14 of the Hardest Breastfeeding Problems (& Solutions That Work!)

Some of the hardest breastfeeding problems you may face can seem impossible and scary. In fact, some of the difficulties you’ll experience are why a lot of moms give up on breastfeeding!

If you’re close to that point or you’re doing your research to get prepared, you’ve come to the right place! These are the breastfeeding issues that the vast majority of us experience, though you may not encounter them all. And here you’ll learn the cause of the hardest breastfeeding problems and effective ways to prevent or resolve them.

Engorgement

The first big challenge you might deal with is breast engorgement, which occurs when your milk comes in. Your breasts swell with milk, for some to the point that they feel like they could pop. Engorgement is very uncomfortable, even painful. However, this is a normal occurance in the beginning and actually a good sign that your body is producing milk. If you ever doubted your ability to produce milk, throw those doubts out the window now!

Engorgement starts most commonly about the third day post-partum. It’s okay to hate this stage of breastfeeding, most of us do! But, engorgement only lasts about a week or two and dealing with it is pretty simple.

What Helps Breastfeeding Engorgement

To get relief from engorgement, follow the steps of the freezer diaper:

  • soak a newborn diaper in water
  • ring out the excess water (just enough that it doesn’t drip) and
  • freeze the diaper.
  • When your breast is feeling uncomfortably full, open the diaper and lay it either directly on the breast or over a thin towel for up to fifteen minutes

This method brings fast relief and the diaper can be used over and over, just keep refreezing it. For the first few days, you may need to use the diaper method every hour to calm the inflammation.

I highly recommend that you be prepared for engorgement so it’s not such a shock when it occurs. There are hot/cold packs, specifically designed to relieve engorgement, that you can add to your Walmart Baby Registry. Or, just throw some newborn diapers in your Breastfeeding Survival Kit!

Remember, engorgement goes away once your milk supply levels out, usually within one to two weeks. It’s not necessary to pump and doing so can actually make things worse! My best tip: do what you can to find relief, nurse at every cue and your milk will level out.

Sore, Cracked, Bleeding, Painful Nipples

I think a lot of us go into breastfeeding having heard that our nipples will be very sore at first, right? Boy was I unprepared for how painful that actually is. It took about a week for the nipple pain to start and it was excruciating! I can still remember those sharp, horrific pains that jabbed through my breast every time my son latched on. I think it might have been the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life.

Sore nipples are due to constant contact, sucking and pulling that your nipples have never experienced before. It takes a couple weeks, but soon that soreness will go away. Cracked and bleeding nipples can be a sign that your baby isn’t latched properly, which you’ll find help with in a moment.

breast pain, swelling, engorgement

What Helps Cracked, Sore Nipples

If and when you find yourself dealing with sore, cracked nipples, keeping them clean is key. To do that, coat them in coconut oil or a cream after each nursing session. Then, let your nipples air dry for several minutes. Keeping them exposed to open air helps to prevent infection. As part of your lying-in period, maybe just go topless for a few days!

Another method for fast relief for cracked, bleeding nipples is saline washes. Put some warm water in a bowl or cup and add about a teaspoon of salt. Dab this saline solution on the nipple wounds to reduce inflammation, prevent bacteria from entering and ease pain. Sore, cracked nipples usually heal within a week or two and are sort of a right of passage for nearly all breastfeeding mamas!

Cluster feeding

All babies cluster feed whether they are bottle or breastfed. Cluster feeding lasts several days to a week. It is likely to occur when baby is going through a growth spurt, is under stress, or is sick. It’s completely normal, yet sometimes hard to recognize in the beginning. Here’s how you can tell that your baby is cluster feeding:

  • Your baby cries when they are not at the breast, but happy while nursing.
  • Your baby keeps putting hands, toys or blankets to his mouth.
  • Baby sleeps at the breast and wakes screaming if you try to put them down.

How to Help Your Cluster Feeding Baby:

  • Put off your scheduled activities and plan to stay in until the phase is over (usually several days at least).
  • Allow your baby to nurse at any sign, even if they aren’t actually taking in milk.
  • Drink a lot of water and eat frequently to keep yourself hydrated and enhance the quality of your milk.
  • Even though cluster feeding can be tough for you, try to remain calm and welcoming for your baby.
  • Get someone to help you! You’ll need mental breaks, make sure you take them!

Like all stages, this will pass and your baby will go back to feeding “normal” times,. Cluster feeding does not mean that your baby isn’t getting enough milk, needs more to eat in addition to your milk or that you are doing anything wrong. Cluster feeding a wonderful sign that your baby is growing and thriving! I wrote about how to survive cluster feeds and when to expect them! Come back to that post when you’re done here.

Trying to Get a Proper Latch

There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of books and blogs that try to explain and teach how to get your baby to latch correctly. Lactation consultants are great people to help, so when they come see you in the hospital, listen carefully!

However, I found that when I stopped trying to control the angle of my baby’s neck and the position I held my arm while breastfeeding, things got a lot easier for us.

I discovered natural breastfeeding positions by accident while Googling how to get a good latch. Advocates for these natural positions explained that the belly-to-belly position is likely the best nursing position for those first few months. Why? Because this position is the inherent way babies come to the breast. First at birth, if left untouched, babies will actually crawl up the mother’s belly to the breast. It’s mother nature’s way of ensuring survival if something is wrong with the new mom (or she falls asleep from exhaustion).

natural breastfeeding, nursing positions to help get a good latch

For me, breastfeeding stopped being painful and my nipples healed when I trashed the boppy nursing pillow and stopped trying to control what was going on. Instead, I reclined in a chair and let my son lay on me, belly to belly. He instinctively found my breast and latched on and it was the first time I could remember in those early days that our nursing sessions were easy and relaxing for me–well for us both! So, my latch advice is that if you start feeling frustrated with the latch dilemma, try this and other natural nursing positions.

Is Baby Getting Enough Milk?

A very common concern in the beginning of your breastfeeding journey is that baby isn’t getting enough milk. Some new moms mistake cluster feeding as a sign that they’re not producing enough milk for baby and maybe that’s why he keeps crying if not on the breast. This is far from the truth! As mentioned before, cluster feeding is a good sign and should not be avoided or misinterpreted. It’s truly safe to say, there is no “fix” or worry necessary for a baby who cries for more of your milk.

The Truth About A Good Milk Supply

Our bodies rely on the supply and demand system to make the right amount of milk baby needs, with the right components. So every time your baby cries or cues for breastfeeding, your brain and body signal the release of milk. When your baby nurses (demand), your body will produce (supply) more milk. So, longer nursing sessions are a good sign that your body is building a larger milk supply to meet your baby’s needs. Read it again: Longer nursing sessions do not mean your baby can’t get enough milk. He knows what he’s doing! And if you’re really concerned and want to boost your supply, here are my 10 tips for that!

How Can You Tell if Baby is Getting Enough Milk?

So how can you tell if your baby is getting enough milk? You’ll know your baby is satisfied when they unclench their fists, fall asleep or take themselves off the nipple. Signs that your baby may still be hungry would be rooting for your nipple, moving their tongue in and out of their mouth or clenched fists with fussiness.

When Babies Cry at the Breast

It can really be frustrating when you’re doing everything you can to soothe your baby, including nursing every five minutes, and he is still crying or “fussy”. Crying at the breast, especially if your baby keeps coming off your breast frequently, is usually a sign that he needs to burp or has some other discomfort like teething or gas (see the next section for more on this).

why babies cry so much, fussy baby

When your baby appears upset and is crying, go through this checklist of possible reasons:

  • Wet or poopy diaper? Check his diaper first. A lot of babies hate being wet.
  • Too cold or too hot? Feel his hands, feet, ears and nose. Add or take away a layer of clothing.
  • Sleepy? If he’s rubbing his eyes or yawning that’s probably the reason.
  • Gassy? If he’s squirmy and seems to be in pain, it may be gas. See next section.
  • Teething? Red, swollen gums with real tears can mean he is teething. See next section.
  • Hungry? Rooting for your breast, hands or toy near mouth and moving his tongue indicate he wants to nurse. Especially if he stops crying only while breastfeeding.
  • Nursing strike? I wrote a whole post on this topic. Read about breastfeeding strikes if you believe that’s what your dealing with.

Remember, frequent breastfeeding is a sign that the supply and demand (or more like demand and supply) system is in full swing! So if breastfeeding stops the crying, you’re doing it right!

“Fussy baby”: Is it teething, gas or colic?

Somewhere between the third and twelfth month (it varies from baby to baby) your baby will start to get his first tooth. And at first, teething can be quite uncomfortable for babies, especially while nursing. Typically, though, nursing is only uncomfortable for teething babies when they first latch on. The anti-inflammatory properties of breast milk should bring relief pretty quickly and then your baby should be able to nurse comfortably again.

fussy baby teething

You’ll want to utilize teething relief aids like teething toys, cold wash cloths and even your finger (clean of course). As well as gentle solutions for pain like amber teething necklaces and homeopathic oils. That being said, breastfeeding is certainly the best option for pain relief from teething.

Another common reason for fussiness at the breast is gas pains and reflux. Infants seem to be quick to acquire gas the first three months of their life and a lot of babies also suffer from reflux. A good indicator that your baby has gas pains is when they are squirmy and fussy, whether at the breast or not. Again, this can sometimes be misinterpreted as your baby feeling inpatient or not getting enough breast milk, when in fact it’s just his body trying to wiggle out a fart or burp!

Make sure you’re trying to burp your baby every few minutes with each nursing session. If those little air bubbles aren’t released, gas pockets accumulate in the intestines and cause pain. Rule of thumb here is that until baby can crawl and wiggle out belches and farts himself, you do need to try to burp him frequently.

fussy baby gas and burping

Sometimes, even with frequent burping, babies will still get gassy and that can be frustrating for everyone. I always found gas drops to be helpful as well as an essential oil combination that is safe for infants.

Colic is a different story and one experts haven’t quite figured out. A baby is considered to have colic if they cry and cry, inconsolably for three hours straight, three days in a row. You’ve gone through the checklist mentioned here, but nothing brings your baby relief. Colic is a real tough one to handle. Continue listening to your gut feeling, being as comforting for your baby as you can and taking mental breaks away from your crying baby as often as you need. This is something no one can truly control, but it will pass, eventually!

It is suggested that for colic, assisting the digestive tract with infant probiotics is a great place to start. Other things that may relieve colic are warm baths, repetitive motions like bouncing or swaying while holding him, laying baby on his belly or back, or swaddling in a blanket.

In general, a fussy baby does not equal a hungry baby, although some people tend to try to “fix” fussiness with more food (breast or formula milk). But usually, when you go with the flow, use your instincts to answer your baby’s cries, even if that means offering the breast when that’s the only thing that calms your baby or trying the gas drops and probiotics in between, you’ll find these phases do pass!

Reflux in Breastfed Babies

Reflux is another common condition for infants. You can discuss with your doctor ways to deal with reflux, but in general, this has no association with breastfeeding. Meaning, reflux isn’t caused by breastfeeding or anything you’ve done wrong!

One thing your pediatrician might recommend is trying to keep your baby’s digestive tract healthy with the aid of infant probiotics. Probiotics are helpful for treating reflux by maintaining healthy bacteria and reducing harmful bacteria in the stomach and intestines, which promotes an ideal pH in the digestive system. This may not be the cure-all for reflux, but probiotics generally have no negative side effects so it could be worth trying.

Other ways to relieve reflux in babies is feeding them upright and elevating them while they sleep. For my son who had mild reflux as an infant, I elevated the head portion of his bassinet pad using a row of rolled blankets. There are some wedge pads available designed for babies with reflux that can be inserted beneath mattresses. However, in the past several years, question about the relationship of SIDS to these wedges have arisen. Use your own discretion or consult with your pediatrician before using these or any methods of inclined sleeping.

inclined sleeping for babies with reflux

How to Tell If You Have a Low Milk Supply

Being that this is usually the biggest concern for newly breastfeeding moms, it’s very important to understand what actually causes a low milk supply and how to tell if you have a low milk supply.

What causes a low milk supply:

  • Not allowing your baby to cluster feed as they hit each growth spurt–therefore you’ve interrupted the supply and demand system.
  • Skipping feedings
  • Not drinking enough water
  • Menstrual periods
  • A negative, stressful environment
  • Clogged ducts and mastitis

Do not assume that you have a low milk supply if you decide to pump your milk and then only pump out half or one ounce. First off, your baby is much more effective at pulling milk from you than a breast pump. Secondly, the first several times you use a pump, you’re likely to pull out much less than you actually produce until you get the right flange size and pumping speed figured out.

But if you’ve been pumping milk for at least several weeks and suddenly get a drop in total ounces, then it is possible that your milk supply has decreased. This happened to me every time I got my period, which meant my babies just nursed more frequently during that time. A decrease in your milk supply might seem alarming at first, but remember to use the supply and demand method for the most effective way to increase your supply.

There are a number of other things you can do to increase your milk supply. Drinking extra water, eating lactation cookies, taking certain herbal supplements, plus following tips I wrote about in this post can all help you produce more milk. Feeling like you have a low supply is certainly no reason to stop breastfeeding, when there are many things you can do to increase your supply!

Oversupply of Milk

oversupply of breast milk

Having an oversupply of breast milk might sound like a good problem to have, but it can actually cause a few very uncomfortable issues. An oversupply is caused by–you guessed it–too much demand for milk. And that’s usually a result of pumping too often, like if you’re trying to stock pile breast milk in the freezer.

An oversupply can then cause engorgement, clogged ducts and mastitis. All of which are painful and not easy to get rid of. I describe the signs and symptoms of clogged ducts and mastitis here. It doesn’t hurt to be prepared for that!

To deal with an oversupply, stop pumping altogether if you can. Go back to only feeding your baby when they give cues. If you exclusively pump, try to cut back by pumping less frequently, dropping one pump session or cutting the session time by five minutes. Go with your gut, but the goal is to only “demand” what you think your baby requires.

Breast Pain While Breastfeeding

In the first few weeks or months, as previously mentioned, there will likely be some breast tenderness and soreness as your breasts adjust to being physically handled so much. However, if you develop sudden soreness or sharp pains in localized areas of your breast, along with a lower milk supply and your baby seeming to be irritated at that breast, you may have a clogged duct.

Clogged ducts are a common occurrence and can happen at any point during your breastfeeding journey. Clogged ducts are caused by injury to breast tissue, which can be a physical injury or as a result of engorgement that has caused severe inflammation.

what is a clogged milk duct

Signs of a clogged duct are: breast pain, usually near the nipple or on one side of the breast or the other (wherever the clogged duct is), less milk able to be expressed, and tightness or a hardened knotted area in the same area as the pain. Again, I’d check out this post to learn ways to unclog a clogged duct and avoid mastitis.

Fevers and Breastfeeding

If you develop a fever accompanied by breast soreness and you think you have a clogged duct, you may now have mastitis. Mastitis is an infection of the breast and progresses quickly, leaving you feeling like you have the flu! It’s important to breastfeed more when you have a clogged duct or mastitis, rather than less, even though breastfeeding will be very painful.

Mastitis does not always require antibiotics and there are many ways to naturally treat it at home. You can read about 10 natural remedies in this post. In the four years I breastfed, I battled mastitis 5 or 6 times, finally finding natural remedies to treat it very quickly, usually within 24 hours!

what does mastitis look like
Mastitis is almost always accompanied by a red rash, fever, nausea and sleepiness

Likewise, if you have a different illness that involves a fever, your baby will benefit from breastfeeding then too. No, breastfeeding while you’re sick will not pass the illness to your baby. Breastfeeding while you’re sick will actually pass the antibodies to your baby, potentially protecting them from catching that illness!

Breastfeeding a Sick Baby

We all hate to see our babies sick or feeling bad. And, as you’d expect, most babies want to breastfeed more when they feel unwell. Again, mother nature knows best. As your sick baby suckles at your breast, your body “reads” the components of his saliva and then signals for the release of antibodies, vitamins and anti-inflammatory properties accordingly to help him fight the illness. Considering this, you’ll want to allow your baby to breastfeed more when he’s sick.

Weaning from Breastfeeding

The final stage of breastfeeding is the weaning process. It can be very challenging or very easy and there’s no way to know for sure what weaning will be like for your specific child. Each child takes weaning differently. What is likely, is that if you approach the process with a positive energy, you and your baby will have a more positive experience.

The best piece of advice I can offer, having weaned one child and close to weaning my second, is to begin the process when you truly believe your baby is capable of handling it. How can you tell when your baby is ready to wean? Read my Guide to Weaning and learn how to tell if you and your baby are ready for weaning, reasons NOT to wean and a step-by-step schedule that works most often.

weaning from breastfeeding step by step guide and weaning schedule

When your breastfeeding journey has come to an end, you will probably feel many emotions! Be proud that you survived all of the breastfeeding difficulties in order to nourish your baby to the fullest extent humanly possible! You’ve done an amazing job! Hopefully you found this post in time to prepare for all of the problems that would arise. Make sure to pass on the information and allow other Mamas a chance to get prepared!

Next to read:

All about surviving the first six weeks of breastfeeding a newborn.

How to put together a Breastfeeding Survival Kit


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