Overcoming breastfeeding problems
Common problems may occur during breastfeeding. Fortunately, most problems can be easily managed with a variety of strategies.
Moms who breastfeed their babies may feel confused by a lack of experience or support. They may be afraid or ashamed to ask for help for such a "natural" activity.
If you run into any problems, contact a lactation consultant (a person who specializes in breastfeeding).
For more information, see:
Plugged milk ducts; Nipple soreness when breastfeeding; Breastfeeding - overcoming problems; Let-down reflex
Breastfeeding (nursing) your baby can be a comfortable and relaxing experience. But it takes time and practice. To encourage a comfortable and successful breastfeeding experience, get an early start in the hospital. Request the help of a lactation consultant or nurse to get you started with proper positioning and breast care.
It is common to have some pain or discomfort when your baby first latches on and begins feeding in the first few days or weeks. Some breastfeeding mothers describe nipple soreness as a pinching, itching, or burning sensation.
For these common symptoms, ask for advice and stay with breastfeeding. Over time, you should feel little discomfort or pain when breastfeeding.
Nipple soreness may also be caused by not having the right:
- Feeding techniques
- Position of the baby when breastfeeding
- Nipple care
For many women, there is no clear cause of nipple soreness.
A simple change in your baby's position while feeding may relieve nipple soreness.
Nipple soreness may be caused by the baby continuing to suck as he or she comes off the breast. You can help your baby learn to release (and reduce your discomfort) by gently inserting a finger into the side of the mouth to break the suction.
Skin that is too dry or too moist can also cause nipple soreness. Moisture may be due to wearing bras made from man-made (synthetic) fabrics. These fabrics may increase sweating and slow evaporation. Using soaps or solutions that remove natural skin oils can cause dry skin.
- Ointments containing lanolin may be helpful for the care of dry or cracking nipples.
- Olive oil and expressed milk can also soothe sore nipples.
Nipple soreness can also be caused by your baby chewing or biting on the nipples. When your baby begins teething, the gums will swell, itch, and hurt. Biting and chewing seems to help relieve the baby's discomfort.
- To comfort your baby and reduce the desire to chew on or bite your breast, provide something cold and wet for the baby to chew on a few minutes before breastfeeding. A clean, wet washcloth from the refrigerator will work well for this purpose. The cold will help numb painful gums and may give your baby relief throughout the feeding.
- You may want to allow the infant to chew on another cold, wet washcloth before feeding on the other breast.
BREAST ENGORGEMENT OR BREAST FULLNESS
Breast fullness is the slow buildup of blood and milk in the breast a few days after birth. It is a sign that your milk is coming in. It will not prevent you from breastfeeding.
Breast engorgement is caused by congestion of the blood vessels in the breast. The breasts are swollen, hard, and painful. The nipples cannot protrude to allow the baby to latch on correctly and nursing is difficult.
The let-down reflex is a normal part of breastfeeding. Milk made in the milk glands is released into the milk ducts. Pain, stress, and anxiety can interfere with the reflex. As a result, milk will build up. Treatment includes:
- Learning to relax and finding a comfortable position
- Reducing distractions during nursing, performing a gentle massage, and applying heat to the breast
Nursing often (8 times or more in 24 hours) and for at least 15 minutes at each feeding can also prevent engorgement.
Other ways to relieve breast engorgement:
- Feed more often or express milk manually or with a pump. Electric breast pumps work best.
- Alternate between taking warm showers and using cold compresses to help relieve the discomfort.
NOT ENOUGH MILK FOR THE BABY'S NEEDS
The baby's milk demand determines the mother's supply. Frequent feedings, adequate rest, good nutrition, and adequate fluid intake can help maintain a good milk supply.
Checking weight and growth frequently is the best way to make sure your baby is taking enough milk. If you have concerns about how much breast milk your baby is getting, talk to your health care provider.
PLUGGED MILK DUCT
A milk duct can become plugged if the baby does not feed well, if the mother skips feedings (common when the child is weaning), or if she wears a constricting bra. Symptoms of a plugged milk duct include tenderness, heat and redness in one area of the breast, or a lump that can be felt close to the skin.
Sometimes, a tiny white dot can be seen at the opening of the duct on the nipple. Massaging the area and putting gentle pressure on it can help to remove the plug.
A breast infection (mastitis) causes aching muscles, fever, and a red, hot, tender area on one breast. Consult your health care provider if you develop these symptoms.
Breast infections often occur in mothers who:
- Are stressed and exhausted
- Have cracked nipples, plugged milk ducts, or breast engorgement
- Have been skipping feedings
- Wear a tight bra
Treatment often includes:
- Antibiotics for the infection
- Moist, warm compresses over the infected area
- Wearing a comfortable bra between feedings
Continuing to nurse from the affected breast will promote healing. Breast milk is safe for the baby, even when you have a breast infection.
- It is important to continue breastfeeding from both breasts. This will prevent further breast engorgement.
- If nursing is too uncomfortable, pumping or manual expression is recommended. You can try offering the unaffected breast first until let-down occurs, to prevent discomfort. Consult your physician for help.
Thrush is a common yeast infection that can be passed between the mother and the baby during breastfeeding. The yeast (called Candida albicans) thrives in warm, moist areas.
The baby's mouth and the mother's nipples are perfect places for this yeast to grow. A yeast infection can be difficult to cure, but fortunately this is uncommon. Yeast infections often occur during or after antibiotic treatments.
Symptoms of yeast infection in the mother are deep-pink nipples that are tender or uncomfortable during and immediately after nursing. White patches and increased redness in the baby's mouth are symptoms of thrush (a yeast infection in the baby's mouth).
The baby may also have a diaper rash, a change in mood, and will want to suckle more frequently. Contact your health care provider to get a prescription for an antifungal medication for affected members of your family.
If you develop a fever or illness, contact your health care provider. You can safely continue breastfeeding during most illnesses, and the baby is likely to benefit from your antibodies.
Payne PA, Tully MR. Breastfeeding. In: Ratcliffe SD, Baxley EG, Cline MK, Sakornbut EL, eds. Family Medicine Obstetrics. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby;2008:section C.
Eglash A, Montgomery A, Wood J. Breastfeeding Disease-a-Month. 2008;54.
Reviewed By: Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital; and Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.