Breast milk is the perfect food for babies – it contains all the right nutrients and is easy to digest. Breastfeeding provides many benefits for both mothers and babies, including strengthening the baby’s immune system and helping a woman recover from childbirth. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. However, some women might experience problems that interfere with breastfeeding. The following list outlines a few common breastfeeding issues a new mother might face and how she can resolve them. Share this information with your community or patients – it may just help a new mother work through her own breastfeeding issues.
Common Breastfeeding Issues for Mom and Baby
Most women experience some discomfort and the occasional minor problem at some point while breastfeeding. These issues can typically be easily resolved on your own or with the help of a lactation consultant.
Not all woman can or choose to breastfeed – and that’s fine. There are many nutrient-dense formula options available on the market to meet your baby's nutritional needs. Speak to your doctor if you are not sure that breastfeeding is the right choice for you and your baby.
Tongue tie is a condition in which the frenulum (the band of tissue that attaches the tongue to the floor of the mouth) is too tight or too restrictive. A baby with tongue tie cannot freely move his or her tongue, causing breastfeeding difficulties.
- Your baby appears to be biting or chewing your breast.
- You have a compressed nipple after nursing and develop blisters or cracked nipples from an incorrect latch.
- Ask for an assessment and referral from your health care provider or lactation consultant.
- Depending on the extent of the tongue tie, a frenotomy (minor surgery to snip the frenulum) may be advised.
Nipple tenderness and mild breast pain is not unusual when you start breastfeeding. The key to correcting nipple pain is a good latch. A lactation consultant can help. Medical-grade lanolin (such as Lansinoh HPA Lanolin) helps soothe tender nipples. Other tricks include:
- Gently massaging your nipples with some of your milk. Breast milk contains components that help fight infection.
- Using a blow-dryer set on “warm” to dry and warm your nipples.
- Changing nursing pads often.
- Washing nipples with water only.
- Relaxing for 10 minutes before nursing to encourage the let-down reflex so your baby won’t have to suck so hard.
Blocked Milk Ducts
A hard, red, tender lump or area of engorgement is a sign of a plugged milk duct. You may feel pain, especially at let down. Your milk flow may be restricted. If not remedied right away, a blocked duct can lead to mastitis. To unblock a duct:
- Breastfeed often on the affected side, even if it is painful to do so. Offer the affected breast first at every feeding to let your baby empty it as much as possible.
- If possible, position your baby so his or her lower jaw is in line with the blocked duct.
- Apply a warm washcloth and gently massage from before the blockage in a circular motion toward the nipple.
- Try a different nursing position to put pressure on different areas of your breasts.
- Avoid restrictive clothing and anything that compresses or puts pressure on your breasts.
- Make sure your bra is not too tight and consider wearing only underwire-free bras.
- A blocked duct is often a sign you are doing too much.
A more serious complication of breastfeeding is mastitis. It is commonly caused by:
- Not emptying the breasts at each feeding (often related to a poor latch).
- An untreated blocked duct.
- Lowered resistance because of fatigue, lack of sleep and/or stress.
Mastitis symptoms are similar to those of a blocked duct, but more severe. They include:
- A breast that is sore, swollen, red, hot and hard.
- Flu-like symptoms, such as chills, fever and nausea.
- A thick yellowish discharge.
Typically, mastitis is treated the same way as a blocked duct for the first 48 hours. Many infections improve without treatment within 24-48 hours. If your symptoms do not improve (worsen or stay the same), you may need medical attention. See your doctor right away if:
- Both breasts look affected.
- There is pus or blood in the milk.
- There are red streaks near the area.
- Your symptoms came on severely and suddenly.
Thrush is a fungal infection that can infect both you and your baby. It is caused by:
- Thrush in your baby’s mouth, which is passed to you.
- An overly moist environment on your sore or cracked nipples.
- Antibiotics or steroid use.
- A chronic illness like HIV, diabetes or anemia.
- Sore nipples that last more than a few days, even with a good latch.
- Pink, flaky, shiny, itchy or cracked nipples.
- Deep pink and blistered nipples.
- Achy breasts or shooting pains deep in the breast.
- Little white spots on the inside of baby’s mouth. Baby may refuse to nurse, or may be gassy or cranky.
Fungal infections may take several weeks to cure. Follow these tips to avoid spreading the infection:
- Change disposable nursing pads often.
- Wash towels or clothing in very hot water (above 122°F).
- Wear a clean bra every day.
- Wash your hands and your baby’s hands often.
- Sanitize pacifiers, bottle nipples and toys your baby puts in his or her mouth by boiling them daily. After one week, discard pacifiers and nipples and buy new ones.
- Every day, boil all breast pump parts that touch the milk.
- Make sure other family members are free of thrush or other fungal infections.
To learn more about breastfeeding, visit WomensHealth.gov. For more information on the various products available to purchase for your community, browse the QuickSeries® library of safety guides, including: Breastfeeding: Nutrition and Bonding