Four Common Breastfeeding Challenges (And How to Overcome Them)
Sixty percent of parents don’t breastfeed for as long as they intend to, often due to unexpected (but surmountable) complications throughout their breastfeeding journey. Knowing what to expect and when to seek help can help you overcome these challenges. We talked to TLN IBCLC Chrisie Rosenthal about some of the most common breastfeeding issues, their symptoms, and potential treatments.
As you prepare prenatally for breastfeeding, you’ll hear a lot about the all-important latch, which is how your baby attaches to your breast to eat. Latching is a learned skill and takes both time and practice. A ‘good’ latch is comfortable for both you and your baby and allows them to transfer milk from the breast efficiently.
If possible, Rosenthal recommends taking a prenatal breastfeeding class to learn the basics of a deep and comfortable latch. “Once your baby arrives, your team (including the nurses and IBCLCs on the postpartum floor if you delivered in a hospital) will provide hands-on help with latching,” she says.
If you’re concerned, you can check for signs of a good latch, which Rosenthal says may include: Having your baby latched deeply on the breast tissue (not just the nipple) with their chin lightly touching your breast, observing ‘fish lips’ with their lips are turned out, feeling your baby’s tongue scooping the breast while feeding, having a pain-free and comfortable feed, hearing audible swallowing, and your breast feeling softer after feeding.
Pain while breastfeeding or between feedings can indicate that your baby hasn’t mastered latching yet. “If you experience anything more than mild discomfort that resolves quickly in the first few days, reach out to an IBCLC for help,” says Rosenthal. A poor latch can lead to other issues, such as sore and cracked nipples and your baby not getting enough to eat. “Breastfeeding should not be painful and is not something you need to ‘push through.’ Help is available.”
It’s not uncommon to experience some soreness at the start of your breastfeeding journey. But if your nipples are cracking, bleeding, or experiencing pain between feedings, it’s time to take action.
Continued soreness and cracked nipples indicate your baby is not latching properly (see above for latching advice!). If you are experiencing more than just tenderness or the pain does not resolve, Rosenthal says it’s time to reach out to an IBCLC–they can help you achieve a good latch that will prevent future pain or cracks.
To treat cracked nipples, you can apply small amounts of over-the-counter creams, ointments, or even breast milk. Breast milk is one of the best tools available for healing damaged nipples, the antibacterial properties in your milk can help moisturize and facilitate healing. Wearing breathable fabrics and breast shells can also help promote healing and reduce friction between your nipples and your clothing.
When breastfeeding, it can be difficult to tell if your baby is eating enough. Fear not, though! “Breast milk supply is a common concern, but often you have a stronger supply than you realize,” says Rosenthal.
How can you be sure, though? Although every family is different, according to WIC Breastfeeding Support, you can expect to feed your baby between eight and twelve times or more every 24 hours. You can also watch their milk intake by tracking their wet and dirty diapers, as stool is an important indicator of health. As your breast milk changes, so will your baby’s poops (yep, really!).
Your pediatrician will help with monitoring your baby’s weight, which can also confirm if they are eating enough. Though a little newborn weight loss is normal, not gaining weight appropriately is a warning sign that something may be up.
If you have any concerns, talk to your IBCLC. They can help you determine your milk supply, confirm if your baby is eating enough, and increase your supply if needed.
A Clogged Milk Duct
Clogged milk ducts are a common problem experienced by about 20 percent of parents. Also known as a blocked milk duct or a plugged milk duct, or a plugged duct, milk flow can be obstructed, resulting in hard, tender, or painful lumps in the breast. Discomfort from clogged ducts can affect your feeding goals and breastfeeding duration.
So, what causes a plugged duct? According to Rosenthal, “A breastfeeding parent may develop a plug because they skipped a feeding or a pumping session, have oversupply, or wore something tight that constricted the breast tissue. Other times, plugged ducts may appear with no apparent cause.”
You can treat clogged milk ducts by continuing to breastfeed, experimenting with different nursing positions, gently massaging the affected breast, and expressing milk. If these DIY methods don’t alleviate the issue, it’s important to consult an IBCLC to prevent the clog from developing into mastitis. “An IBCLC will help you investigate the cause, provide information on how to clear it, and give you a plan for avoiding them in the future,” says Rosenthal.
Remember, every breastfeeding journey is unique, which means you may experience some, none, or all of these issues. “But if you do have any of these challenges, it’s critical that you work with an IBCLC to uncover the root of the issue, so you can work together to put a plan in place to address it,” says Rosenthal. You can conquer these challenges and meet your feeding goals with the right support.