Infant - Breastfeeding
Author: TLN

7 Common Breastfeeding Problems and How to Solve Them

Get a lactation consultant’s insight on dealing with these frequent breastfeeding issues

For new moms especially, kicking off a breastfeeding relationship is both fulfilling and challenging. In the beginning, there are a lot of things to remember. And at a time when you are building the foundation for your breastfeeding journey, there are a few things you can do to set yourself up for success. The Lactation Network’s partner Katie McGee RN, IBCLC, at Special Care Lactation Services and project manager for Rush Mother’s Milk Club, shares her advice about seven common breastfeeding problems and how to avoid them. 

Problem #1: Low milk supply, poor infant weight gain 

This kind of breastfeeding issue usually stems from infrequent or ineffective nursing in the first two weeks after delivery. If your goal is to make enough milk to carry you through your baby’s first year and beyond, what you do the first two weeks is critical to your lactation success. Clear your schedule. Wear your PJs. Hold off the extended family and friend visits for a while so you can focus on recovering and nursing your baby. You have a short two-week window to let your breasts know that they need to make milk for your newborn. Once this time period has passed, the opportunity to increase milk production, though possible, is exceedingly more difficult. Here are some tips to help avoid and overcome this breastfeeding challenge:

  • Start breastfeeding early, within an hour of delivery if possible. If there are reasons out of your control that prevent it, make sure to communicate with your healthcare team—in person or through your breastfeeding plan—that you would like access to a breast pump to jump-start your milk production.
  • Nurse frequently, even if you’re thinking: “He CANNOT need to nurse again!” Trust us, he can. Don’t be shocked if your baby needs to nurse 10, 12 or more times a day at first. These frequent sessions are important both for his growth and your milk supply.
  • Make sure your baby has an effective latch. If your newborn has trouble latching, this could be an issue with properly positioning your baby while breastfeeding.  
  • Empty that breast! Getting rid of all your milk when you nurse or pump is essential to ensuring a steady supply because it is the removal of milk from your breast that signals your body to send more. If you’re noticing fluctuations in breast milk production—don’t worry! This is totally normal. However, if you feel it’s beginning to change dramatically or negatively affecting your baby’s health, reach out to a certified lactation consultant for help or take a look at these answers to some commonly asked questions about breast milk production.

Problem #2: Not focusing on your baby while breastfeeding

Mom, we get it—you want everything to be perfect when it comes to feeding your baby. But if you’re spending too much time watching the clock while nursing or are using an app to help track every moment, you can get distracted from what’s really important: staying focused on your little one. 

Don’t wait for a certain number of minutes or hours to pass. If your baby is showing hunger cues, it’s time to nurse. Tiny tummies, immature GI tracts, rapid brain growth, well-absorbed and perfectly-utilized mother’s milk all contribute to your baby’s need to nurse often. It is important for your baby to be able to nurse unrestricted by time. Your baby will settle into a routine, even a predictable one. As the weeks pass, your baby will become a more efficient nurser, and you’ll become an expert with or without a nursing pillow. But for the first couple of weeks, expect to be nursing a lot, and if you try to control this schedule, it can lead to a fussy baby who has a hard time latching. Watch the baby, not the clock. Strict schedules and breastfeeding do not mix.  

On top of this, remember that babies have been successfully breastfeeding for as long as mankind has been in existence. It takes support and patience, but there is no code to crack and no secret answer a graph on your phone is going to provide. While apps can be helpful when it comes to remembering the little things, tracking every diaper, every minute off and on the breast and every tiny spit-up is giving yourself a lot of extra work. Length of time on the breast actually reveals very little about how breastfeeding is going. Instead of becoming consumed by an app, stay connected to your new baby through skin-to-skin contact. Staying physically close will develop the invaluable instincts of a mother who knows her little one better than anyone in the world.

Problem #3: Painful breastfeeding 

Often caused by skin openings, infections and more, breastfeeding pain or pain with pumping is an urgent sign that something is not right. Thankfully, most of the time, this pain can be resolved quickly, although some breastfeeding moms may continue to experience discomfort longer term. Proactively ask for lactation feedback in the hospital and plan to meet with a lactation professional within the first 10 days after you bring your baby home, if possible. Don’t suffer in silence! Most pain has a cause and a correctable solution. Some common breastfeeding problems that cause pain include thrush, clogged milk ducts and mastitis. Learning the signs and symptoms of each can help you react quickly and reverse them.

Problem #4: Introducing pacifiers too early

Research shows evidence that early pacifier use can cause breastfeeding problems such as slowed infant weight gain and low milk supply. The concern is that hunger cues are masked by the pacifier. For example, if a baby who cries to nurse is soothed with a pacifier, it could result in fewer feedings at the end of each day, decreasing the stimulation and emptying of the breast and potentially leading to a reduced milk supply. 

If your baby struggles to gain weight because of this, it may be necessary to supplement nursing with formula. Try to hold off on pacifier use until your supply is well established and your baby is steadily gaining weight.

Problem #5: Thinking breastfeeding is just about food 

Breastfeeding is not all about feeding and nutrition, and if you assume that it is, issues like frustration at breastfeeding frequency and confusion regarding the nursing relationship can arise. Your baby is coming to the breast to be connected to you, soothed by you, held by you, comforted by you and, yes, wonderfully, beautifully, pacified by you. These are all important parts of the nursing relationship, yet they are challenging for outsiders (sometimes even health care professionals) or those who have not witnessed them firsthand to understand. She needs to nurse and she needs you. It is a short period of time but an intense one. It is not easy being someone’s whole world. Support from other nursing mothers can be invaluable to a new nursing mom. 

Problem #6: Infrequent pumping

For mothers who need to or choose to pump in those first two weeks, whether because they intend to exclusively pump or for other reasons, there is strong evidence supporting pumping within the FIRST hour after delivery. This is associated with making more milk over the long and short term. If your plan is to establish a supply without nursing, or if you are separated from your newborn due to a NICU stay or some other reason, pumping effectively and efficiently with the right technology is important. At least eight sessions per day, (with at least one of those at night), pumping for at least 15 minutes per session but no more than 30 minutes per session and utilizing a hospital-grade rental pump designed to establish a full milk supply are ideal. It should be noted that if you are nursing effectively, it’s not necessary to pump at all during this timeframe.

Not all pumps are created equal.  Most of the personal-use double electric pumps are designed for later use when supply is already well established. Single and hand pumps are not designed for establishing a milk supply. Though hand expression is a great skill to learn, it is not a replacement for an effective pump in milk supply establishment. The Lactation Network would be happy to help you choose a pump that fits your situation. Discover the best pump for you and shop our insurance-covered breast pumps to have one delivered right to your door! 

Problem #7: Waiting before seeking lactation help or support

Request the lactation help you and your baby deserve now before reversible breastfeeding problems turn into bigger, potentially irreversible ones. Through The Lactation Network, moms and babies get the in-home or in-office consultations covered by insurance—providing the support they need for a successful breastfeeding experience. Whether you’re experiencing sore nipples, latching issues or low milk supply, the Lactation Network pairs moms with local IBCLCs who offer one-on-one help with no out-of-pocket costs to you. Even if you’re not experiencing any breastfeeding troubles, a lactation consultant is a great resource for all moms who want to get expert tips and tricks for breastfeeding, pumping and going back to work. 

When it comes to issues with breastfeeding, no concern is too small. Reach out to people who can help—your physician, a lactation consultant, even other moms—as soon as any breastfeeding problems pop up! 

At The Lactation Network, we want your breastfeeding journey to go as smoothly as possible. Check out our blog for more breastfeeding tips or order your insurance-covered breast pump through us today.

Updated August 2020