Breastfeeding Problem-solving Guide

What To Do When Nature’s Perfect Feeding System Isn’t Going Perfectly.

If you’re finding it hard to breastfeed, you’re in good company. See if you can troubleshoot with this list of common problems. For in-person help, the Lytle Center at our First Hill campus offers everything from drop-in group support to a personal appointment with a lactation specialist.

Sore Nipples

Improper positioning or an incorrect latch can cause nipple pain. See our breastfeeding techniques page for advice. If your nipples get to the point of cracking and bleeding, it’s painful to nurse. Try expressing a few drops of milk onto them and letting them air dry, using plenty of lanolin nipple cream. Or try a silicone nipple shield while they heal (ask your provider for advice on shields). Your doctor or midwife can also prescribe a special compound cream that will heal your nipples and is safe for your baby, too.

Milk Supply

Many moms worry that they’re not producing enough milk, but in reality few actually have this problem. See our feeding frequency page for tips on how to tell if your baby is getting enough. If your baby seems to be nursing more often than usual, she may be starting a growth spurt. Keep nursing, and remember that the more you do, the more milk your body will make. And definitely drink plenty of water! Call your provider or a lactation specialist if you think you still have a low supply.

Clogged Milk Ducts

Sometimes a milk duct can become backed up, which is usually feels like a small, hard, sore lump in your breast. It may look reddish and feel hot and swollen, and may feel better after nursing. Your best treatment is to nurse frequently. You might want to start feedings on the affected breast, when your baby’s sucking is strongest. Warm or cold compresses, massage, and varying your positioning can also help. Some moms swear by pointing the baby’s chin at the affected area and having them latch on at that spot. If you’re feeling tired, achy and feverish, your plugged duct may have become infected, which is known as mastitis. You can still nurse your baby, but you’ll want to call your provider for antibiotics.

Going Back to Work

Hopefully, your workplace is one where you can take a couple of 20-minute breaks during the day to pump. A high-quality electric pump can help get it done quickly and efficiently. If your job or workplace doesn’t allow it, you might be able to continue nursing when you’re home, and supplement with formula when you’re at work. Any amount of breastfeeding is better than none at all.

Nursing While Sick

If you have a cold or flu, it’s still safe to nurse your baby. Your body will be producing immunities to fight the illness, which will come through your milk and can help protect your baby from getting sick, or at least make for a milder case. Be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife before taking any medications, including over-the-counter ones, to see if they’re safe while breastfeeding.

Nursing Strike

Sometimes babies go through what’s called a nursing strike, where they resist nursing for a time (usually a few days). This is their way of telling you something’s wrong, and it can be tricky to figure out the problem. Common causes of nursing strikes include:

  • Mouth pain from teething, a sore throat, or thrush (a yeast infection of the mouth)
  • A stuffed-up nose or ear infection
  • Slow milk letdown or decreased supply
  • A change in your skin’s smell, due to a new soap or toiletry
  • A change in the taste of your milk, due to vitamins, medications, or hormonal changes, such as another pregnancy or the return of your menstrual cycle

Talk to your baby’s doctor for advice and to rule out any medical condition. Here are a few tips to encourage nursing during a strike:

  • Nurse her when she’s sleepy and less likely to resist.
  • Pump to keep up your milk supply, and try a different way of giving her the milk — use a spoon, eyedropper, feeding syringe, bottle or sippy cup.
  • Try a different nursing position, and add plenty of skin-to-skin contact.
  • Older babies may be more easily distracted by the world around them; try nursing in a quiet, dimly lit room.
  • Keep track of how many diapers she’s wetting and definitely call her doctor if you’re worried she’s not drinking enough.