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Breastfeeding: Most Common Problems and How to Solve Them

Many first-time moms don’t give much thought to breastfeeding. At face value it seems like there’s not a lot that can go wrong —it’s nature, right? While women have been breastfeeding babies for hundreds of thousands of years, it doesn’t come without its challenges. From reflux to sore nipples to engorgement, there are a host of complications that might interfere with your nursing experience. The good news is, most breastfeeding hurdles can be overcome with the right help and we’re here to share some of the most common breastfeeding problems as well as solutions to help you.


Sore/Cracked/Bleeding Nipples: Yikes, that sounds pretty scary, right? If we had a dollar for every time someone told us “breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt,” we’d be rich. While we do agree that after the first few weeks you should be able to breastfeed pain-free, there is an adjustment period for your nipples as you and baby both figure out correct positioning and latch. Having said that, if your nipples are actually cracked, blistered or bleeding (not just sore), that is most likely a sign that you need some extra help.


The most common culprit of nipple pain is usually a poor latch. Getting help from a lactation consultant to evaluate your situation and help you figure out the best positioning for you and baby will help tremendously. Using a nursing pillow like the Itzy Ritzy Milk Boss Infant Feeding Support Pillow can be a game-changer, especially in those first few weeks when getting the perfect nursing position is so important. We also highly recommend using gel pads or lanolin to help soothe sore nipples. If the cracking is bad enough, you might even consider using a nipple shield while your nipples heal.


If you aren’t sure if the pain you are experiencing warrants some extra help, we love the advice Lindsay from Lactation Link gives: “Use the “30 second” rule. If your pain disappears within 30 seconds after latching, you can safely ignore it. If your pain lasts longer than that, gently insert your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth to break the suction and unlatch baby, then try again. If you’re not able to get a latch that is comfortable for the majority of feeding session, your pain is severe, and/or you notice any damage to the nipple, you should seek help right away.”


Engorgement: This is a big one that rarely gets talked about, but if you’ve ever been engorged you understand what a big issue it can be. When your milk finally comes in about 2-5 days after birth, you will most likely experience engorgement. You’ll know you’re engorged because your breasts will “become larger and feel heavy, warmer and uncomfortable.” Your tell-tale sign, though, is that the area around your nipple will be hard and feel like it’s stretched to capacity, which could affect the latch that baby can get. If your baby isn’t nursing well and you can tell he/she can’t latch on effectively because you are engorged, you can self-express just enough to soften the nipple and help get that proper latch back. You can also use heat on your breasts 10-20 minutes before a feed to help relieve pain and soften things up, then after the feed use ice packs for up to 20 minutes. These are all effective tools in helping you maintain a proper latch so baby can remove as much milk as possible, which is the key to getting through engorgement.


Lazy Nurser/Baby Sleeping at Breast: A baby falling asleep at the breast may almost seem like a good thing, but it’s actually the opposite. You need baby to stay awake and remove milk so they can get a full feeding instead of significantly more small snacks throughout the day/night. For some moms it becomes somewhat of a full-time job keeping their newborns awake for a feed. If baby starts dozing off you can tickle his/her feet, take a burping break, strip them down to nothing but a diaper so they aren’t too warm and cozy and if they really won’t wake up, you can even try running a wet wipe down their back (that one really wakes them up!).


Tongue/Lip Tie: If you seem to be doing everything “right” and you still can’t seem to get a good latch with baby, you might want to get your baby checked for a tongue or lip tie.  Some common symptoms of tongue or lip tie are a poor latch, a clicking sound while nursing, gassiness, reflux, colic, poor weight gain or baby gagging on milk or popping off your breast frequently to gasp for air. This is one breastfeeding issue that often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, so our biggest piece of advice is to follow your gut. If something feels off for you and baby, get a second or third opinion if you need to.


Reflux: Reflux can be an extremely complicated issue and can range in severity. Generally speaking, spitting up is normal for babies — both breastfed and bottle-fed. Babies will spit up when they get too much milk too fast and it most often happens right after they eat. As long as your baby is gaining weight and doesn’t seem uncomfortable, you can consider them a “Happy Spitter.” The problems arise when baby is gagging, choking, experiencing pain while spitting up, or inconsolable or severely fussy while feeding and not gaining weight. If you suspect your baby has reflux you should immediately speak with your pediatrician about your concerns to see if reflex medication is necessary. It is often recommended that reflex babies sit upright for at least 20 minutes after every feed. It’s also helpful to keep baby more upright while feeding. The Itzy Ritzy Milk Boss Infant Feeding Support Pillow is perfect for not only positioning baby upright for feeds, but also for keeping them upright after their feeds.


Our biggest advice for you first-time breastfeeding mamas is this: If something feels off or you are in pain or feeling frustrated and discouraged — GET HELP. There are so many amazing lactation resources available to women now. We especially love as a resource as well as Lactation Link’s amazing online courses that cover the above mentioned problems and more.