Experts agree that breast milk is the best source of nutrients for most babies.1 And while breastfeeding is as ancient as humanity itself, it can take a little practice to master. From nipple pain to low milk supply, there are several reasons why this natural process may sometimes feel not so natural. It’s a rare mom-baby duo that masters breastfeeding right away without a single snag. And for most new moms and babies, learning the nursing tango involves a few missteps and a lot of practice.
Here’s how to sidestep some of the more common breastfeeding problems.
Issue #1: Difficulty Latching On
You’ll know your baby is having trouble latching on if your nipples feel sore and your baby always seems hungry without gaining weight.
How to help baby latch properly
- It’s all about positioning. Make sure your baby’s head and body are aligned, rather than at an angle to each other.
- Support the feeding breast with your free hand and stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple to stimulate the feeding reflex. When your baby's mouth opens wide, gently bring their head to the breast, so your baby gets as much areola into the mouth as possible.
Issue #2: Sore, Tender Nipples
The physical changes behind breast milk production, infant suckling, and exposure to dry air can sometimes lead to nipple soreness.
Tips to avoid nipple pain while breastfeeding
- If you feel pain after the first minute of suckling, it’s a red flag that your baby isn’t latching properly. Break the suction by inserting a pinkie into the side of their sucking mouth, and try again. Keep trying and your baby will get the knack.
- Use cotton bras and breast pads to help avoid trapping moisture.
- To help soothe nipple pain, apply breast milk or purified medical-grade lanolin ointment.
To keep your milk supply flowing, do your best to continue nursing even if you're experiencing some nipple pain. Try giving your baby the less painful nipple first; by the time they switch to the second, more painful nipple, they might not be sucking as hard. If nursing is still too uncomfortable, consider using a breast pump or hand-expressing.
Issue #3: Low Milk Supply
Don't feel discouraged if you feel like you're not producing enough milk or your baby's not gaining enough weight. Get help from a lactation specialist, nurse, or family physician, and know that milk supply can fluctuate during the first three weeks.
How to increase milk supply
- It’s best to feed your baby on demand and often to help amp up your milk supply.
- Make sure your newborn is latched on properly.
- Express or pump milk right after feeding while you are cuddling your baby.
- Express or pump milk often between nursing sessions.
- Wait until you’ve established a good milk supply to supplement.
- Massaging your breasts before nursing can help encourage milk let down.
- Stress can affect the let-down reflex. Try to rest and relax.2
- Eat healthily. No evidence shows specific foods will increase breast milk supply, but good overall nutrition and staying hydrated are important for meeting your body’s demanding dietary needs.3
Issue #4: Blocked Breast Milk Ducts
A plugged breast milk duct can cause a breast area to redden and feel tender and hot. You may also notice a small lump or white dot on the duct itself.
Tips for avoiding blocked breast milk ducts
- Try not to skip feedings, as engorgement is a common cause of plugged ducts.
- Switch breasts when nursing.
- Check that your bra isn’t too tight and pressing on your breasts or nipples.
Issue #5: Mastitis
When breast tenderness, redness, and swelling of a clogged duct are accompanied by all-over achiness, fever, and chills, you may have an infection called mastitis. It’s typically caused by:
- Milk trapped in the breast
- A blocked milk duct
- Bacteria entering your breast through a crack in the nipple’s skin or a milk duct opening
While it’s OK to continue nursing if you have mastitis—it may actually help clear the infection—contact your doctor. They may prescribe antibiotics that can help resolve the condition so you can start to feel better.4
Tips for avoiding mastitis
- Try to take care of plugged ducts, engorgement, and other breast woes quickly so they don’t worsen. You can talk to a lactation consultant or peer counselor if you’re struggling with any aspect of breastfeeding.
- Change your breastfeeding position every feeding.
- Drain the milk fully during each session and before switching to the other breast.5
- Try to get help with household chores and baby care from your partner, relatives, or friends so that you can sleep and eat properly; a run-down new mom is at higher risk of mastitis.
Issue #6: Thrush
This common yeast infection thrives where it’s moist and warm—like a lactating nipple and a hungry mouth. Your baby may have white patches or redness in the mouth or diaper rash. Your nipples may turn deep pink and be tender all through and after feeding.
The discomfort caused by thrush can make it harder to breastfeed, which could impact milk production. If you can’t nurse, try to keep pumping to maintain your milk supply.
Tips for avoiding thrush
Thrush can be hard to prevent, but some steps that may help include:
- Avoiding diaper rash by changing diapers frequently
- Cleaning and sterilizing anything that goes into your baby’s mouth
- Washing hands often, especially after nursing, changing diapers, or applying topical medications
- Keeping your nipples dry
Thrush is easy to manage, usually with anti-fungal medication for both you and your baby.
Breastfeeding is best for your baby, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. By taking a few preventative measures, you may be able to avoid some of the typical breastfeeding challenges. If you do run into an issue, as lots of new mamas do, talk to your doctor or a lactation specialist.
All information on Enfamil.com, including but not limited to information about health, medical conditions, and nutrition, is intended for your general knowledge. It is not a substitute for a healthcare professional's medical identification, advice, or management for specific medical conditions. You should seek medical care and consult your doctor, OB-GYN, or pediatrician for any specific health or nutrition issues. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read on Enfamil.com.