10 Common Breastfeeding Challenges and Their Solutions

Are you experiencing challenges with breastfeeding? You are not alone, mama. Breastfeeding challenges come in many different forms.

Although a few mothers get lucky and go through breastfeeding with no hitch, most of us deal with one breastfeeding challenge or the other.

From low milk supply, latching problems, to baby sleeping at the breast, all these can make breastfeeding challenges.

Thankfully, there are solutions to these breastfeeding issues.

Here are 10 common breastfeeding challenges and some tips on how you can deal with them.

Breastfeeding Challenges of New Moms

1. Engorgement

After the baby is born and your milk starts coming in, your breasts may become engorged and feel hard as a rock. This usually feels better after pumping or feeding the baby.

Engorgement tends to subside after a few weeks as the supply and demand balance is established.

When you are engorged, the temptation is to pump more to empty the breast. This is not a good idea.

Doing so may prolong the problem as your breasts will continue producing more milk to meet the perceived demand created by pumping.

Instead, try these potential solutions to engorgement:

  • Nurse your baby more frequently. In case the baby does not relieve the engorgement, pump only enough to relieve the pain.
  • To reduce pain during a nursing session, hand express a bit of milk before each feed. This will help the baby to latch more easily.
  • Change the position of the baby during feedings to help prevent further engorgement. What this means is that you can change how you hold your baby from one feeding to the next. Say you do the football hold at one feeding, cross-cradle on the next feeding, and so on until you find the most comfortable position for both you and your baby.

2. Latching Pain

Before your nipples get used to it you might experience some pain during latching.

Usually, this happens when you are breastfeeding for the first time and does not last long. It gets better with time as you learn to latch properly.

If the pain lasts longer than a minute, it is likely that the baby latched poorly. Unlatch the baby and do it again to get a good latch.

Once you are used to latching the baby properly, latching pain typically stops. If it does not, make sure to mention it to your doctor and lactation consultant and they can help to find the problem.

3. Low Milk Supply

Sometimes you might find that your milk supply is not enough for your baby.

It’s important to note that your breasts feeling empty or tender is not a sign that you have a low milk supply.

If the baby is having adequate weight gain, enough dirty and wet diapers for their age, and they are satisfied after feeding then you most likely have enough milk.

However, if your doctor is concerned, then you might need to try and increase your supply.

Here are some things you can do to increase your breast milk supply:

  • Start breastfeeding more often, even at night. Remember it is all about supply and demand and the more frequently you feed the more breast milk is produced.
  • Try power pumping whereby you pump for a short duration, rest, pump again, and rest. For example, pump for 10 minutes, rest for 5 minutes, pump again for another cycle. This can help to trigger your body to produce more milk.
  • Do not wear tight bras.
  • Eat a healthy diet so that your body gets nutrients and stay hydrated by drinking water.

In some cases, you may need to supplement with formula. If your doctor advises you to do this, whether it is temporary or long-term, please do not hesitate.

Remember, fed is best. Whether you bottle feed or breastfeed, the priority should be your baby’s and your own well being.

4. Baby Sleeping at Breast

You will probably notice that in the first weeks after the baby is born, they spend most of their time sleeping. Sometimes they will also sleep while they are feeding and this can become a problem.

It is okay to try and keep the baby awake for them to get a full feeding.

When I had my daughter, she would hardly feed for 4 minutes before falling back asleep.

The problem with such short feeds is that she would not be full and will need another feeding after an hour or so.

Nursing every 1 to 2 hours is exhausting. Sometimes, this also happened at night. I was sleep-deprived and exhausted.

An exhausted sleep-deprived mama isn’t fun to be around so we had to fix this problem.

What I did was try to keep her awake for a bit longer so that she could breastfeed until she was full before falling back asleep.

Here are a few ways you can keep the baby awake during a feed:

  • Keep the room bright by having the lights on when breastfeeding.
  • Strip their clothes down to just a bodysuit or diaper only.
  • Wipe their face with a wet washcloth as you are breastfeeding.
  • Blow air to their face as they are breastfeeding
  • Play music and sing along while looking at them.
  • Stroke the soles of their feet or the palms of their hands.

5. Painful Letdown

When your baby begins to nurse, nerves in your breasts send signals for milk to be released into your ducts and start flowing. This is referred to as a let-down reflex.

Sometimes it will feel like a pins and needles kind of sensation as your breasts begin to fill up.

You can handle this using relaxation techniques and positioning yourself properly when breastfeeding.

Sit on a comfortable chair with an armrest. You can also use a pillow to support the baby so that you don’t bend over to reach the baby.

If the pain persists, talk to your doctor about it.

6. Cracked Nipples

Sometimes your nipples can become sore or cracked especially in the first weeks of breastfeeding. This may be due to your nipples being too dry or a poor latch.

Making sure your baby is latched correctly and using a nipple cream after nursing to keep your nipples moisturized can help.

Also, avoid using soap when washing your nipple.

7. Clogged/Plugged Ducts

Sometimes milk can back up in the ducts causing them to get blocked and prevent milk from flowing well.

When you have clogged ducts, your breasts might feel tender with localized pain.

It is recommended that you massage the affected area and use heat to relieve the swelling and unclog the ducts.

  • Do not wear a tight bra. If you can, try to go without a bra for a few days.
  • Fill a basin with warm water and lean over to soak your breasts.
  • Some moms have also had success with dangle feeding (you breastfeed while leaning over the baby so that gravity helps to unclog the duct)

Clogged ducts can lead to mastitis so do not let them go unclogged for a prolonged period.

8. Mastitis

Mastitis occurs when milk build up in your breast causes swelling and inflammation. The risk of mastitis is increased by engorgement, persistent breast pain, and cracked nipples.

If it’s not treated it can easily turn into an infection.

Some symptoms you might experience are:

  • severe soreness
  • hardness
  • redness
  • heat, and swelling over the affected duct
  • chills, or running a fever

To deal with mastitis, try to empty the affected breast by nursing the baby.

If your baby does not empty the breast, hand express or pump the affected side until it is thoroughly drained. This will prevent any further clogging. It is safe to feed the baby although it might be painful.

If you think you have mastitis and it is recurrent, pay a visit to the doctor. You might need antibiotics to treat it.

Make sure to take care of mastitis as soon as possible to prevent the formation of breast abscess which can be extremely painful.

9. Inverted Nipples

Inverted nipples retract into the breast tissue instead of sticking out.

Most of the time, inverted nipples do not cause issues with breastfeeding because the baby latches onto the areola, not the nipple.

If your baby experiences difficulty latching because of inverted nipples there are some things you can do.

  • Pumping briefly to draw out the nipple before latching the baby.
  • Use a nipple correcter. They are designed to draw out your nipples.
  • Stimulating your nipples before nursing. You can do this by rubbing your nipple between your thumb and index finger.
  • You may need to use a nipple shield to help the baby latch correctly.

Consult with your lactation counsellor on the proper use of these tools.

10. Leaking Breasts

Having leaking breasts can be embarrassing, especially if it happens in public, but it is very common in the first weeks after having a newborn.

Your body is still regulating the supply according to your baby’s demands and you may be having an oversupply.

The good news is, it does not last forever. Here are some ways you can prevent the milk from sipping through your clothes and avoid embarrassment:

  • Wear breast pads to catch the leaking milk so that it does not show on your top.
  • Wearing dark-colored patterned tops that would not show in case the milk leaked through was lifesaving when I was going to work.
  • Wear padded bras to sleep in addition to using a waterproof mattress cover to protect your mattress.

Have you experienced any of these common breastfeeding challenges?

Don’t worry mama, they do come to pass.

Always remember to ask for help from your lactation counsellor as they most likely have a solution to most breastfeeding challenges you might be facing.

Debbie is a mom of 2, a wife, and a freelance writer. Her experiences as a new mom and going through a high-risk pregnancy inspired her to start her blog, where she has dedicated herself to help first-time mothers have an easier transition into motherhood so that they can have more time to love on their babies.

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