Practical Considerations about Covid-19. Click here to Learn more

Common Problems with Breastfeeding.

One of the natural events for many women - so, what problems could develop with breastfeeding?

Common Problems with Breastfeeding

Most of the time, many women breastfeed and experience the pleasure of providing nourishment for their babies among the other benefits of breastfeeding.

But in some cases, some problems with breastfeeding could happen that prevent either the smooth delivery of milk to the baby or actually make Mum unwell.

The most important thing as a new mum having problems with breastfeeding is to be patient with yourself and your baby - and get the right advice quickly.

Let's look at some of these breastfeeding problems.

#1. Difficulty 'Latching On'

Latching on is simply the term we use to describe how the baby gets a good amount of your breast into their mouth to feed properly.

Did you know that your baby's suckling is one of the triggers for your milk flow?

For them to suckle well, though, they need to have a little of your areola (the darker part of the breast just next to the nipple) and the nipple inside their mouth.

The breast ducts which contain the milk lie within the areola, and your baby's pull as they suck, helps release the milk.

So what could prevent your baby from latching on?

There are conditions affecting baby such as if they are sleepy; or very upset and crying.

In this case they may find it difficult to get the breast properly fitted into their mouth.

When they try to feed and no milk comes, they get more frustrated.

So if its feeding time, try squeezing your breast to bring a few drops onto the nipple before you place baby to latch.

The smell and taste of milk can encourage a sleepy baby to wake and feed.

And, try to get them feeding before they get too hungry and frustrated to latch on properly.

Other examples for latching problems are:

If your nipples do not 'stick out', it may be a little tricky for babies to 'latch on'.

Babies can still feed from 'flat' nipples, but using a breast pump can help stimulate the nipples up/out and help baby latch on.

A breast pump can help some latching or other breastfeeding problems.

If you have very large breasts, it could also be difficult to hold baby well positioned and for you to see well enough to properly fit the breast in their mouth.

Having someone to help with positioning a few times till you get in a comfortable position and rhythm may be all you and your baby need.

Finally, sometimes your breasta get very full or engorged. This stretches the nipple so it seems to be flat, and your baby can't latch on.

Here again, expressing some milk with your hand or using a pump to stimulate the nipple before you place baby on can help.

Breast shields are a useful device to help with stimulating your nipple.

In premature babies, they can help make it easier for her little mouth to latch on to your nipple and breast.

Latching problems could also happen if baby has conditions like a tongue tie or cleft palate; or other medical conditions which

  • How do you position your baby when breastfeeding?
    • If you are new at breastfeeding, it can be a little daunting. But do not worry.
    • Sit comfortably, use cushions to support your back and neck. Hold or cradle your baby, aim your nipple towards her nose and bring her close so her chin touches your chest.
    • As she opens her mouth wide, let her take your nipple in deeply so some of the areola also enters her mouth; and gently tug her against you.
    • Check her nose is free and her chin is right against your breast.
    • You will feel the pull/pressure, as she suckles at your breast.
    • While the first few sucks are fast, this will soon slow to steady pulls as her mouth is filled with milk and she swallows in between suckling.

Remember this problem with breastfeeding could affect how nutrition your baby is getting and their growth. So ask for help with it quickly.

problems with breastfeeding
Breastfeeding Problems can happen from blockages causing Mastitis

#2. Insufficient Milk Flow

This is when you do not appear to have enough milk for the baby.

Why could this happen?

Well, milk flow is controlled by your hormones and the baby's suckling to stimulate it.

Your body is getting ready for breast feeding right from your second trimester onwards, and after birth, the hormones work together to allow release of milk.

  • But some of the issues that could cause this problem with breastfeeding are:
    • If you were ill around the time of birth with an infection or other medical problem, this may affect your milk flow
    • Some medicines that you take to treat other problems may affect your milk flow
    • A poor diet and appetite can certainly affect your milk flow
    • Closely related to this is dehydration - insufficient fluid in your body means there is insufficient milk.
    • Feeling of anxiety or stress can also affect your hormones and milk flow.

As a breastfeeding mum, rest, fluids - water, a regular, varied diet rich in fibre, protein, carbohydrates - will build up the energy and nutrients you need for good milk flow.

If you feel unwell, please seek medical help quickly so this does not affect your milk flow.

#3. Cracked/Sore Nipples

This is a common complaint for many mums and you may experience it, too.

Most times it happens from incorrect latching and positioning.

If you didn't get the position right, your nipple may be against the hard palate of the baby's mouth rather than fully within the mouth and near the soft palate at the back of the mouth.

If you notice your nipples are flat or wedged after a feed, this may be a sign that baby is not well-positioned.

Please take your nipple care very seriously.

Sore nipples can be very painful, and even make you want to stop breastfeeding.

However, you should try to continue feeding as much as you can to avoid engorgement of the breasts.

  • Care for your nipple by:
    • Cleaning and use a fresh breast pad (if you wear one) after each feeding session.
    • If you feel the nipple is getting sore, try applying a little breast milk over the nipple just after each feed.

If your baby is well positioned, but the nipples are still sore, you may have a yeast infection of the nipple.

Breastfeeding tip - graphic showing baby suckling at Mum's breast

(Yeast) Fungal infection or Thrush around the nipples.

This develops from cracked nipples which allow the yeast on the skin surface to enter the nipple causing infection.

Thrush could also affect your baby's mouth.

You may suspect thrush if you have pain lasting over an hour in both breasts after you feed; or

  • In your baby if you see:
    • white/creamy spots on the tongue, inside the mouth and cheeks of your baby that do not come off if you gently wipe their mouth
    • she seems very unsettled after feeding - this may be from pain or insufficient feeding
    • a whitish colour to her lips
    • she also has a nappy rash

It's important we get the diagnosis right and be sure we treat correctly.

So for breast pain or other concerns about baby, speak to your doctor, or midwife for help.

Thrush is easily treated with an antifungal cream or ointment applied to both your breasts after each feeding.

At the same time, your baby must be treated - usually with antifungal oral drops or gel.

Things should improve within 2-3 days, although treatment usually lasts for one week.

Breast Engorgement simply means that your breasts are excessively full of milk. It can easily happen if you do not breastfeed for even 12-24 hours and can be very painful. Expressing your milk with a pump or by hand helps to release the milk while applying gentle heat over the breast can help to treat engorgement.

It is important to remember to let your baby feed from both breasts at each feeding time.

Every type of milk coming from your breasts is important for the development of baby.

The foremilk, which is the first milk that comes from the breast is low in fat, while the hind milk from the same breast is rich in fat.

Your baby needs both to grow and manitain sufficient fluid balance.

So allow baby to feed fully from one breast to get as much of the fore- and hindmilk, then to the other, to ensure baby gets good quantities of both types of milk (and also reduce the risk of engorgement)!

#4. Mastitis.

This is the term commonly used when you develop pain within one breast only and notice it gets very hard and swollen.

This problem with breastfeeding is also quite common when you allow the breasts to get engorged.

Your breast may feel very warm or hot - and you may even feel a lump in the breast.

Sometimes, a fever, headache and other symptoms like nausea or vomiting could happen as well.

Mastitis happens most often in a breastfeeding mum when there is blockage of milk flow.

The blockage makes it likely for bacteria to infect the area around it causing the symptoms.

We would treat mastitis with antibiotics which are safe for you and your baby.

Speak to your doctor quickly if you develop very bad pain in one breast and are feeling ill too.

If you can, do continue to breastfeed - from the affected breast.

This reduces the chance of engorgement that can worsen your pain.

  • Other things you could do to help:
    • Use a warm towel or cloth (soaked in warm water) to lie against the breast for pain relief - a warm bath could help this too.
    • You may also take paracetamol or ibuprofen to help with the pain. Eat before taking Ibuprofen to avoid acid reflux pain.
  • If it's not severely painful try to express milk from the breasts starting with the sore breast.
  • Massage your breast in between feeds to remove any blockages, stroking from the sore area to help milk flow.

Did you know that men and women who are not breastfeeding can also develop mastitis?

  • Of course, this is less often than in breastfeeding women but here are some reasons:
    • Damage to the nipple from skin conditions like eczema or damage to the skin of the nipple from piercing.
    • This could also happen from shaving or plucking the skin around your nipple.
    • When someone has a weak immune system and cannot easily overcome infections - like in Diabetes.
    • Women with a breast implant.
    • Men or women who smoke, as research shows smoking damages the breast tissue.

Now, if you have mastitis and it is not treated quickly, it may progress to a breast abscess which needs urgent treatment.

This may include antibiotics taken intravenously (via a drip); or in addition, surgery to drain the pus out of the breast.

So these are some of the ways to treat the problems with breast feeding.

Please feel free to share your experience in the comments section below or ask any questions for more information here.

Stay Well!

More breastfeeding articles:

When you leak breastmilk abnormally


NHS Breastfeeding Guide

Related Post

Founder's Corner
Dr Sylvia Kama-Kieghe

Founder, AskAwayHealth

More Details

The Trusted Home of Simple Health Information Online

Need more

Ask Here

Would you like to consult with a doctor? (UK patients only)

Get e-Consultation Now