Barriers to breastfeeding and how to overcome them

Soothing soreness, addressing milk supply and getting help are keys to success

Young mom nurses her newborn baby while in the child's nursery.

If you’re struggling to breastfeed your new baby, don’t feel discouraged. Many people call breastfeeding one of the most challenging things they have ever done.

It takes time and patience to breastfeed, especially as you go through the new parent adjustment period. But it will pay off for you and your baby if you persist.

Here are some strategies to handle common breastfeeding issues.

Soothing sore nipples

Breastfeeding should feel comfortable once you and your baby have found a good latch, which helps ease nipple pain and discomfort. Follow your baby’s lead for feeding and latching.

If your baby sucks only on the nipple instead of more of the breast, gently break the suction by placing a clean finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth. Then try again to get your baby to latch on correctly.

Change positions every time you breastfeed to find one that works for you and your baby.

Breast milk has natural healing properties in it, so let your nipples air dry after feeding. This will help eliminate sore, cracked nipples. There is no need to express milk and rub it on your nipples after breastfeeding as your baby’s mouth was filled with breast milk.

Use purified lanolin cream or ointment specifically made for breastfeeding on your nipples. Wear bras and clothes that are loose-fitting, change nursing pads frequently to prevent trapped moisture and avoid using soap on your nipples. Water is all you need to keep your nipples and breasts clean.

Worrying about milk supply

Most people make plenty of milk, but many still worry that their baby isn’t getting enough. The best way to measure that is by checking your baby’s weight and growth.

Your doctor will weigh your baby at their checkups and will let you know if your baby isn’t gaining enough weight. If you want daily reassurance, purchase a home scale for your baby.

Other milk supply tips:

  • Nursing longer and more often will help build up your supply.
  • Breastfeed often and let your baby decide when feeding is done.
  • Offer your baby both breasts every feeding.
  • Let your baby stay at the first breast until they are no longer sucking and swallowing. Then offer them the second breast.

Keep track of your baby’s breastfeeding habits. From 6 weeks to 2 months old, your baby should be getting better at breastfeeding and may not nurse as long so your breasts may not feel as full. That is normal.

During growth spurts, your baby may nurse longer and more often. These spurts usually occur around 2 to 3 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months, but they can happen at any time.

Try to avoid supplementing your breast milk with formula or cereal, especially in the first six months. This could decrease your baby’s interest in breastfeeding, which would cause your milk supply to decline.

If you must supplement feedings, talk to your doctor or a lactation consultant first. Together, you’ll create a plan to make sure your baby gets the nutrition they need.

Controlling milk oversupply

If you feel your breasts have more milk than your baby takes, try these ideas:

  • Feed your baby before they are overly hungry and burp them often.
  • Breastfeed on one side for each feeding.
  • Offer the same breast for at least two hours until the next full feeding, gradually increasing the length of time per feeding.
  • If the other breast is too full before you are ready to switch to it, hand express until pressure reduces. A cold compress or washcloth can reduce discomfort too.

Reducing engorgement

Your breasts become larger, heavier and often tender when you are breastfeeding. When your breasts feel very hard and become painful, this is called engorgement, which is caused by milk buildup.

Engorgement can cause breast swelling, tenderness, warmth, redness, throbbing, nipple flattening and even a low-grade fever. It can also lead to plugged ducts or breast infections, so take these steps to avoid it:

  • Wear a well-fitting bra and make sure it is not too tight.
  • Breastfeed frequently, especially in the first five days after giving birth. This is when engorgement is most likely to occur.
  • Allow your baby to feed for as long as they like and make sure they have a good latch.
  • Breastfeed often on the affected side to help remove the excess milk.
  • Massage the breast and use cold compresses between feedings to ease any discomfort.
  • Get enough rest, proper nutrition and fluids.

Other breastfeeding challenges

Other possible issues include:

  • Plugged ducts
  • Breast infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Nipple irregularities such as inverted, flat or very large nipples that require adaptation for easier breastfeeding

Some babies go on a nursing strike, where they will breastfeed well for several months and then suddenly refuse the breast. That doesn’t mean your baby is ready to wean. Something may be wrong, and your baby is trying to alert you. Talk to your doctor if your baby goes on a nursing strike.

Reaching out for help

Don’t wait until discouragement sets in. Get help from a lactation consultant early. A lactation consultant can help you find the right solutions for your needs and work with you later if you encounter other challenges.

Talk to a lactation consultant or your doctor immediately if:

  • Your baby isn’t latching properly.
  • Your nipples are so sore you are delaying breastfeeding or crying while breastfeeding.
  • You are thinking about using breast aid products such as hydrogel pads for nipple soreness or a nipple shield to cover the nipple while breastfeeding. Some of these products are not recommended in certain situations.
  • Talk to your prenatal care provider to connect with a lactation consultant or find breastfeeding classes near you.

To speak to a lactation consultant or postpartum nurse, call our lactation support hotline in your area:

  • Sioux Falls: (605) 328-7120
  • Fargo: (701) 417-3838
  • Bismarck: (701) 323-2547
  • Bemidji: (218) 333-5755

Medically reviewed by Lois Sommers, RN, IBCLC.

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Posted In Children's, Health Information, Women's