Common breastfeeding problems
What problems can women have when they breastfeed?
Women can have different problems when they breastfeed. Sometimes, women choose to stop breastfeeding when they have these problems. But most problems can be treated so that women can keep breastfeeding.
Some common breastfeeding problems and their treatments are listed below. Women can do many of the treatments on their own. Some women also find it helpful to work with a breastfeeding expert, called a “lactation consultant,” when they have problems.
Engorgement is the term doctors use for when the breasts are too full of milk. When the breasts are engorged, a baby can have trouble with “latch-on.” Latch-on is another word for when a baby makes a tight seal with his or her mouth around the nipple and the dark skin around the nipple (areola). Breasts that are engorged can be swollen, hard, warm, and painful.
The only proven way to deal with engorgement is to use your hand or a breast pump to let some milk out between feedings. But don’t let too much milk out or pump for more than 2 to 5 minutes. Pumping for too long or releasing too much milk can make engorgement worse.
You can also try the following home remedies to reduce the pain:
- Use a cold pack
- Take a pain-relieving medicine, such paracetamol or ibuprofen.
- Take a warm shower
- Gently massage your breasts to start your milk flow
Sore or painful nipples
Some nipple soreness is normal during the first minute of each breastfeeding session. Nipple pain that lasts the whole breastfeeding session is usually not normal. It can be caused by nipple cracks, blisters, or bruises. Nipple pain can happen for different reasons, such as when a baby does not have a good latch-on. It can also happen if a baby has a condition called “tongue-tie,” which is when the tongue cannot move as freely as it should.
The most important thing you can do to prevent and deal with nipple pain is to make sure your baby latches on the right way. If your baby has tongue-tie, he or she might need surgery to release the tongue.
You can also try the following home remedies:
- Use an antibiotic ointment, such as bactroban on your nipples, if they are cracked or scabby. But do NOT use vitamin E on your nipples, because high levels of vitamin E could be toxic to your baby.
- Apply a cool or warm wash cloth on your nipples
- Take a mild pain reliever, such as above.
- Wear breast pads between feedings to protect your nipples.
- If your baby is biting you, position the baby so that his or her mouth is wide open during feedings. That will make it harder to bite. Also, stick your finger between your nipple and the baby’s mouth any time he or she bites you and firmly say “no.” Then put the baby down in a safe place. The baby will learn not to bite you.
Blocked milk ducts
A blocked milk duct can cause a red and painful breast lump. It can also cause a white plug at the end of the nipple. If you have a blocked milk duct, try to breastfeed often. Make sure that your baby empties your breasts during feedings. Start with the breast that has the blocked milk duct, and use different breastfeeding positions to try to get the breasts as empty as possible. To help your milk flow better, you can also try taking a warm shower or gently massage the breast.
A breast infection is called “mastitis.” Mastitis can cause a fever and a hard, red, and swollen area of the breast. Women can also have muscle aches or chills. You do not need to stop breastfeeding if you have mastitis.
To treat your mastitis, you can:
- Take a pain-relieving medicine as above.
- Massage your breasts during feedings.
- Use a breast pump to empty your breasts after feedings.
- Take antibiotic medicines, if your doctor prescribes them.
Nipple color changes
The nipples can turn white, blue, or red, and be painful. This can happen when the blood vessels in the nipples become narrow.
To treat this, you can:
- Turn up the room temperature and wear warm clothes.
- Put a warm cloth over your breasts before and after breastfeeding.
- Stop smoking (smoking can make this problem worse).
- Avoid drinks and foods with caffeine (caffeine can make this problem worse).
- Stop taking medicines that cause the blood vessels to become narrow.
Take medicines, if your doctor prescribes them.
Nipple color changes and pain can also happen if a baby doesn’t have a good latch-on or doesn’t breastfeed in the right position.
Should I see a doctor or nurse?
Talk with your doctor or nurse if you have problems with breastfeeding. Be sure to let him or her know if you have:
- A blocked milk duct that does not get better after 3 days
- A fever and a hard, red, and swollen area of the breast
- Blood leaking from the nipples
- Pain that lasts for the whole breastfeeding session