Breastfeeding problems and how to solve them

This article focuses on the topic of breastfeeding, a practice that has always existed, and provides solutions to common problems.
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Maternal breastfeeding is a common practice that has always existed, however, it is not free from complications. It can be a difficult and uncomfortable task initially for some mothers, therefore, we will try to provide solutions for the most common problems that can arise during maternal breastfeeding.

  1. The main issue: latching problems
  2. Cracked nipples
  3. Mastitis
  4. Not enough milk
  5. What happens if I have inverted nipples?

Breast milk is the best source of food for the baby during the first few months of life. It covers the nutritional requirements for the physical development and growth of your baby, as well as helping to create an emotional bond between the mother and child. Its composition changes according to the needs of the child. Indeed, the colostrum, the first milk, is yellow as it contains lots of proteins and immunoglobulins which provide the baby with a large quality of calories and defensive measures. In fact, the composition of the milk changes during a single breastfeed. At the start, the milk contains more water and sugar to quench the baby’s thirst. Then, the level of fat gradually increases to supply more calories to satiate the child. For precisely this reason, as professionals, when we look after pregnant women and newborn babies, we advise mothers to start breastfeeding in the first few hours of the baby’s life. 

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The main issue: latching problems

This is probably the main disadvantage of breastfeeding. If the baby does not latch on properly to the mother’s breast, there may be problems with milk suction. This can lead to other problems such as the feared sore or cracked nipples, poor milk flow, mastitis, etc.

What is the solution? Practising the proper latch technique. The baby’s body must be in contact with the mother. With the baby’s mouth open, all or most of the areola should be inserted into the baby’s mouth. If you are doing it correctly, the baby’s chin should touch your breast, the mouth should be wide open, the lower lip should be pointing upwards, and the cheeks should puff out and flatten when the baby is suckling. 

Cracked nipples

If the baby is not in the correct position, it is likely that suction is not occurring properly and breastfeeding may be painful. The first step is to put the baby in the correct position and breastfeeding will gradually start to feel more comfortable. However, you can also use some simple remedies to heal cracked nipples. You can apply special creams to the breast which are totally compatible with breastfeeding and do not require cleaning of the nipple feeding your baby. Another option is olive oil, which has powerful moisturising properties. When you finish breastfeeding, spread the last drop of milk around the nipple. This will help to heal any cracks. 

Mastitis

Although we often talk about mastitis and milk accumulation interchangeably, in fact, the most common issue during breastfeeding is the formation of small, hard and painful nodules. These are nothing more than accumulations of milk in some part of the breast which, although very painful, can be easily cured. If you are experiencing this problem, it is probably because one of the breastfeeding sessions was incomplete. Therefore, we always recommend that you complete breastfeeds. If the baby is satisfied and does not want any more milk, the best thing to do is to extract the rest of the milk manually. You can use a breast pump and save the milk for a later time. The best way to get rid of these nodules is to massage the hardened parts of the breast with the hand to provide warmth. Alternatively, you can use a cloth soaked in warm water or take a warm shower. This will help the milk to gradually “melt” and come out through the nipple. You should do this whenever you notice any hard lumps or if your breasts are painful to the touch. However, if the lumps do not go away, there is a risk of infection, and you should see a doctor for antibiotic treatment. 

Not enough milk

As we have already mentioned, if the baby is in the wrong position, milk suction will probably be ineffective. This can lead insufficient stimulus and, consequently, reduced milk production. If this happens, first check the position and suction of the baby. Then, try to stay well-hydrated by drinking liquids like water, milk, juices, etc. Also, aim for the breastfeeding sessions to be as complete as possible and feed your baby whenever they demand it. These measures will help to maintain a good stimulus and thereby good breast milk production.

What happens if I have inverted nipples?

This type of nipple remains flat or retracts when stimulated. In these cases we do not need to carry out artificial feeding, however, it is true that it can be more difficult for your baby to latch on properly to your breast.

If you have flat or inverted nipples, you will need some extra help to start breastfeeding. However, the first step is always to try to correct the position of your baby. You can use supple cups initially and, when you start to breastfeed properly, remove them and allow your child to suckle directly from the nipple.

Article by Dr. Isabel Giménez Blasco

Gynaecologist and obstetrician

Specialist in Gynaecology, Obstetrics and Human Reproduction. Master's degree in Reproduction, and Refresher Course in Gynaecology. She works in the Assisted Reproduction Unit and Obstetrics and Gynaecology Unit at the Hospital Quironsalud de Zaragoza.

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2018-03-13