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Common Breastfeeding Difficulties & Its Solutions

By Devika

Parenting is definitely not an easy task. Along with managing a newborn, there are plenty of other aspects that a new mother has to learn during the journey of parenthood. One of the most important tasks of motherhood is being able to successfully breastfeed the baby. Breastfeeding comes along with plenty of ups and downs. For some, it might appear an easy task but for quite a few there are several issues that might occur. Read on to know some of the most common breastfeeding difficulties and how they should be taken care of.

Common Breastfeeding Difficulties And How To Deal With Them

If you are a first-time mother, you will face few uncertainties about the dos and don'ts of the right technique and manner of breastfeeding. Below are some of the most commonly occurring breastfeeding issues. Keeping yourself well informed about the problems that breastfeeding can bring about is important. Also, remember that you are neither alone in the breastfeeding journey nor in the difficulties that come along with it.

breastfeeding problems pain
  • Plugged Milk Ducts
  • Fullness Of Breasts
  • Breast Hyperemia
  • Inflammation Of Breasts
  • Formation Of Breast Abscess
  • Fissured Nipples
  • Fungal Infection (Thrush)
  • Insufficient Production Of Breast Milk
  • Inverted Nipples
  • Inputs from:

Plugged Milk Ducts

Failure to remove milk frequently from the breast could result in a blocked duct. A localized, tender lump in one of the breasts indicates a blocked or plugged duct. There would be redness in the skin over the lump. This mostly happens due to infrequent breastfeeding sessions. Tight clothing could also cause blocked or plugged ducts. Thickened milk in a particular part of the breast also causes blocked ducts.

It is important to treat the underlying cause to get rid of the issue of blocked ducts. Also, remove milk from the affected breast often. This can be done by indulging in frequent breastfeeding sessions. Gently massage over the lump while feeding to ease the discomfort. You can apply warm compress on the affected region.

Fullness Of Breasts

Post delivery when breast milk begins to come in, the occurrence of full breasts is common. This usually begins 3 to 5 days after delivery. The breasts start to feel hot, hard and heavy. Breasts might also turn lumpy at times. The milk flow is however normal and at times the breast might begin to leak milk as well. This is considered normal fullness.

To address this issue ensure that the baby is latched on frequently. The milk can be removed and your breasts lightened only if you indulge in breastfeeding often. The fullness would decrease after a feed. As milk production adjusts according to the baby's needs, your breasts would become more comfortable.

Breast Hyperemia

During breast hyperemia, the breasts are extremely painful. The skin around the swelling turns shiny and red and the milk flow is affected when the breasts are engorged. The main reason why breasts get engorged is because milk is not completely drained during the initial days post delivery. The increased blood flow to the breasts further creates congestion. The mother might also have a fever that possibly would subside in 24 hours. The nipples appear flat and tight. The tight and stretched nipples make it difficult for the baby to latch and suck milk.

To solve the issue and provide relief to your breasts, ensure that you remove milk often. Breastfeed the baby frequently. If the baby is unable to latch, use a breast pump to express the milk until the breasts turn soft. Warm compresses can give you some relief. Cold compresses can be applied after feeding.

Inflammation Of Breasts

A hard swelling in the breast along with redness and severe pain indicates mastitis. Unlike in engorgement, in mastitis, only a part of one breast is affected. It also causes fever. It usually happens within the first 3 weeks of delivery but can also occur later at some point while breastfeeding.

The primary cause of mastitis or inflammation of breasts is long gaps between each feeding session. Mastitis is caused by milk left off in the breast. Sometimes it also happens when a woman has infected a nipple fissure. This is then referred to as infective mastitis.

To prevent the occurrence of mastitis, do not leave long gaps between feeds. Apply warm compresses. Analgesics can be taken in extreme situations, only after consulting a doctor.

Formation Of Breast Abscess

If you find a swelling kind of lump in the breast, it could be breast abscess. The swollen region would feel like an area that is filled with fluid-like substance. The skin around the affected area could be discoloured. Breast abscess occurs when mastitis has not been managed properly.

You would need to get the abscess drained. Seek medical help to drain the abscess - usually done using a catheter or by needle aspiration and one might have to take antibiotics in some cases. You can continue feeding on the affected breast.

Fissured Nipples

Fissured nipples are indicated by severe nipple pain when the baby sucks the milk. There could be a fissure visible near the nipple. Poor attachment/latching by the baby results in sore nipples. It could happen when the baby pulls the nipple in and out when suckling.

Ensure that the baby is well attached during the feeding session. Most of the time, the sore nipples heal on their own.

Fungal Infection (Thrush)

Infections can occur in the mother as well as in the baby. In the mother, the signs of a fungal infection involve sore nipples with sharp pain. There could be a rash on the areola along with itching. While in the baby, white spots occur inside the cheeks or over the tongue. These cannot be removed easily. The baby might appear distressed when trying to feed. The nappy area might have rashes.

Thrush is caused by an infection with the fungus Candida albicans. If the mother has the symptoms, even the baby would need treatment.

Insufficient Production Of Breast Milk

Sometimes a mother might feel that she does not have enough milk. It is not necessary that the baby has a low intake of breast milk. It could just be the mother's perception. Most of the time, a low milk intake is the result of incorrect breastfeeding position or technique. It can be identified by poor weight gain and low urine output.

Low breast milk intake could be due to infrequent feeds, short feeds, giving the baby other foods or using bottles/pacifiers too often.

Talk to your child's doctor to check if the milk intake is accurate. The mother should try various breastfeeding positions and techniques. Also, check if the baby is ill. If it's psychological (that the milk intake is low), then counselling might be required for the mother.

Inverted Nipples

At times a baby might find difficulty in latching. This usually happens when the nipples are large, long or flat. Flat nipples are protractile. Baby can suck from a protractile nipple. An inverted nipple can be non-protractile, where it cannot be stretched when pulled out. This makes it difficult for the baby to latch.

To ensure that the baby tries his or her best to latch, the mother should be made to feed her baby as soon as possible post delivery. Try out different positions and check the position where baby comfortably feeds. Skin-to-skin contact with the baby near the breast is essential. Try expressing milk directly from the breasts into the baby's mouth. Avoid feeding bottles. The situation would improve as the baby grows.

Breastfeeding is a beautiful journey and only requires a bit of patience and understanding your baby's feeding requirements so that the breastfeeding activity becomes a good bonding time between the mother and the child.

Inputs from:

Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2009. SESSION 7, Management of breast conditions and other breastfeeding difficulties.

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