Seven Common Breastfeeding Problems and Solutions

by Dr. Patricia Ferguson

| 4 min read

young mother with newborn baby
More than 80% of mothers breastfeed; however, by 12 months, that number drops to about 30 percent. Although breastmilk is known for its nutrients and disease-fighting antibodies, more and more women are choosing not to nurse. It’s a personal decision influenced by multiple factors including dietary restrictions, financial barriers and lack of resources. Each August, also known as National Breastfeeding Month, presents policies, programs and tips for new moms. To support this effort, here are seven problems and solutions associated with breastfeeding:
  1. Breast Infections: An infection is often characterized by a lump or soreness in the breast tissue. Mothers can experience yellowish discharge from the nipples, as well as flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and body aches. The breasts can also be warm or hot to the touch. For at-home relief, massage the infected area and opt for loose, breathable clothes. Pain should subside after 48 hours, if not, contact a physician for further instruction.
  2. Cracked or Sore Nipples: When feeding, the areola should be aimed toward the back of the child’s mouth away from the gums and tongue. Improper positioning and poor latching can lead to cracked or sore nipples. To treat, a doctor may suggest adjusting the nursing position or using a topical cream to alleviate pain.
  3. Engorgement: Once milk production starts, it’s normal for breasts to become fuller, heavier and tender. But when tissue becomes hard and painful, it’s called engorgement. This is a buildup of milk that can cause redness, throbbing and a flattened nipple. A preventive measure is frequent nursing, between 8 to 12 times per day. Mothers should stay on a regular schedule to empty breasts, expelling milk through a pump or manually. Also, placing a warm or cool compress on the breast will encourage blood flow and reduce soreness.
  4. Latching Issues: A child may frequently latch-on and let go of the breast or resist nursing all together. When a baby is unable to remove milk from the breast, it can result in low weight and a significant drop in milk production. Refrain from offering a pacifier or bottle until a routine is established. A doctor may suggest breastfeeding classes to employ better positioning techniques.
  5. Leaking: An inconsistent feeding routine can lead to unexpected leakage. This occurs when milk is released without stimulation from a child or a pump. To prevent this, don’t allow too much time to pass between regular feedings. During the adjustment period, insert disposable nursing pads into a bra to absorb moisture and keep shirts dry.
  6. Low Milk Production: Most moms produce enough breastmilk to sufficiently feed their child. But for some, the quantity can be lower than normal. Signs to watch out for include increased feedings, softer or deflated breasts and little to no milk while pumping. Low milk production has been linked to smoking, drinking and ongoing medication (i.e. oral contraceptives or antihistamines). Some mothers also have fewer milk ducts which can inhibit milk volume. Consult with a doctor to discuss the direct cause and types of treatment.
  7. Plugged Ducts: When a milk duct fails to drain properly, it can become inflamed and clogged with fluid. To loosen, place the baby’s head toward the area to encourage suction. Frequent breastfeeding (up to every two hours), can relieve pressure from the affected duct. Also, be sure to massage the area and wear non-restrictive bras to avoid further constraint.
In general, breastfeeding can be an extremely rewarding experience. However, it can be equally as frustrating and emotionally challenging when the anticipated benefits aren’t immediately enjoyed. Supportive physicians, staff and family must keep new moms encouraged as they learn the nursing process. Everyone’s experience is unique and should always be treated as such. If you found this post helpful, you might also want to read:
About the author: Dr. Patricia Ferguson, MD, is a medical director and physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Photo credit: Zukovic

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