Breastfeeding is a natural process with many potential benefits for both mother and baby, but that doesn’t mean that it always goes smoothly. Though frustrating and discouraging, there are some common breastfeeding challenges moms face.
But fear not — they can often be overcome with perseverance, practice, support, and guidance.
Breastfeeding advocacy organizations like La Leche League International have been providing support and resources to nursing mothers for more than 60 years. Due in part to their efforts, most hospitals and clinics now have certified lactation consultants on staff to assist mothers facing breastfeeding difficulties. We also have a list of breastfeeding tricks that might help.
If those tips or the ones listed below don’t help with these common breastfeeding challenges, contact your doctor or lactation consultant for further guidance.
1. Inverted Nipples
Nipples that turn inward instead of protruding outward are said to be inverted. This may be caused by trauma or disease but is often present at birth and considered to be a normal variation. As many as one out of 10 women may have inverted nipples as a congenital trait. Inverted nipples can make it harder for your baby to latch on. However, many women with inverted nipples are able to overcome the challenge and nurse their babies successfully.
What to Do about Inverted Nipples:
- First, try simply pulling your nipples out with your fingers.
- If that doesn’t work, you can obtain a device that gently pulls or suctions them out.
- If you’re still having trouble, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant.
2. Sore Nipples
You’ve heard moms complain about sore nipples, and it usually happens as you and your baby practice breastfeeding and figure out what works best. If nipple soreness is a persistent problem, you can try the following techniques or get help from your lactation consultant, but don’t delay feedings on account of sore nipples because that can affect your milk supply.
What to Do about Sore Nipples:
- First, figure out what’s causing them. If your nipples are cracked, ask your doctor for a recommended nipple ointment to keep them moist.
- If you use nursing pads to avoid leaks, change them often to ensure they’re clean and dry.
- Experiment with different positions and ensure your baby is getting a good latch. Their mouth should also encircle the areola, not just the nipple.
3. Low Milk Supply
Low milk supply isn’t a very common problem; most mothers produce more than enough for their babies. Your baby may not always feed consistently, but these variations are usually normal. You can make sure that your baby is getting enough milk by monitoring his weight and keeping track of his dirty diapers. As long as these factors are within acceptable ranges, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. But if you do have concerns, don’t hesitate to bring them up with your doctor.
What to Do about Low Milk Supply:
- A low supply is usually the result of breastfeeding inconsistently. The less often you nurse your baby, the less milk will be produced.
- Some experts think you should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of your baby’s life if possible, avoiding formula or cereal until your baby is older.
- Offer your baby both breasts at each feeding, and don’t interrupt her until she is finished. Here’s some info on how long your baby should feed on each breast.
At the other end of the spectrum is engorgement, when milk builds up in your breasts, causing them to become painful and hard. Being proactive at breastfeeding your baby and expressing milk with a pump or by hand when needed can help prevent engorgement.
What to Do about Engorgement:
- Let your baby set the pace while nursing.
- Wear a bra that is supportive, well-fitting, and not too tight.
- Try breast massage and use cold compresses between feedings.
- Favor the engorged breast, nursing on that side more often.
- Soften the breast before feeding by expressing a little milk first.
5. Plugged Ducts
When a milk duct is plugged, it doesn’t drain properly, causing a build-up of pressure and possible inflammation of surrounding tissue. Plugged ducts are a common problem and can result from engorgement.
What to Do about Plugged Ducts:
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing, including bras, that can restrict the milk flow.
- Use a warm compress and massage the area.
- Aim your baby’s chin at the plug, if possible.
- Breastfeed on the side with a plugged duct every two hours, or as often as your baby will allow.
This video explains how you can effectively deal with plugged ducts.