Having breastfed both my children for 2 years plus, I have experienced more than my fair share of breastfeeding problems. Whilst breastfeeding has some bought some absolute highs, and I most certainly wouldn’t change my breastfeeding experience for the world, I have also experienced many challenges along the way. Here are some of the breastfeeding problems you may experience and how you can look to solve them.
1. Cracked / sore nipples
In those early days of breastfeeding, particularly when before your milk comes in and you are learning about the correct latch and positioning for your baby, you may find that your nipples become quite red and sore. As such, feeding can be a little painful, particularly when the let-down sensation kicks in. I had been warned beforehand that this is a fairly common breastfeeding problem, and thankfully the tube of lanolin my sister popped in my hospital bag proved to be very valuable. Applying a small coating to my nipples after every feed helped prevent them from drying out or cracking.
I remember Day 3 post-partum vividly – when my milk started to come through and my breasts became almost cone like and rock hard (think Madonna’s 1990 Vogue outfit and you wouldn’t be far off). Whilst your partner may joke that you look like Pamela Anderson at the peak of her Baywatch days, engorged breasts can be extremely painful, with even the slightest touch or rub against your clothing feeling tender and sore. To reduce the symptoms of engorgement, applying a warm compress to your breasts or gently massaging whilst under a warm shower can help.
3. Painful latch
If it hurts when your baby is feeding, particularly after their initial latch, it may be that your baby isn’t positioned correctly. Once feeding starts, breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. Ensure the baby has nose to nipple as they approach your breast, and that they are not simply clamping on to the very end of your nipple. Try different positions and breastfeeding holds until you find one that works for you and your baby.
4. Tongue tie
Tongue tie – a small piece of skin that ‘ties’ your babies tongue to the palette of their mouth, can cause some difficulties when trying to establish breastfeeding. My first daughter had a slight tongue tie and we managed to work around this, but in severe cases, a minor procedure may be possible to prevent ongoing feeding problems. Always speak to a medic or breastfeeding specialist if you are concerned about your baby’s ability to feed.
I have been lucky enough to personally avoid mastitis, but it is predicted to affect about 10% of breastfeeding mothers at some point in their breastfeeding journey. Mastitis is caused when one of the mammary glands becomes infected (often caused by a blocked milk duct) and symptoms include a fever or flu like symptoms, a red and swollen breast, and the area feeling hot to the touch. It is recommended that you pay attention to what is normal for you when feeding, and if you experience any changes to your breasts then get them checked out.
6. Cluster feeding
In the first few weeks with a newborn baby, breastfeeding can feel pretty relentless. Cluster feeding occurs (normally in the evenings) where your baby seems to be constantly on and off the breast. You will find yourself declaring “she can NOT be hungry again!!!” as you latch her back on for what feels like the 100th time that night. I have no real advice here other than to say that this phase doesn’t last forever; and normally settles down once your milk is fully established. In the meantime, you can expect the gaps between breastfeeds to be fairly short, so ensure you drink lots of water and keep your energy levels up with lots of snacks (cereal bars are your friend!)
7. Leaking breasts / over supply
With both my children, I was blessed with a very strong milk supply, but at times that could be more than a little embarrassing! Not only was I prone to milk spray(!) but if ever the girls lasted longer between feeds, I would find that the alternative breasts would leak once I was finally feeding on the other. If I wasn’t prepared for this, I would be left with an unsightly wet patch on my top which was pretty hard to hide! If you have strong supply, breast pads are an absolute godsend, but they vary in quality and absorption levels. Test a few out, find ones that work for you and always have a spare pair (or two) in your bag!
8. Sleep deprivation
Whether you are breastfeeding or not – the sleep deprivation experienced during the newborn days is tough, and if you aren’t doing bottle feeds to share the load, it can feel a bit relentless. Ask for help where you can – whilst you may be the only one capable of physically feeding your baby, ask your partner to wind or change them or allow you to rest between feeds if you are struggling with lack of sleep. I’d love to say that the sleep deprivation gets better as they get bigger, but in my case I am still waiting! Sleep? What’s that??
Not much explanation needed here – but feeding a baby when their teeth start to come through can be painful. In my experience, the hardest time is when they are getting their first teeth, as that unfamiliar sensation in their gums can cause them to clamp down on the nipple – and HARD. Other than removing them from the breast and saying no, you may need to develop a bit of a thick skin on this one! Avoid shouting or yelling out too loud, as this may unsettle them and make them nervous of feeding if Mom suddenly starts acting strange.
For me personally, I spent so long worrying about whether or not I’d be able to breastfeed, that I thought very little about how you actually stop. Some Moms prefer to let the child dictate when they wean from the breast, whilst others decide to reduce feeds and eventually phase them out. It’s important not to cut feeds too quickly (as this can lead to hormonal instability and engorgement) but gradually reduce the quantity and duration of your feeds until both you and your baby are ready to stop completely. When and how you decide to do this is down to personal preference; so do what works for you.