About Common Breastfeeding Problems
Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your child, but it isn't always easy! There are many common problems that mothers may encounter with breastfeeding.
It is important to remember that the longer you breastfeed, the greater the health benefits for you and your baby. The following section outlines some possible concerns and solutions to help you and your baby.
During the first week after birth, it is common to feel some mild pain or tenderness when your baby latches onto your breast. This tenderness should disappear as your baby begins to feed. If the pain continues, remove your baby from the breast and reposition them before they latch on again.
The most common cause of nipple soreness is poor latch. Poor latch can quickly cause nipple damage, but it will heal quickly once your baby's latch is fixed.
To help with healing:
- hand express a few drops of breastmilk
- rub the drops onto your nipple
- allow the drops to air dry after feeding
It's also not uncommon for mothers to pay less attention to the latch and position of their older baby.
If fixing your baby’s latch does not get rid of the pain or nipple damage, contact a breastfeeding professional (external link) for help.
Tongue tie and lip tie
Some babies are born with structural differences in the mouth that make it hard for them to latch properly, such as tongue tie or lip tie (external link). This restricts movement in a baby’s mouth, making it hard for them to latch properly and transfer the milk from the breast.
Some signs that may indicate a tongue or lip tie are:
- baby is sliding off the breast when feeding
- baby is making clicking noises when sucking
- you have sore or damaged nipples despite paying attention to the latch
If you are noticing any of these signs, it's possible that your baby needs a tongue or lip tie to be clipped. This is a simple and fast procedure called a frenotomy and can be done in a doctor or dentist’s office.
If the lip or tongue tie is serious, your milk supply will likely be affected so it's important to see a breastfeeding professional for help as soon as possible (ideally within a couple of days).
To find a practitioner in Halton who offers the procedure, consult a breastfeeding professional (external link) or call 311.
Infection and reaction to irritants
Irritation, bacterial and fungal infections can cause nipple pain. Signs of infection or reaction may include:
- rashes on the nipples or the breast
- scaly or shiny nipples
- shooting or burning pain in the breast
If you are experiencing any of these signs it is important that you see a breastfeeding professional (external link) as soon as possible to identify the issue and prevent further damage.
For example, if you or your baby has developed a thrush (yeast) infection, you will both need to be treated to avoid passing the infection back and forth.
When babies are teething, they may attempt to bite down while at the breast. Holding your baby nice and close, and making sure they are latched well, will help to avoid this. Don't be tempted to stop breastfeeding... biting is usually short-lived.
Visit the La Leche League (external link) for tips on biting.
There are several possible causes of breast pain. If the pain is not resolving after trying to manage the issue on your own, contact a breastfeeding professional (external link) right away.
In the early days of breastfeeding, your breasts may swell up with milk and become tender. This is called engorgement.
Your breasts produce more milk than your baby requires to ensure they get enough. Your body will gradually adapt to meet your baby’s needs.
Feeding your baby early and often can help prevent and relieve this discomfort. Feed your baby according to their hunger cues (external PDF) and pre-term hunger cues (external PDF). Don’t limit the frequency or length of her feeds.
Sometimes babies find it hard to latch because of the swelling. If this happens:
- hand express a small amount of milk, or use reverse pressure softening
- use a cool compress on your breast to help reduce swelling
Discomfort from engorgement should only last for a couple of days. Contact a breastfeeding professional (external link) if the engorgement is not improving.
Sometimes milk flow becomes blocked in one area of the breast. This can happen if your baby is not latching well or is suddenly feeding much less than usual. You will likely notice a hard lump, which may be tender and red.
What you can do:
- Breastfeed your baby at least every two hours
- Begin on the breast with the blocked duct
- Feed your baby in different positions to remove milk from all areas of your breast
- Apply a warm compress and use gentle massage before feeding to help with milk flow
Call your health care provider if a breast lump will not go away or you have signs of mastitis.
Mastitis is inflammation in the breast caused by infection. Common signs of mastitis are:
- a large reddened, sore area or red streaks on the breast
- fever and flu-like symptoms, such as headache or nausea.
To help treat mastitis:
- feed your baby frequently on the affected side
- get plenty of rest
- apply heat to the affected area
If it is too painful to breastfeed your baby, remove the milk by hand or with a pump. This will make you more comfortable and help to prevent the infection from getting worse.
If symptoms are not improving within 24 hours, you may require antibiotic treatment.
It is important to contact your healthcare provider. Getting help for yourself and your baby will also assist your recovery.
Thrush (yeast) infection
Thrush can also cause burning or shooting pain in the breast. Women with thrush may also experience red, shiny, itchy or sore nipples. The pain may happen between feedings.
If you think you may have thrush, speak with your health care provider and/or a breastfeeding professional (external link).
Breastfeeding and illness
Breastmilk has antibodies that help you and your baby fight off infection. When you are sick, your body makes antibodies specific to your illness, and you pass these along in your breastmilk to keep your baby healthy.
Washing your hands more often when you are sick, especially before caring for your baby, will help prevent you from passing your sickness to your baby. Talk to your health care provider if you have concerns or questions.
Medication and breastfeeding
Most conditions can be treated with medications that are safe for breastfeeding. This includes anaesthetic medications used for surgery.
If you have any concerns, speak with your healthcare provider or your pharmacist.
Did you know that it's normal for your breasts to become softer over time while you’re breastfeeding?
Many mothers have more milk than their baby needs during the early weeks of breastfeeding and their breasts will often feel very full. Over time your breasts will feel softer as your body adjusts. This does not mean that you do not have enough milk – your body is just figuring out the right amount to make!
If you feed your baby according to their hunger cues (external PDF) and pre-term hunger cues (external PDF), your body will continue to make the right amount of milk for your growing baby.
Your baby’s wet and soiled diapers provide reassurance that your baby is drinking enough milk.
- Babies over 5 days old should have at least 6 wet diapers per day.
- Babies under 3-4 weeks should have at least one yellow, seedy poop per day.
- After 3-4 weeks, some babies will continue to poop frequently (some many times per day), while others may only poop every few days (up to 10 days is normal!).
You may notice that your baby seems more hungry than normal on some days. This is likely due to a growth spurt.
Feed your baby according to their hunger cues (external PDF) and pre-term hunger cues (external PDF). Your body will respond to your baby’s frequent nursing by increasing milk production. The more you feed your baby, the more milk you will make.
Growth spurts are common when your baby is:
- 10 days
- 2-3 weeks
- 6 weeks
- 3 months
- 6 months
- other times (when your baby seems hungrier than usual)
Crying is normal baby behaviour. It does not always mean your baby is hungry. They may be tired, uncomfortable or want to be held.
If your baby is fussy:
- start by offering the breast. If she is hungry, this will soothe her. The sucking alone may be enough to comfort her. You can't over-feed a breastfed baby.
- if she is not comforted at the breast, try placing her skin-to-skin.
- movement helps calm babies - try walking, rocking or swaying.
- check for a wet or soiled diaper.
- check that she is not too warm or cool.
Your baby picks up on your emotions, so calming yourself (e.g. by taking deep breaths) will also help your baby to calm down. Try to arrange a break for yourself when someone else can hold your baby.
Baby not latching
Sometimes babies refuse to latch onto the breast. They may push or arch away and cry when brought to the breast.
If this happens, see a breastfeeding professional (external link) to determine the cause. Make sure you maintain your milk supply if your baby won't breastfeed by hand expressing or pumping.
While you are waiting to see a breastfeeding professional, try the following:
- Choose a quiet, relaxed place to breastfeed.
- Hold your baby skin-to-skin and calm your baby before trying to latch.
- Watch for early hunger cues (external PDF) and pre-term hunger cues (external PDF) and begin feeding before your baby gets too hungry.
- Express some milk onto your nipple to get your baby interested.
- Soften the area around the nipple if your breast is engorged.
Thinking about feeding your baby some formula?
Call 311 to speak to a public health nurse and read this important information about feeding your baby.
If you and your baby are separated, express or pump your breastmilk at least 8 times in 24 hours, if possible. This will ensure your baby can continue to receive breastmilk. This also helps to maintain your milk supply. Expressing your milk is especially important after it's dark outside due to hormones released at night.
Your baby can be fed your breastmilk by cup or spoon. Avoid using a bottle if possible, as it can make it harder for your baby to breastfeed when you're back together. Other feeding methods may also be possible with advice from a breastfeeding professional (external link)
If the separation is caused by a medical condition in you or your baby, speak to your healthcare provider about feeding your baby your breastmilk.
Breastfeeding in public
In Canada, you have the right to breastfeed your baby anywhere, anytime. The Halton Baby-Friendly Initiative (external link) has more information on breastfeeding in public.