Mom breastfeeding baby boy on sunny morning

Common Breastfeeding Problems and How to Fix Them

By the time many infants in the U.S. reach the age of six months, only one in four are being breastfed. Six months is the baseline recommended by pediatric experts. Studies have shown many mothers want to nurse their children longer, but have to stop because of lack of support, work pressure or other obstacles.  

Breastfeeding brings numerous health benefits to mother and child. But learning to breastfeed can be difficult for both parties. For nursing mothers, educating yourself about common problems and having a plan to tackle them can help when nursing becomes tough.  

Here are some common problems many women experience while breastfeeding, as well as signs that it’s time to ask for help from a professional.   

Clogged ducts

A clogged duct may feel like a painful, hard lump in a localized spot, or a wedge-shaped area of engorgement. Symptoms can increase gradually. Fully emptying breasts during each feeding, which can include expressing milk through pumping or by hand, or feeding in different positions, can help. Applying a warm compress to the breast before feeding can help it fully empty. Massaging the breast can also help. Lactation consultants can teach you how to best perform these movements. Mothers should contact a health care provider if a clogged duct persists. 

Engorgement

Having too much milk can lead to painful breast engorgement. It can also make it difficult for the baby to latch on. Try expressing a small amount of milk – either with a breast pump or your hand – to lessen the engorgement before feeding your infant. Lactation consultants can help with engorgement to ensure your body is responding to your baby’s hunger needs. Mothers can find a lactation consultant through their birthing hospital or ask the baby’s pediatrician for help. 

Latching

If the baby does not fully latch on, it can cause multiple issues – including the baby sucking in more air than milk, which can lead to gassiness and a fussy baby. A poor latch can also leave the baby hungry for more if they’re not able to fill their stomach. Lactation consultants can provide coaching sessions to help with issues like latching. Mothers can find a lactation consultant through their birthing hospital or ask the baby’s pediatrician for help. 

Low milk supply

If you have low milk supply, talk to your baby’s pediatrician to learn your options and see if supplemental nutrition like formula is needed. Additionally, milk supply can drop for a number of reasons. Some common issues include stress, not eating enough food or not drinking enough water. Ensure you’re eating enough food to sustain the energy needed to produce breastmilk. Additionally, the body produces breastmilk to meet demand; adding in pumping sessions may help to increase supply. For women who return to work and pump breastmilk, conflicting priorities with work tasks, pumping schedules and workplace accommodations can add stress and lead to lower milk supply.   

Mastitis

This is a breast infection that can come on suddenly and may include flu-like symptoms include fever, chills and body aches. Mothers should contact a health care provider for treatment if they are experiencing a mastitis.   

Pain

Especially in the early weeks of breastfeeding, nipples can become cracked and sore. Pure lanolin can help soothe raw skin. Breastmilk can also help the skin heal. If pain persists, the baby may not be latching correctly. A lactation consultant can help you understand the issues and give you directions on how to make adjustments. 

It’s recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life. This year, the AAP issued new guidance to recommend supporting parents who choose to breastfeed their children up until age 2. 

Breastfeeding can be a physically and emotionally draining experience. Support groups are available to help. The La Leche League is a nonprofit that hosts support groups across the country for breastfeeding mothers.   

Most Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan plans cover breast pumps along with breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling. Log in to your member account to check what benefits are available to you.

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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