Common Breastfeeding Ailments and How to Overcome Them
Troubleshoot and solve your breastfeeding concerns
You’ve seen the stock photos of moms lovingly gazing at their nursing babies or effortlessly pumping with a serene look. But in reality, you might hit some bumps in your breastfeeding journey. It can be hard to anticipate these difficulties and even harder to figure out exactly what’s going on—and how to fix it.
Rest assured, breastfeeding issues are common, but each mom’s experience with them will be unique. Even if you’re not a first-time mom, your breastfeeding experiences can be different with each baby. Read on to learn about the issues that might throw you for a loop and how to get back on track.
What it is: Soreness during or after feedings, damage to the skin including cracks or even bleeding
Signs and symptoms: Many moms experience mild discomfort in the first weeks of breastfeeding. But if your pain lasts throughout or between feedings, or you notice cracks or bleeding, there may be a cause for your soreness.
Solutions to try: The go-to remedy for sore nipples is applying expressed breastmilk or nipple cream after nursing or pumping. Reach out to your doctor or your friends at The Lactation Network for an antibiotic ointment if you’re experiencing skin damage. If you would prefer to go the over-the-counter route, we carry and absolutely swear by Medihoney. This honey-based, medical-grade wound treatment is sterilized to get rid of botulism spores, making it 100% baby safe.
Have your baby nurse from the side that is less sore first, as babies tend to nurse more gently on the second side. Check that your baby’s lips are open wide and flanged outward. A shallow latch is a very common cause of soreness, and an IBCLC is a fantastic resource for improving your baby’s latch. Between feedings, protect your sore nipples from chafing and let them “breathe” by slipping breast shells into your nursing bra.
What it is: Baby’s tongue doesn’t have the necessary range of motion to latch, suck and swallow effectively because the frenulum (the membrane connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is too short, thick or tight.
Signs and symptoms: Sore nipples, a shallow latch, baby makes clicking noises or isn’t getting enough milk during a feeding, which can also lead to low milk supply
Solutions to try: If you suspect your baby has a tongue tie, consult with an IBCLC or doctor (pediatrician, ENT or pediatric dentist) who has experience diagnosing the condition. While some babies learn to compensate for a tongue tie, others will need more help to correct the issue. In those cases, a trained doctor can perform a frenotomy, a quick procedure in which the frenulum is cut to allow the tongue full range of motion. Many doctors will numb the area before the procedure and healing is a fast process.
What it is: A plugged or clogged duct is an area of the breast that is not draining milk properly. Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast due to an obstruction (such as a plugged duct)
Signs and symptoms: A plugged duct presents as a lump or tender spot on the breast with possible engorgement, pain or decreased milk supply on that side. Mastitis includes the signs of a plugged duct, as well as heat, intense pain, possible red streaks, and systemic symptoms like a fever of 101.3 or greater, chills and flu-like achiness.
Solutions to try: As soon as you feel signs of a plugged duct, nurse and pump frequently and in different positions. This will get rid of the clog and help prevent mastitis. Massage your breasts, especially in the area of the clogged duct, while feeding. Use warm compresses or hop in a hot shower. Apply vibration to the spot with the base of an electric toothbrush. To prevent and treat clogged ducts, consider taking a lecithin supplement. If you start experiencing symptoms of mastitis, call your doctor ASAP—mastitis can turn serious very quickly, but with antibiotics, you’ll see improvement within a day or so.
What it is: Thrush is a yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of a commonly occurring microbe due to a change in your body’s pH balance.
Signs and symptoms: Sudden, intense nipple pain; itchy, flaky or cracked nipples; white patches on your baby’s lips, gums or tongue that don’t wipe off; persistent, red diaper rash for your baby
Solutions to try: Prevent thrush by switching out damp nursing pads often and exposing your nipples to air when possible. Work to quickly heal any cracks or irritation to avoid infection. If you or your baby show symptoms, it’s important to treat both of you simultaneously. Yeast can be stubborn! Wash your hands thoroughly after diaper changes and using the bathroom. Boil or wash and dry on high heat all items that come in contact with your breasts or baby’s mouth (nursing bras, cotton pads, pump parts, bottle nipples, pacifiers, toys). Your doctor may also prescribe oral or topical treatments.
What it is: Pain, tugging, engorgement during and/or after pumping
Signs and symptoms: You might notice soreness in your nipples, recurrent plugged ducts or a feeling of fullness like your breasts aren’t emptying effectively.
Solutions to try: The first step may be trying different solutions for your specific symptoms (nipple cream for sore nipples, massage and warm compresses for plugged ducts). But if the issue is not resolving, your pump could be the cause. A mismatched pump or incorrect breast shield sizing can make pumping painful and ineffective. Meet with an IBCLC, who can observe and assess your pumping to make sure the fit and function is allowing you to fully (and comfortably) empty your breasts.
Low Milk Supply
What it is: Not producing enough breast milk to satisfy baby and promote growth
Signs and symptoms: Little to no change in weight during a weighted feed (this could also indicate a transfer issue); slow or no weight gain for baby; not enough wet diapers
Solutions to try: First, know that pumping output is not indicative of how much milk you’re producing. Milk supply has more to do with your baby and whether he or she is content after feedings and growing appropriately. If you’re unsure or worried about low milk supply, add or lengthen your nursing or pumping sessions. Greater milk output signals your body to produce more. Or work with an IBCLC who can weigh your baby before and after a feeding, check the latch and positioning and make sure you’re emptying your breasts effectively. Establishing milk supply is most critical in the first two weeks after delivery.
The team at The Lactation Network wants to help you succeed in breastfeeding. If you need help overcoming one of these common ailments, get in touch and set up a visit with an IBCLC. As nursing and pumping moms ourselves, we know it’s not always easy. We’re here to cheer you on.