing bra or going braless can increase your comfort and allow for easier nursing.
Fully emptying your milk supply also helps. You can try to accomplish this by alternating feeding positions, alternating breasts, and using a pump if you are unable to nurse. Taking a warm shower can help trigger the flow of breast milk. A lactation consultant can guide you through this process.
The problem: The milk ducts that carry milk from the tissue where it’s produced to the nipple can get clogged, resulting in a hard lump on your breast, soreness, and/or redness.
These are some common reasons a milk duct becomes clogged, though there isn’t always a clear cause.
How to solve it: Simply continuing to breastfeed should eventually clear the clogged milk duct. The dangle feeding position, in which you position your baby flat on your lap and dangle your breast over them, can help milk flow toward your nipple and clear a blocked duct.
Using a warm compress before feedings and massaging the lump as you nurse can ease discomfort while you wait for the duct to unclog. After your baby is finished nursing, drain your breast manually or with a pump. Soaking your breasts with warm water several times a day can help prevent clogged milk ducts.
The problem: In some cases, trapped breast milk from a clogged milk duct can become infected with bacteria from your baby’s mouth during feedings. This infection of breast tissue is called mastitis, and it can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, and muscle pain in addition to breast pain and redness.
It affects about 20% of all women who give birth and commonly occurs within the first six weeks after childbirth but may develop at any point when breastfeeding.
How to solve it: While mastitis can sometimes clear without medical treatment, it’s important to see a doctor, especially if you have a fever or chills. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, in which case you can continue to breastfeed while taking the medication. As the infection clears, over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen and warm compresses can help soothe the pain and soreness.
The problem: Many moms who breastfeed are concerned that their baby isn’t consuming enough milk. The best way to get a sense of your milk supply is to track your baby’s weight. Babies should reach their birth weight by about 14 days and begin gaining around 4-7 ounces per week after that.
If your baby isn’t steadily gaining weight, or if they are losing weight, you may have issues with milk production. There are several potential reasons for this.
The more frequently you breastfeed or pump, the more milk you produce, so going long between feedings can reduce milk production. Other health conditions including thyroid disease or a history of hormonal imbalances can also affect how much milk you produce.
Your baby’s ability to latch and consume milk is another factor in milk supply, as the amount of milk removed during feedings informs milk production.
How to solve it: Beyond regularly nursing and pumping throughout the day to increase your milk production — and feeding your baby on demand — speaking with a lactation consultant who can observe you and your baby during breastfeeding is one of the best ways to identify the underlying cause of your milk supply.
While breastfeeding is a unique connection between you and your baby, getting support from others is key to overcoming the challenges mentioned above.
Ruth Health offers nearly 24/7 virtual lactation support from Certified Lactation Counselors (CLCs) to provide individualized care on your time. You can use this support to begin preparing for the journey of breastfeeding even before your baby arrives.
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