Are you struggling to nurse your newborn? From mastitis to clogged ducts, learn helpful tips and solutions for some of the most common breastfeeding problems.
Problem #1: Latching pain: It’s normal for your nipples to feel sore when you first start to breastfeed, especially if you’re a first-timer. But if baby has latched and the pain lasts longer than a minute into your feeding session, check the positioning.
Solution: Make sure that your baby is suckling your entire areola and not just your nipple, as this will quickly cause soreness, cracking and even blisters. To reposition him, place your index finger inside baby’s mouth to take him off your breast. Tickle his chin or wait until he yawns so his mouth is wide open and seize your opportunity. When he is correctly positioned, his chin and nose touch your breast, his lips splay out and you can’t see your nipple or part of the lower areola.
If baby’s position is correct and latching on still hurts, your nipples may be dry. Make sure to wear loose clothing and avoid washing with soap. Lanolin-based creams are good for applying between feedings.
Problem #2: Clogged ducts and mastitis: During the first few months of breastfeeding while your milk supply is being established, it is not uncommon for moms to experience engorgement and clogged milk ducts. If you notice a hard lump inside your breast that is tender to the touch, you may have a plugged duct. If you are also experiencing fever, body aches and other symptoms, it is possible that you have developed mastitis.
Solution: Plugged ducts may loosen on their own through regular feedings, but there are a variety of techniques to speed up the process:
- Gently massage the clog with your hands. Massage in the direction the milk flows toward the nipple.
- Use a rice sock to heat up your breast in between feedings. Heat is very useful for loosening clogs.
- Nurse your baby in a different position. If you can, position your baby’s chin in the area just beneath the clog. This may require a little gymnastic nursing on your part, but can be very effective as babies suckle the hardest on the area directly above their chin.
Make sure to get plenty of rest. The strength of your immune system is directly related to your body’s ability to recover from clogged ducts and mastitis.
Problem #3: Engorgement/high milk supply: Engorgement makes it difficult for baby to latch on to the breast because it’s hard to his mouth.
Solution: Try hand-expressing a little before feeding to get the milk flowing and soften the breast, making it easier for baby to latch and access milk. Of course, the more you nurse, the less likely your breasts are to get engorged.
Problem #4: Thrush
Thrush is a yeast infection in your baby’s mouth, which can also spread to your breasts. It causes incessant itchiness, soreness, and sometimes a rash.
Solution: Your doctor will need to give you antifungal medication to put on your nipple and in baby’s mouth — if you’re not both treated at the same time, you can give each other the fungi and prolong healing.
Problem #5: Low milk supply
Breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand process. If your doctor is concerned about baby’s weight gain, and he is being plotted on the World Health Organization curves designed for breastfeeding babies, this may be the problem.
Solution: Frequent nursing and hands-on pumping during the day can help increase milk supply. Surprisingly, forcing fluids and eating more calories or different foods has not been shown to increase milk production.
Problem #6: Baby sleeping at breast
Baby is sleepy in the first couple of months after birth (hey, he’s been through a lot) so falling asleep while nursing is common. All that bonding makes baby relaxed!
Solution: Milk flow is fastest after your first let-down, so if you want to increase efficiency, start off at the fuller breast, then switch to the other breast sooner, rather than later. When you notice baby’s sucking slowing down and his eyes closing, remove him from your breast and try to stimulate him by burping, tickling his feet, or gently talking to him while rubbing his back, and then switch breasts. As baby gets older he’ll be able to stay awake longer, so don’t fret.
Problem #7: Inverted/flat nipples
You can tell if you have flat or inverted nipples by doing a simple squeeze test: Gently grab your areola with your thumb and index finger — if your nipple retracts rather than protrudes, you’ve got a problem, Houston. Not really. But breastfeeding will be more challenging.
Solution: Use a pump to get the milk flowing before placing baby at your nipple and use breast shells between feeds. Once you feel like your milk supply is adequate, try using nipple shields if baby still has problems latching.
Problem #8: Painful/overactive let down
Your breast is like a machine — when you let down, all the milk-producing engines constrict to move the milk forward and out of your nipple. Sometimes the working of these inner parts can hurt, especially when in overdrive. Some mothers feel a prickly pins-and-needles sensation and others just get an achy feeling.
Solution: If this feeling of pins and needles goes beyond a mere tingling and feels more like a hundred little daggers poking your breasts, you need to check for a breast infection (yeast or bacteria). Sometimes this pain develops when you have an excessive amount of milk. Try feeding baby longer on one particular breast and switching to the other only if you need to. If the result is an infection (fever, aches, and chills may be present), you’ll need to get antibiotics from your doctor. No matter how unpleasant it is for you, it’s still safe for baby to nurse.