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Common breast feeding problems

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Early common breast feeding problems

Breast feeding is natural so it should be easy, right? Not exactly. While some mums will breeze through the process, it is very common for mums to face some breast feeding challenges along the way. Just know, you are not alone and there are usually solutions.

Some of the obstacles that might get in the way of easy breast feeding include sore and cracked nipples, too much milk production or thrush. Here we discuss common breast feeding issues and possible ways you can overcome them. If you’re experiencing any of these, get in touch with your healthcare professional for further help.

Sore or cracked nipples

This is probably the most common issue mums experience when nursing their bubs. You’ll be able to notice trauma to the nipples if your nipples look distorted after feeds. Sore or cracked nipples are usually prevented by correct positioning and attachment of bub during feeds. To learn how this is done, get in touch with a lactation consultant from the Lactation Consultants of Australia and New Zealand (LCNAZ) website. They are likely to advise putting your little one to the breast as soon as they wake as they will latch on better at this time.

To heal sore and broken nipples, avoid using soaps and shower gels that strip the body of its natural oils. You could also try applying hind-milk (the milk from the end of the feed) after feeds and exposure to the air. If your pain is very severe, you may be advised to express for 24-48 hours and feed from a bottle to give your nipples a rest. Don’t fret – this may be just what you need so you can keep going with it.

Concerns with low supply

Before becoming too concerned that you may not be producing enough milk, give yourself a good assessment of what’s causing this concern. If your bub is wetting 6-8 nappies every 24 hours and is gaining weight, this is positive. Most health practitioners will advise that approximately a gain of 150-200 grams per week is healthy, however, weight gain is only one of the variables used to assess infant health.

You’ll also notice your baby’s behaviour. If they’ve been fed enough they will be settled and sleepy after a feed. If not, it’s likely they’ll be whingey and cry inconsolably. If this is the case, enlist a midwife or lactation consultant to observe you to see if your breasts are fully drained after a feed, if baby is positioned correctly and latching on well and if they can hear baby swallowing.

Management of low milk supply may include compressing the breast when feeding to increase effective drainage, rest and good nutrition for mum or medication prescribed by your GP.

Concerns with over-supply

On the other hand, you may have concern that your breasts are producing too much milk, usually indicated by breast engorgement or a change in your baby’s behaviour.

You may be over-stimulating due to over-zealous expressing, so it might be a good idea to reduce expressing. Also try hand-expressing to soften the areola so that baby can attach comfortably. Try feeding from one side only per feed or ‘posture feed’ if milk delivery is too fast. This is when you lie backwards and position baby ‘on top’ of the breast to ‘suck uphill’ which slows the milk delivery speed. Resume sitting towards the end of the feed to ensure your breast is drained as much as possible. Make sure there are frequent stops throughout the feed to ease the wind build-up and give bub a nappy free time to help elimination of wind.

Apply cold packs after feeds to reduce refilling of breasts (use new, dry nappies with a cup of water in each and freeze; when frozen, open up and cup around breast). If there is persistent over-supply, see a lactation consultant or your GP for ongoing management.

Slow ‘let-down’

The let-down reflex makes the milk in your breasts available to your baby. Cells around the alveoli contract and squeeze out the milk, pushing it down the ducts towards the nipple. Oxytocin also makes the milk ducts widen, making it easier for the milk to flow down them. The let-down may happen if you see or hear your baby or even just think about him. The let-down can also be triggered by touching your breast and nipple area with your fingers or by using a breast pump.

Your let-down may not work or be temporarily delayed if you are very anxious, extremely tired, upset, embarrassed or in pain. It’s important that you know this is only a temporary situation. To overcome it, check your baby’s attachment and positioning, apply heat and massage your breasts and nipples, switch feed and try feeding in bed or in the bath to feel more relaxed. Breast feeding is a powerful process, but with support and encouragement, mums cope with many different stresses and still breastfeed successfully.

Persistent painful latch

Sometimes mums will experience persistent pain when bub latches on. If positioning and attachment have been checked, this pain can sometimes indicate a circulation issue, commonly called nipple vasospasm. This needs medical advice and treatments vary from applying heat before and after a feed, taking magnesium and fish oil supplementation for the breast feeding mum, plus occasionally, medication may be prescribed by your doctor.


The feeling of thrush is often described as ‘burning needles through the nipples and breasts’. Keep your breasts in a cool, dry environment as much as possible, airing the nipples regularly. Taking acidophilus bifidus supplements can help prevent thrush, and make sure you wear cotton bras. If you do have it already, change breast pads regularly and boil baby’s dummies and bottle teats to eradicate the ‘bug’ as sterilisation methods don’t always do the job, unfortunately. See your GP for systemic treatment if required.

Previous inability to breast feed

Just because you didn’t have success with breast feeding your first bub, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do so with your next one. Each baby is different and will offer a different breast feeding experience. Just remember it’s a team effort! Start meeting with a lactation consultant while you’re pregnant at your delivering hospital to get all the support you need as soon as you deliver. Once you’re home with your beautiful little one, you can seek out support by joining Australian or New Zealand Breast feeding Support Groups.

Here at Karimums, we have a dedicated team of mums and professionals waiting to help you with any of your concerns. Simply contact our Careline.

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