Breastfeeding may not come naturally to all women. Common breastfeeding problems include sore nipples, breast pain, engorgement, infections, and more.
8 common breastfeeding problems
1. Latching pain
When your infant latches onto your breast during the first week after birth, it is normal to experience some pain or tenderness in your nipples. As your baby begins to nurse, the soreness should subside.
However, sore nipples may continue to be a problem if your newborn has difficulty latching. Some newborns are born with a tongue-tie or lip tie that inhibits mouth movements and makes it difficult for them to latch properly.
If adjusting your baby's latch does not alleviate nipple pain, contact your doctor.
2. Cracked nipples
Cracked nipples can be caused by a variety of factors, such as irritation from latching or pumping, dry skin, or infections. Related symptoms may include:
- Rashes on the nipples
- Scaly or glossy nipples
- Shooting or burning breast pain
If you notice any of these symptoms, visit a doctor as soon as possible to identify the problem and prevent additional harm.
Thrush is a yeast infection that affects your infant’s mouth, which can spread to you when they breastfeed. Thrush can cause breast pain, flaky and red nipples, and itching or shooting pain.
If you or your infant has thrush you will both need to be treated to prevent the illness from spreading.
When babies are teething, they may try to bite down while nursing. Holding your baby close and making sure they are properly latched will help you avoid this problem.
5. Low milk supply
Some women may struggle with low milk supply or feel they are not producing enough milk for their babies. Although frequent nursing may help your body make more milk, you should consult a lactation consultant if nothing is helping.
Breast engorgement occurs when your milk first comes in during the early stages of breastfeeding. As your body is still learning how to regulate milk production, your breasts may produce too much and become engorged and painful. Over time, your body will progressively adapt to fulfill the needs of your baby.
Feeding your infant frequently and early can help prevent and alleviate breast engorgement. Avoid putting restrictions on feeding and simply feed your baby when they are hungry.
If your baby finds it difficult to latch due to the swelling, you can manually express a small amount of milk or use reverse pressure softening.
Discomfort from engorgement should only last for a couple of days. Contact a doctor if the engorgement is not improving.
7. Blocked ducts
If your infant is not latching properly or feeding often, it can lead to milk getting clogged in your breast ducts. This can cause a red, hard lump to develop on the breast.
In order to prevent clogged milk ducts, you should try to:
- Breastfeed or pump every 2 hours, beginning with the breast that is clogged
- Feed your infant in various positions to ensure that milk is flowing from all parts of your breast
- Apply a warm compress and gently massage your breast before feeding to encourage milk flow
If you have a breast lump that would not go away, contact your doctor.
Mastitis is an infection in the breast that can cause:
- Large red, sore area or red streaks on the breast
- Fever and flu-like symptoms (headache or nausea)
In order to prevent or treat mastitis:
- Feed your baby frequently on the affected side.
- Rest as much as you can.
- Apply heat to the affected area.
- Remove the milk by hand or with a pump.
- Antibiotic treatment may be recommended if symptoms persist for more than 24 hours.
What causes breastfeeding problems?
Premature birth is the most common cause of breastfeeding issues, since premature babies have not matured enough to nurse effectively. Problems with latching or feeding can also be caused by physical deformities, such as cleft lip, or neurological problems.
Problems that can occur in the first 72 hours of birth include:
- Poor latching
- Tongue-tie or ankyloglossia (shortened frenulum, which restricts tongue movement)
- Sleepy baby syndrome (baby falls asleep or stops nursing immediately after latching)
- Poor sucking reflex (caused by sedation from maternal medications that are slowly metabolized, such as Demerol)
- Poorly sustained sucking
- Low sucking frequency
- Weak sucking pressure
- Mastitis or inflammation of mammary glands
The most common causes of babies having to be readmitted to the hospital within the first few days after birth are:
- Failure to regain birth weight
- Inadequate weight gain
- Jaundice and infection
When it comes to breastfeeding, late preterm infants (34-36 weeks of gestation) face a unique set of obstacles. Mothers of premature infants who are unable to latch should be encouraged to start pumping milk for their child as soon as the baby is born and use an electric hospital-grade breast pump. Breast milk can be administered using a syringe, cup. or bottle.
What are possible side effects of breastfeeding?
- Back pain: Stooping over your baby in an awkward position for long periods of time may lead to back pain. Try to sit upright while nursing. You can try to elevate your baby by using pillows so that you don’t have to lean down or strain your muscles.
- Bruising: Bruising is common, especially as you and your baby are learning how to nurse. Consider covering your child's hands with mittens or socks if they are squeezing or pinching your breast while feeding.
- Carpal tunnel: Lactating mothers may experience severe carpal tunnel symptoms due to repeated wrist flexing during feeding.
- Cramping: Your body produces hormones as you are nursing. One of these hormones, oxytocin, is responsible for your uterus shrinking back to pre-pregnancy size. Cramping during breastfeeding is normal and a sign that your body is getting back to shape post-pregnancy.
- Osteoporosis: Breastfeeding may cause you to lose some bone mass. Keep your bones strong by exercising and consuming calcium-rich foods. After weaning their babies, most women will gradually regain bone mass.
What are the advantages of exclusively breastfeeding?
Breast milk contains 10% of the recommended daily allowance of nutrients and provides critical antibodies to the baby. Breastfeeding has considerable health benefits for both baby and mother.
Benefits for the baby
- Contains the ideal balance of fat, sugar, water, protein, and minerals for growth and development
- Changes according to the nutritional needs of the baby
- Easier to digest than infant formula
- Contains antibodies that protect babies from illnesses such as ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, and allergies
- Lowers the risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Reduces the risk of health problems that can occur in premature babies
- Helps with teeth development
Studies encourage exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months of life due to scientific evidence of the benefits on infant survival, growth, and development.
Benefits for the mother
- Allows uterus to return to normal size faster and may reduce the amount of bleeding after giving birth
- Reduces postpartum blues
- Helps with postpartum weight loss
- Lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer
- Lowers the risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and obesity
While there are many benefits to breastfeeding, it can be challenging. If you are having difficulty nursing, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant for help.
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Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Breastfeeding Coalition Tasmania. "Barriers to breastfeeding." <http://www.breastfeedingtas.org/about/barriers_to_breastfeeding>.
Spencer, J. "Patient education: Common breastfeeding problems (Beyond the Basics)." UpToDate. <https://www.uptodate.com/contents/common-breastfeeding-problems-beyond-the-basics>.
Switzerland. World Health Organization. "Breastfeeding." <https://www.who.int/health-topics/breastfeeding#tab=tab_1>.
WIC Breastfeeding Support. "Common Breastfeeding Challenges." <https://wicbreastfeeding.fns.usda.gov/common-breastfeeding-challenges>.
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