Common breastfeeding problems

Mum holding sleeping babyOnce you've figured out the basic baby-to-breast connection thing, you may find breastfeeding a breeze. Or you may not.

Or you may start off finding it a breeze, only for something new and unexpected to suddenly blow you off course. If you're feeling a little breeze-deprived, check out these solutions for the most common just-got-started-breastfeeding problems.

  • Engorgement

When your milk comes (about 2-5 days after the birth) your breasts may become painful and swollen. It normally subsides as you establish feeding but for some women it can remain a problem. Read Mumsnetters' tips for coping with engorged breasts.

  • It hurts

Urban (and, sometimes, sadly, midwife) myth has it that 'if it hurts, you're definitely doing it wrong'. Which can be very dispiriting. So, let's get some facts straight. It's certainly true that in the majority of cases pain while you're breastfeeding is the result of an incorrect latch. But, even if your latch is perfect, it's perfectly possible for feeding time to have serious 'ouch' factor.

Some women do seem to have nipples that need a bit of 'running-in' and others sometimes get a particularly toe-curling 'letdown' (the moment when the milk gets flowing in response to your baby's suckling).

Occasionally, the pain can be down to physical problems with your baby (such as tongue tie) or you (cracked nipples, thrush, mastitis). Whatever you suspect the cause of your pain may be, get yourself checked out by someone who knows their breastfeeding onions. This is a common breastfeeding problem and please don't, whatever you do, suffer in silence.

  • It takes too long

Well, yes it does, but give it a few weeks and your not-so-newborn will be a super-fast slurper.

  • I've no kind of routine

Another common breastfeeding problem. Breastfed babies don't really 'do' schedules at first. They digest breastmilk more easily, and therefore more quickly, than formula, so, odds-on, they're going to be ready for their next scoff sooner than their formula-fed mates.

This means, in the early weeks at least, that they're less easy to slot into a strict once-every-whatever-hours timetable. Breastfeeding experts will tell you that, to begin with, you should just feed 'on demand'. This doesn't mean attaching your baby to your nipple every time she whimpers (find out more about this in our crying and comforting section). Crying can mean 'I want a sleep/nappy change/cuddle' as well as 'I want milk').

Feeding on demand means feeding your baby whenever she seems hungry. Good hunger 'signals' include finger-sucking, lip-licking and rooting for an imaginary nipple, as well as crying.

Feeding frequently in the first weeks is normal (don't let anyone tell you otherwise) and helps you to build up a good milk supply. Routines and schedules can work very well with breastfed babies, but only after both you and your baby have properly got into the breastfeeding swing.

  • I haven't got enough milk

Is your baby gaining weight and producing several wet and dirty nappies a day? Are you feeding on demand? Then you've probably got enough milk. Breastmilk operates on a demand-and-supply basis - the more your baby wants (and asks for by suckling more), the more you make.

Unless you're mixed feeding (replacing some breastfeeds with formula feeds) it's pretty unusual not to have enough milk for your baby (although if you're worried, do get expert advice).

  • My baby is suddenly feeding all the time

Welcome to the full-on feeding frenzy that is the growth spurt. Your baby's appetite doesn't grow steadily but in little jumps. So, one day she'll be all calm and settled, the next, she'll be ravenous for loads more milk than normal.

It's this sudden ravenousness that makes many mums think they've 'run out' of milk when, in fact, all their babies are doing by suckling more is stimulating their breasts to produce more milk.

  • My baby is crying and pulling off

More than likely your milk's coming out too fast for her. You'd probably be squirming and crying if milk was rushing into your mouth faster than you could swallow it. Help your baby out by lying down as this can slow your milk flow down, or expressing or dumping the really fast-flowing milk or applying gentle pressure to your areola as this also slows things down.

  • My baby isn't gaining enough weight

Breastfed babies are, generally speaking, leaner than formula-fed ones and tend to grow more slowly. Make sure whoever's weighing your baby is consulting the new height/weight charts that take this into account.

If they are, and they're starting to express concern at your baby's lack of weight gain, you need to consider carefully what to do next.

At this point, many health professionals recommend either switching to formula (often simply to keep track of your baby's intake) or at least 'topping up' with the odd formula feed. A breastfeeding expert would probably advise that, assuming that your latch is right and there are no other medical problems that could hamper the breastfeeding process, you should be wary of introducing formula because it can reduce your milk supply and so hasten the end of breastfeeding altogether.

  • I'm ill

You can breastfeed through most common illnesses, including colds, sore throats and stomach bugs. In fact, doing so will help protect your baby from going down with the same lurgy as you, as you pass on your antibodies.

Be careful with medication, though: some medicines do pass into breastmilk, so, before you take any, always check with your GP or pharmacist that they are compatible with breastfeeding. See our advice on medicines to avoid when breastfeeding.

What Mumsnetters say about breastfeeding problems

  • After five weeks of hideously painful feeding, it was the teeniest change to my latch that made all the difference. Every health visitor, breastfeeding counsellor, midwife, Tom, Dick and Harry I saw told me my latch was fine and, then, just as I was despairing, one midwife spotted something amiss and helped me to fix it. Keep on asking for help until you can feed pain-free! BroccoliSpears
  • It's like when you go out for a ride on a bike - you're a bit saddle sore but you get used to it. Harpsichordcarrier
  • I had very painful letdown with two of my three babies. It just felt like electric shocks on my chest when I was feeding. Not nice. I got through it by taking deep breaths, knowing that it wasn't doing any harm or damage, and, each time, it went away completely when baby was about eight to nine weeks old. fqueenzebra
  • I am a breastfeeding counsellor and what makes me cross is that women are told that pain in normal and they should just put up with it. It isn't normal and they shouldn't just put up with it. We can't always put it right - though with the right skills, we almost always can. tiktok
  • It all changes so quickly. In a few weeks, you'll be doing a feed in 10 minutes or less. Noonki
  • Don't clock-watch: routines and breastfeeding are not generally happy bedfellows. Avoid 'micro analysing' feed times and post on Mumsnet if you need support. Pannacotta
  • If regular feeding is important to you, then a sort of flexible scheduled feeding can work with a baby who is gaining weight and is happy, but I don't think it's a good idea to start off this way. Just ask any breastfeeding counsellor who takes calls from distressed and confused (and sometimes short of milk) mothers who've been trying to follow the routines in a book. Tiktok
  • It's perfectly normal to think that you don't have enough milk, especially in the evening. Chances are you have plenty and the best way to make more is to feed more. Can'tSleepWon'tSleep
  • Have confidence in your own body. If it's clever enough to make a baby, it's more than clever enough to make milk which is very simple in comparison. belgo

 

Image: Shutterstock

Last updated: 23-Sep-2013 at 4:23 PM