4 Common Breastfeeding Issues and How to Avoid Them

(5 minute read)

Common Breastfeeding Challenges

You may have heard horror stories about breastfeeding and how hard it can be. Tales of inadequate milk supply, nipple pain and engorged breasts can seem all too familiar. In this article we are going to go through common breastfeeding challenges and what to do if you're having difficulty when nursing. 

Read this article if you want to:

  • breastfeeding issues and how to overcome them
  • feel informed on what nipple injury is
  • how to know your baby is latched
  • when to seek support from your health care provider.

Every baby is different and you may not face any challenges with feeding but knowing what to look for and how to overcome issues can make or break a feeding journey.

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Is it normal to have engorged breasts? 

Breast engorgement is very common. Breasts usually become engorged in the first week after birth - on days 3 and 5. You may feel sore, bruised and even a bit weepy. It's important to rest, carry on feeding and call on your support network so you can stay in bed and feed, feed, feed! 

Breast engorgement also usually happens when feeds are spaced apart or missed. It can also happen when your baby starts sleeping for longer stretches at night and when they start weaning. Any change to feeding can trigger your breasts to become engorged. Changes to feeding are inevitable so learning about breast engorgement can help you manage it - if and when it happens to you. 

Another reason for breast engorgement is when your baby's latch is too shallow meaning they're not extracting enough milk. To get a good latch your nipple should be at the back of your baby's mouth and they should have a large mouthful of breast tissue. This will help you to avoid sore nipples and ensure that milk is being transferred - therefore lowering the chances of becoming engorged. Make sure you contact your doctor, health care provider or lactation consultant if you're worried about your baby and their latch. Finding the right support while pregnant can be really helpful in getting help quickly once your baby has arrived. 

Be sure to keep reading for more tips on the topic of breast engorgement and breastfeeding challenges... 

 

 

4 common breastfeeding issues and how to avoid them 

There are a number of reasons why you may experience pain or discomfort in your breasts while you're breastfeeding.

Here are 4 common breastfeeding challenges. Remember, your health and well-being are important so make sure you get support if you're continuing to struggle with breastfeeding:

  1. Breast engorgement

Breast engorgement is when, for whatever reason, your breasts become overly full. They may feel hard, tight and painful. If your baby isn't latching properly to your breast while feeding, it may be hard for them to take your milk when your breast is engorged. Engorgement can still happen once you have learnt the skill of positioning and attachment (latch), usually when your baby hasn't fed for a while. To avoid engorgement, feed your baby when they are hungry and not against a schedule. And to treat engorgement, feed your baby regularly, hand express between feeds from the engorged breast and wear a comfortable well fitting bra. And of course, seek help from a healthcare provider or lactation consultant if things persist.

  1. Cracked nipples

A cracked nipple can be very sore. It usually happens when latch is shallow - if this happens it's worth checking your baby's latch and their nappy so you can be sure they're transferring enough milk from the breast. If you experience a cracked nipple then apply breastmilk after a feed - the antibodies in the milk will help to heal the wound. You could also try nipple balm between feeds. If you do decide to not feed from the affected breast then be sure to hand express so you don't then experience engorgement. Hand expressing can just be for comfort and to take the edge off an overly full breast.

  1. Blocked ducts

The milk-making glands in your breasts are divided up into segments. Narrow tubes called ducts carry the milk from each segment to your nipple. If one of the segments isn't drained properly during a feed (perhaps because your baby isn't latching properly), this can lead to a blocked duct. You may feel a small, tender lump in your breast. This needs relieving as soon as possible. Avoid wearing tight clothes or bras so your milk can flow freely from every part of your breast. Other things that may help include frequent feeding from the affected breast, warm flannels or a warm shower to encourage the flow, or gently massaging the lump towards your nipple while your baby feeds. Your baby won't notice if there is a blocked duct but you will and your health and well-being is just as important so be sure to look after yourself if you experience a blocked milk duct. 

  1. Mastitis

Mastitis happens when a blocked duct isn't relieved or it can come on randomly. It makes the breast feel painful and inflamed, and can make you feel very unwell with flu-like symptoms. If you don't deal with the early signs of mastitis, it can turn into an infection and you'll need to take antibiotics. If you have mastitis, you'll probably have at least 2 of these symptoms: a breast that feels hot and tender, a red patch of skin that's painful to touch, a general feeling of illness, as if you have flu, feeling achy, tired and tearful, and a high temperature.

If you think you're developing a blocked duct or mastitis, try checking your baby's positioning and attachment (latch) while they feed. Ask your midwife, health visitor or a breastfeeding specialist such as a lactation consultant to watch a feed and provide their feedback. It’s important that you carry on breastfeeding, letting your baby feed on the tender breast first. If the affected breast still feels full after a feed, or your baby can't feed for some reason, express your milk by hand. And of course, if you're no better within 12 to 24 hours or you feel worse, contact your GP immediately.

 

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Sore nipples when nursing

Sore nipples are common but the good news is that the issues can be prevented so that your milk supply and overall health isn't affected. 

The biggest reason for sore nipples during a breastfeed is a shallow latch. This is when your nipple is not deep within your baby's mouth meaning that they're not feeding from the breast but the nipple. It's called 'breastfeeding' for a reason - because it is BREASTfeeding - not NIPPLEfeeding. To avoid sore nipples and a a cascade of further problems be sure to hold your baby close bringing their chin onto the breast first. Allow them to take a wide mouth of breast tissue so that the nipple is protected at the back of the mouth. This will prevent pain and potential low milk supply. Do contact your health care provider or lactation consultant if pain continues. 

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What is a low milk supply

Low milk supply is when the breasts do not produce enough milk to feed a baby. This can mean that the breastfeeding journey is cut short or that the mother struggles to express enough milk. The biggest reason for low supply is actually within our control - the dreaded schedule! In this day and age we love to put babies on a routine and feed them at specific times. This my friends is the best way to lower your milk supply. For full milk production to happen we need to be feeding against hunger cues and not what the online baby schedule tells us to do. 

Other reasons for low supply are insufficient glandular tissue in the breasts which indicates unusual hormone levels and prior adjustments to the breasts such as surgery. If you think you are at risk of having low milk supply then contact a lactation specialist as you may need support with breastfeeding. 

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How to prevent low milk supply

The good news is that 95% of us do not have true low milk supply.

Frequent feeding is key. Keep on top of the cues, watch for them in the early days and months and call on family or friends to help at home so you can concentrate on feeding and care for your baby.

Know that frequent feeding in the early days is very normal and do contact a lactation consultant if you're worried. They may suggest pumping or a more rigid schedule that takes into account your baby's cues. It's always best to get face to face support if you're at all worried about breastfeeding and low milk supply.

It's also advised to take a feeding class before birth so you know what a proper latch looks like and how to know your baby is getting enough milk. These hacks and tips can help ease concern when your baby has arrived and you're learning how to start breastfeeding.

Remember, every baby is different

Breastfeeding problems do occur and some of the issues are common. The good news is that most can be overcome by checking latch, what's in the nappy and by just carrying on feeding. If you come up against problems such as sore nipples or low milk supply then it doesn't have to be the end of your breastfeeding journey. Seek support from your local health care provider or lactation consultant. There are plenty of lactation specialists out there who would be more than happy to help in your hour of need!

If you'd like more information on breastfeeding as a Government priority then be sure to check out this article on early years and breastfeeding.