Just because you’re designed to breastfeed your baby doesn’t mean it’s always easy. In fact, breastfeeding problems are common, especially at the beginning. Our tips for successful breastfeeding can help, but here we’ll cover the top nursing woes and what you can do to fix them.
Common Breastfeeding Problems & Solutions
You may have sore nipples at first while you get used to breastfeeding. But if soreness persists or cracking develops, try one or more of these:
- Be sure your baby’s mouth is positioned properly on your breast. A “good latch” is so important that we wrote an entire article about it.
- Avoid using soap on your breasts, which can irritate or dry out your nipples.
- If you use plastic nipple shields, avoid wearing them between feedings.
- Rub breast milk or a dedicated nipple cream over nipples after feedings.
Not Enough Milk
A true low milk supply is uncommon, but many mothers worry from time to time about making enough milk. If you share this worry there are several things you can try:
- Be sure your baby is latched on
- Nurse more often. Nursing on demand, especially in the beginning, is important for establishing your milk supply. Strict schedules, offering a pacifier instead of a feeding, or going for more than 3 hours without feeding can all result in your body making less milk.
- Pump in-between feedings. Like increased nursing, this sends your body a message to make more milk.
- Some women swear by herbal supplements (like fenugreek) to increase milk supply. Be sure to get the green light from your doctor before taking any supplements.
Too Much Milk
While some mothers worry about having too little milk, others deal with an overabundance of it. It may seem like a good thing, but an oversupply of milk can cause engorgement (more on this below) and a forceful letdown: Your milk can come out so quickly that your baby gags, chokes, or swallows air. These, in turn, can cause fussiness, gas, hiccups, and excessive spitting up. What’s more, a forceful letdown can cause babies to fill up on the thinner, sugarier “fore milk” at the beginning of the feed and miss out on the thicker, higher-fat “hind milk” that comes after.
If you have an oversupply of breastmilk, here are some things to try:
- Use a breast pump or your hand to express just the forceful letdown. As soon as the flow of milk slows, start nursing your baby.
- Nurse in a reclined position, with your baby on top of you. Breastfeeding against gravity can slow down the flow of your milk.
- Nurse on one breast per feeding. If your baby wants to nurse shortly after, offer the same breast. This helps ensure she’s getting hind milk. If your other breast feels uncomfortably full, pump or hand-express just enough milk to relieve pressure.
- Burp your baby often to release air she may have swallowed.
Engorged breasts are full and hard, and may feel bumpy. It’s uncomfortable at the very least, and can be downright painful. Breast engorgement is common in the days after giving birth (as your milk floods in) but should settle as your body learns your baby’s needs.
Engorgement can also happen if you have an oversupply of milk, or if it’s been longer than 3 hours since you nursed your baby or pumped milk.
To relieve engorgement, these suggestions may help:
- Nurse frequently, every 1-3 hours.
- Massage your breast in a downward motion while nursing to help remove more milk.
- In-between feedings place cold compresses or cold cabbage leaves on your breasts. Cabbage leaves? Yes, it’s a thing! The American Academy of Pediatrics even recommends it.
Blocked Milk Ducts
Milk ducts (the tiny tubes that carry milk to your nipple) can become blocked, causing a tender lump. If you’re dealing with this, here’s what you can do:
- Be sure your baby is latched on
- Apply heat to the lump before nursing.
- Empty each breast before switching to the other side.
- Gently massage the lump while you nurse or pump.
If a blocked milk duct persists or recurs you may be at risk for infection, so be sure to mention it to your doctor.
Some breastfeeding problems require medical intervention. To read about thrush, mastitis, breast abscesses, and tongue tie, head over to this article.