Breastfeeding problems

Almost all new breastfeeding mums suffer a breastfeeding problem or two in the first few weeks of feeding. Most breastfeeding problems can be quickly sorted with the right treatment and with the right knowledge of what to do.

Start by taking a look at my Breastfeeding tips page here this will help you to make the whole process easier.

breastfeeding problems


Engorgement. Once you have given birth and between 2 to 7 days after delivery, your milk will ‘ come in’. When this happens your body sends more blood flow to your breast area and this may cause your breast tissue to swell and become engorged.

Your breasts may feel hot, swollen, tender, lumpy or hard to the touch.

This is a breastfeeding problems stage that does not last long and once breastfeeding becomes more natural for you, baby starts feeding well, and your body starts learning what to do then these symptoms should calm down.

Sometimes engorgement does last longer than a few days, the reasons this may happen are:
- Baby has a poor latch and is not draining each breast at each feed
- You are supplementing breastfeeding with bottle feeding
- Baby isn’t feeding for long enough
- You have begun to reduce your breastfeeding

If you think you have engorgement then please read my breastfeeding problems remedies page for engorgement.

breastfeeding problems

Mastitis. Mastitis is the term used when your breasts become inflamed.
It’s often caused by an over supply of milk and the breasts not being drained fully at each feed. Unless treated mastitis can cause more serious breastfeeding problems and infection.
Mastitis can occur at any time but you may be more prone to getting it in the first month of breastfeeding and more so if you are a first time mum.

If you find yourself suffering from at least two of the following breastfeeding problems symptoms then you may have mastitis:
-  redness in the breast
-  feels very hot to the touch
-  is  painful to touch
-  feels  hard
-  may become swollen
-  pea sized lump in breast

If you begin to develop infected mastitis then you may also have some of the following breastfeeding problems symptoms and medical treatment will be needed:
-  flu like symptoms
-  a fever of 38.5 or higher
-  chills
-  feel very tired
-  a headache

If you have had these symptoms for a few hours then I would advise prompt medical treatment. I have saved 2 of my mums from having more serious problems by getting them to a doctor quickly and starting a course of antibiotics that can be taken safely while feeding.

If you think you have mastitis then please read my breastfeeding problems remedies page for mastitis.

Blocked milk ducts. Imagine the inside of your breast as a tree, with lots of branches extending out into the breast from the nipple. Each one of these branches is a tiny tube that caries milk from your breast glands (alveoli) to the nipple.

These ducts can become blocked and with quick action can be cleared easily. If they are left untreated then other problems may occur.

Blocked milk ducts are often caused by a back up of milk in the breast glands that are not getting drained by your baby when he feeds. This wont affect your baby in any way but they may be more fussy to feed on the affected breast as your flow may be less, just until the blockage has cleared.

The signs of blocked milk ducts are as follows:slow milk flow

- pea sized lump in breast
- soreness and redness around lump
- tenderness around lump/ redness

If you think you have a blocked milk duct then please read my breastfeeding problems remedies page for blocked milk ducts.

Cracked, sore, painful nipples. Almost all new breastfeeding mums have some level of nipple pain in the first few weeks. The main reason for this is due to the fact that you and baby are both learning how to feed and latch and may not get it right every single time.

If while latching your baby to your breast, it feels uncomfortable in any way once baby has latched on then its best to take baby off and start again. This will avoid more serious nipple injury.

Nipple pain should not last for very long  and within 2 to 3 weeks your nipples should start getting use to the daily demand of feeding from them.
Your baby won’t be affected if you have sore nipples, but the reason for them may make your baby a little fussy at the affected breast, this is more so if you have cracked bleeding nipples.

If your nipples are cracked, sore or painful then please take a look at my breastfeeding problems remedies page for what you can do to heal them.

Low milk supply Slow milk flow. Many mums for lots of  reasons suffer from a low milk supply and slow milk flow.

If after you have given birth you are able to put your baby to the breast then this is the best time to get things going. If you are not able to do this, it does not mean that you cannot breast feed but it may just take a little while longer to get things moving and feeding to become fully established, so give yourself time if you find yourself struggling.

Many women have trouble in the early days of breastfeeding, even ones who worked with the hospitals lactation advisor after delivery.

Low milk supply and slow milk flow usually come together and there are a few breastfeeding problems reasons why you may be suffering:

You can get some help with increasing your milk supply here

how to latch baby on

The main thing to do if you are suffering from low milk or slow flow is not to panic and worry that your not going to be able to feed your baby. The stress of worrying about this can be the reason your having problems so try and stay calm and enjoy learning to feed your baby and watching your milk increase steadily.

- Baby has a poor latch. If baby has a poor latch then they might not be stimulating your breasts enough to get that milk flowing well enough. When baby latches to your breast it sends signals to your brain to start making milk. If these signals are weak then stimulation of the breast to produce more milk will be poor. Help with latching on can be found here

- Not feeding often enough in the first few days. Even though most of my mums want their babies in a routine as soon as possible its always best in a breast feeding baby and mum team to get baby feeding at least every 3 hours. This can be every 2.5 hours in a smaller baby.

- Swapping sides to soon while feeding. If you are swapping the sides your baby feeds on after only 10 minutes or so then this may be a breastfeeding problems cause of low milk supply. Make sure your baby has  emptied one breast before you switch sides to feed on the other. When you feed like this you will be telling your body that it needs to make more milk as you have emptied the ‘tank’ and more is needed for the next feed. If you swap sides too soon you never get to tell your body that the ‘tank’ is empty and a refuel is needed.

- A low birth weight baby ( under 2.75kg – under 6lbs ) does not have a super strong suck at the breast or take in as much milk and this lowers the stimulation needed to make more milk.

- Exhaustion in mother. If you are getting over a tricky birth or caesarean delivery on top of sleep deprivation in the early days then this can cause breastfeeding problems with your milk flow and amount.

- Eating well. If you are finding it hard to eat well due to the demands on you by baby then this can also lower your milk. You must also drink plenty of fluid to be able to give your body the liquid it needs for you as well as making more milk.

- Stress. A few of my breastfeeding mums who have gone through a stressful period of time while feeding have noticed a dip in the amount of milk they make.

If you are worried about low milk supply or a slow flow then please read my breastfeeding problems remedies page for what to do.

Slow let down. I have had to help several mums over my years of maternity nursing with a slow let down reflex.


When you go to feed your baby, your body and your brain should work together. When your baby begins to feed this action stimulates nerves in your nipple. These nerves then tell your brain to release a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that once released causes the tiny muscle cells around your milk glands to squeeze milk out of these glands and into the milk ducts. This then flows to the end of your nipple and baby feeds. This action between your brain and your body is know as the let down reflex.mothers letdown reflex

Some of my mums have had a great let down reflex and there is milk almost pouring out just before feeding gets started but there are also the mums who let down takes a good few minutes to get going and for milk to begin flowing.

If you have a slow let down reflex you may have the following breastfeeding problems:
- your breasts will not feel full and heavy
- your baby may fuss and bob on and off at the breast for a good few minutes before your milk begins to flow well
- you may not feel breast tingling when you begin to feed your baby
- your oxytocin levels may be lower than normal
- you may be stressed or tense

If you are worried that your let down is slow then there are a few simple easy things that can be done to help improve your let down reflex and prime your breasts ready for feeding.

Please take a look at my breastfeeding problems remedies page to help you and your baby with successful feeding.

Fast milk flow Too much milk. If you are one of the very few mums that joke that they could supply the whole of the maternity ward with milk then you would think this wouldn’t be a problem! In fact this can cause as many problems as the mum who is struggling to increase her milk flow for her baby.

If you have too much milk you will often find that it comes hand in hand with a very fast let down and flow.

The average breast has about 100,000 to 300,000 milk producing glands (alveoli) per breast. Most mums with too much milk are on the higher end of this average.

The medical term used for too much milk is called hyper lactation.

Usually in the first few weeks of breastfeeding the mums body learn to produce and then regulate the correct amount of milk needed to feed baby. Sometimes though, this over production continues after the milk supply is flowing well.

Some mums do accidentally make their bodies produce to much milk by pumping too often and giving their bodies the wrong signals. As we know, breastfeeding mainly works on a supply and demand basis so if you pump to much you will make your body produce more milk than it needs.

If you have hyper lactation you may find that you have some of the following symptoms:
- your breasts feel very full and engorged all the time
- you spray milk before a feed or breast pads become very wet
- leaking from the other breast while feeding
- pain in the breast during let down
- your milk may come out fast and with force

Your may notice some of the following symptoms in your baby as well:

- baby may gag or choke when feeding in the first few minutes
- baby may pull away from the breast while trying to latch on
- baby may seem almost scared to come close to the breast
- there may be a very high or very low weight gain
- baby may become full up on fore milk and unable to nurse long enough to get to the richer hind milk needed for good weight gain
- very wet leaking nappies
- baby may pass green frothy stools due to alot of lactose rich milk (fore milk) and not enough fatty milk (hind milk)
- excessive gas in babies stomach, with colic like symptoms
- baby may vomit more at each feed due to over feeding and the speed at which the milk goes into the tummy.

If you are struggling with hyper lactation then please read my breastfeeding problems remedies page on what to do to help you and your baby.

Inverted nipples. There is no reason why you cannot breastfeed your baby if you have inverted or flat nipples. Inverted nipples do not stand up and may even be indented when stimulated.

Many women worry that this will stop them feeding their baby. It shouldn’t stop you from feeding your baby but it may make latching on in the early weeks trickier than normal as baby will find it harder to find your nipple to latch on to but there are a few things you can do before you feed your baby to help ‘draw out’ your nipples ready for feeding and help your baby.

Many women with inverted nipples find that they begin to protrude more while pregnant.
Sometimes inverted nipples can cause problems with engorgement due to poor milk flow.

If you are worried about how to feed your baby with inverted nipples then please click on my breastfeeding problems remedies page for advice.

Thrush. Thrush is a harmless yeast infection that lives in baby’s mouth and can affect your nipples during breastfeeding. Normal levels of yeast do not pose a threat but if these levels rise then a yeast infection can occur.
Your baby may come into contact with this yeast during birth. If they do and no symptoms occur then there is no need to worry.

If you or your baby need to be given antibiotics after the birth then these may kill off any good bacteria that keep thrush levels normal and these levels may rise and need to be  treated.

There are a few simple things to look out for that can easily tell you if you or your baby have thrush.

Thrush symptoms in you are:
- white spots on or around nipple that don’t rub off easily
- pink, itchy nipples that feel sore
- shooting pains in breast before or after feeding
- vaginal yeast infection

Thrush symptoms in baby are:

- white spots in mouth
- thick white coating on tongue and inside of cheeks that is hard to rub off
- may have a raised rash in nappy area that is sore to the touch. This rash may also look worse in the folds of skin in the nappy area.
- they may get upset when feeding due to their mouth feeling sore.

If you think that you have thrush then please read my breastfeeding problems remedies page for thrush treatments.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my breastfeeding problems page and I hope it has helped you and your baby.

If  you are at all worried about your baby or  breastfeeding then please seek medical advice from your midwife, doctor or a breastfeeding lactation consultant.
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