Troubleshooting Common Breastfeeding Difficulties

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Get tips for how to handle low weight gain, cluster feeding, pumping, colic, gut issues, hormones, low supply, and clogged ducts when breastfeeding.

by Nicole Griffin

*Please read the disclaimer at the bottom

Breastfeeding comes very easily for some, but for others, there can be a lot of challenges. One thing’s for sure, most women have some sort of issue and it can be a very stressful time for a new mom who is unsure of what exactly to do. 

My breastfeeding journey was rocky to say the least, but after I got the proper support, I continued on to breastfeed for 2 years! Below are some common issues and what I did to work through them. 

Baby is not gaining weight quickly enough

My son lost weight in the hospital, which is pretty common, but there was not an available lactation consultant to help me troubleshoot why that was happening. So, in order for us to leave, they wanted to start my son on formula before we left.

This can immediately start you off on the wrong foot. Breastfeeding is about supply and demand. There is nothing wrong with formula, but if your goal is to exclusively breastfeed, starting formula right away without working with a professional lactation consultant can make things trickier for you. 

A good tip is to find a lactation consultant before giving birth and make sure they will be available to help you immediately if the hospital does not provide lactation support. 

Not getting help right away 

Like I said above, if your baby is not gaining weight efficiently, look for a certified lactation consultant immediately and meet as often as needed with them and your pediatrician to make sure your baby is gaining weight.

As long as they are following their growth curve and don’t have signs that they aren’t getting enough milk, they should be getting properly nourished. My lactation consultant was even able to do weighted feeds to make sure my son was getting enough milk.

They are able to check your baby’s latch, your nursing positions, and approximately how much milk the baby is getting. If your baby seems to be getting plenty of milk, but is not gaining weight, you may want to check for gut issues, which I will mention later. 

Cluster feeding

Cluster feeding is when your baby wants to nurse every hour or multiple times an hour and it seems like you never get a break. This can be mentally and physically challenging but won’t last forever.

Hang on Mama and get support! It is common in the beginning and can be a sign that the baby is trying to build up your supply. Again, it’s about supply and demand. 

Sometimes this can signal something deeper like a tongue or lip tie. So if your baby is not gaining weight and breastfeeding is extremely painful, make sure to have a Dr. that is specialized in tongue and lip ties evaluate your baby.

We got our son evaluated at an ENT. He had a mild tongue tie, but it was not severe enough that they wanted to do anything about it. 

>>>Read: Lip-Tie and Tongue-Tie

Pumping breastmilk

If you are going back to work or if someone else will be caring for your baby, you will need to pump if you want to continue to breastfeed.

You can normally get a pump free through insurance. It may not fully cover the one you want, but it should cover part of it. If you will be mainly pumping, you will want to invest in a good pump. 

Pumping can be one of those things that you also need to do some trial and error. If you are not getting a sufficient amount of milk, you will want to make sure you have the right size breast shields. That is the part of the pump that goes over your breast.

If you do not have the right size for yourself, you will not be able to get as much milk out and it could also be painful to pump. Make sure you read the manual and watch some videos on how to use your pump correctly. That can make all the difference. 

It is also helpful to pump in a relaxing environment and to not be in a state of stress. Stress can prevent letdowns. Letdowns are when your breasts release milk. It can be helpful to watch videos of your baby or look at pictures of them to help you relax and remind you of why you are doing what you are doing. 

>>>Read: 5 Things to Know About Exclusively Pumping

Baby has a weak latch

If your baby was born early, this could affect their ability to latch.

Latch gets stronger over time, but they may need some additional support. You could pump and give a bottle, or another option is to temporarily use a nipple shield.

A nipple shield is something you place over the breast that extends the nipple so that the baby is able to latch easier. This can also be helpful for flat or inverted nipples. You will hear of people who think that this creates confusion in a baby, like a pacifier, but I never had any issues and was able to stop using it after my son’s latch became stronger. 

Colic/gut issues

My son had colic and gut issues. It was a super challenging time because he would cry ALL THE TIME.

A lot of times, new moms will be recommended to cut tons of different foods from their diets or switch to a sensitive formula to help. I cut out about 12 different foods from my diet and none of it helped much and I wasn’t eating enough because I was so restricted and stressed, so my supply went down. 

I noticed by using a food journal that dairy was an issue for my son. It was a bigger issue because the formula they started him off at the hospital was a dairy formula.

While on the dairy formula, he developed eczema, which was so challenging. When I got him off the dairy formula and was able to exclusively breastfeed, the eczema went away for the most part.  

I felt defeated and hopeless as a new mom and had no tools in my tool belt yet to help his gut heal until I discovered baby probiotics. A lot of times if the mother struggles with gut issues or if the baby did not acquire enough good bacteria through the birth canal or the mother had a c-section, the baby can develop colic or digestive issues. 

Through research, I discovered baby probiotics. I really liked Smidge Infant Probiotic, but there are lots of great brands out there. When starting probiotics, you definitely want to work with your child’s pediatrician and make sure to follow the proper dosing. Too much too fast can cause discomfort.  

>>>Read: Helpful Tips to Survive the Colicky Newborn

Hormonal challenges 

Breastfeeding can cause some interesting emotional and physical challenges. For some women, it’s night sweats, hair loss, hot flashes, anxiety, etc. This can be caused from lower levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body while breastfeeding. It can feel like menopausal symptoms.

I experienced most of these symptoms and each time that I dropped a nursing session as my son got older, I had hot flashes and pretty bad anxiety. 

Looking back, I should have been supporting my adrenals and hormones more efficiently. You can do this by prioritizing sleep as much as you can, light exercise, taking your pre or postnatal vitamins and minerals and getting plenty of nutrient-dense food.

These symptoms can be very challenging and just knowing you are not alone can help as well. If you continue to struggle with symptoms, make sure you talk to your OBGYN.

Engorgement/clogged ducts 

Engorgement is more common earlier on, but can hit anytime if your baby isn’t removing milk often enough or if you aren’t pumping enough. It can also happen when your baby starts sleeping through the night or if you skip feedings.

Engorgement can be very painful and your breasts may be hard and painful. 

The best thing to do is to nurse your baby from the engorged breast. If you are unable to do that, you can try manually expressing milk or pumping. You will want to take care of engorgement quickly because it can lead to clogged milk ducts. If you get a clog, the best thing you can do is to nurse your baby. Sunflower lecithin may help to prevent clogs.

Low supply

If you are struggling with low supply, a number of different things could help. Make sure you are drinking enough (and not just water, you want to be getting electrolytes in too), eating enough nutrient-dense food and healthy fats, working on supply and demand, and sometimes herbal supplements for breastfeeding can help too. You also want to work on stress reduction because stress could lower supply.

>>>Read: Breastfeeding Difficulties: Milk Supply Limit

Conclusion

Breastfeeding can have some challenges, but it is completely possible to overcome those challenges and have a successful journey with your baby. Research, get support, and celebrate small wins! 

My favorite breastfeeding resources

*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. I am not a doctor and any and all information in this article should be discussed with your doctor or your child’s pediatrician before implementation. 

Nicole Griffin, her husband, and her son

Bio

Nicole Griffin lives in West Virginia with her 3 year old son and husband. After having her son, she became a stay at home Mom and started the blog, The Mama Manuals, hoping to build community and help other Moms not feel alone in motherhood. She loves exploring new places, gardening, homemaking, being involved in her church, and cooking healthy meals from scratch. 

Website: www.themamamanuals.com 

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