6 Common Breastfeeding Problems and How to Overcome Them

Here's what to do if you're having a tough time nursing.

Woman Breastfeeding Newborn Baby Tanya Little/Shutterstock

Whether you're planning to, trying to or nursing your baby as you read this, we can all agree on one thing: Breastfeeding exclusively for six months—as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)—is invaluable for the health of you and your baby.

According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stats, 74 percent of new moms agree and start out breastfeeding their babies. But, by the six-month mark, only 14 percent are still nursing exclusively.

What's going on? According to a new study, there's a mismatch between a new mom's expectations and the realities of day-to-day life. When a mom's weariness, discomfort and anxiety increase, her happiness—as well as that of her family—supersedes the goal of exclusive breastfeeding. "Women introduce formula or stop breastfeeding in an attempt to improve the situation, and this can lead to feelings of failure and guilt," says Pat Hoddinott, Ph.D., lead author of the study and chairwoman of primary care at the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Health at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

Here's an important point to remember: Any amount of breastfeeding confers vital health benefits to your baby. And, while experts strongly encourage exclusive breastfeeding for six months, at the same time, new moms shouldn't be stressed out in order to meet this goal—nor should they be guilt-ridden if they decide to supplement with formula or stop nursing.

To that end, we present you with the most common breastfeeding scenarios with suggestions on how to make nursing work for you.

#1 "I'm back at work and there are days when I simply don't have time to pump."

Returning to work is one of the most common reasons women stop breastfeeding exclusively or wean altogether. In fact, women whose maternity leave was less than six weeks are four times as likely to stop nursing than women who don't return to work. Those with up to a 12-week leave fare a little better: they're only twice as likely to stop altogether than moms who don't return to work. "Going back to work at six weeks is really tough," says Nancy Hurst, R.N., Ph.D., I.B.C.L.C., director of Lactation and Milk Bank Services at Texas Children's hospital Pavilion for Women in Houston. "You're just getting into a breastfeeding groove and then both mom and baby have to switch gears."

To continue breastfeeding, try:

See a lactation consultant before you return to work. She'll help you find a super-comfortable, double-electric, hands- free pump that will allow you to express milk while you're busy doing something else. "I know a doctor who performed general surgery while pumping her breasts," says Debi Page Ferrarello, M.S.N., M.S., I.B.C.L.C., director of family education and lactation at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. Plus, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies must now provide coverage for breastfeeding support, supplies (including breast pumps) and counseling.

Buy at least two sets of pump attachments—as well as bottles, caps and nipples—so you always have a clean set.

Practice pumping a few weeks before returning to work and build up a reserve in your home freezer.

Watch our video: How to Use a Breast Pump >>

Find a friendly child care center. According to a new study in the Maternal and Child Health Journal, continuing to breastfeed at the six-month mark was significantly associated with a nursing-friendly child care setting. Find one that allows you to breastfeed before and after work.

Use the right flange Women's nipples come in every shape and size, so make sure you use a flange that's the perfect size for you. "When your flange fits properly, you'll express more milk," says Katy Lebbing, B.S., I.B.C.L.C., R.L.C., a La Leche League leader who served on the expert panel for the 2011 Surgeon General's Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Using the wrong size will not only result in getting less milk, it can also be painful and inefficient. Best bet: get flange-fitted by a certified lactation consultant.

Be flexible. If pumping proves to be too much of a headache, breastfeed your baby before and after work and tell the babysitter to feed her formula during the day. Again, it's important to remember that any amount of breast milk is better than none.

Working Girls: Our step-by-step primer to tackle the logistics of continued nursing >>

Keep Reading: Breastfeeding is difficult and time-consuming

#2 "I find breastfeeding difficult and time-consuming."

We've heard many women say that breastfeeding is simply inconvenient. The women interviewed in Hoddinott's study concur: "First-time parents in particular can find the lack of time for activities unrelated to baby and 'me time' a major challenge for which they are not prepared. Even those who have anticipated devoting themselves to nursing may struggle with the time taken to breastfeed, feeling anxious to 'get back in control' of their lives," says Hoddinott and her study co-authors.

Breastfeeding isn't easy, we know, and lots of new moms stop because it's just too tough to master. In fact, a Pediatrics survey of 1,300 nursing women found that 54 percent cited difficulties (with latching and sucking) as the reason they quit during the first month.

To continue breastfeeding, try:

Take it one day at a time. Don't be put off by a difficult first week or two. Breastfeeding is a learned skill and, like all skills, there's a learning curve. "During week two, you might be asking yourself, 'Oh my gosh, how will I ever do this?' " says Ferrarello. "But after three to five weeks, most women get the hang of it."

Watch our video: How to Breastfeed: Deep Latch Technique >>

Get Help. Do Not Delay! "Our study suggests that women undervalue the importance of breastfeeding as a reason to contact health professionals," says Hoddinott. Her study found that—rather than taking a breastfeeding class before the birth—having a lactation consultant sit with you in person during a few actual feedings increases confidence and your nursing ability.

Remember that baby will sleep better. For stressed, time-challenged moms, a baby who sleeps soundly is a blessing. Infants younger than 3 months old do not produce their own melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep. But you do, and the milk your baby gets during the night is chock-full of this magical hormone, which induces infant sleepiness and reduces irritability and colic.

Try This: Simple tips for the first six weeks of nursing >>

Keep Reading: I want my partner to help with feedings

#3 "I want members to share feeding responsibilities so they can bond with the baby."

Studies show that quite a few women cite family harmony as a higher priority than breastfeeding exclusively. they don't want to ignore the 3-year-old sister who is "desperate to help" by feeding baby a bottle; or they want dad and grandparents to bond with baby, too.

To continue breastfeeding, try:

During the first weeks after birth, you should nurse the baby. "The first week is critical," says Hurst. "Getting that stimulation in the beginning will really ramp up the hormones that influence your milk volume."

The First 48 Hours After Birth: Tips from a Lactation Consultant >>

Don't pump until you reach four to six weeks. Nursing will be smooth sailing and you'll have an easier time pumping milk. Then everyone can join the baby-feeding party via bottles of your expressed milk.

Let dad bathe the baby. Bottle-feeding isn't the only way to bond with baby. Bathing, rocking, dressing, changing, singing and cooing are all meaningful ways for Dad, gramps and Big Sister to connect with the newest member of the family.

Keep Reading: I'm too shy to breastfeed in public

#4"I'm way too shy to breastfeed in public."

Thanks to all the controversy surrounding this issue, even the boldest and bravest of women think twice about nursing outside the home. Even though it's legal, breastfeeding in public can be difficult, especially in areas where it's not widely accepted. Many nursing moms don't want to deal with uncomfortable stares, glares and ogles and will choose a bottle over the breast in public.

To continue breastfeeding, try:

Look for the international breastfeeding symbol. Wherever the blue-and-white symbol of a nursing mom is posted, it means that the store or restaurant welcomes breastfeeding moms and may even provide a lactation room.

Breastfeeding a Go-Go: How to nurse your baby and still have a life >>

Go undercover. With Hooter Hiders, Bebe au Lait or any other type of nursing cover (including a simple blanket), you can cover your breastfeeding infant so well that nobody will look twice at you.

Build your confidence before stepping out. You don't have to be a "lactivist" to nurse in public, but you do need to develop your breastfeeding chops. Wait till you get the hang of breastfeeding before you and your baby head to the mall for an hours-long shopping excursion.

Real Mom Story: Why I loved nursing outdoors >>

Keep Reading: Breastfeeding hurts like hell

#5 "Breastfeeding hurts like hell."

Among women who wean in the first three months, 33 percent do so because of nipple and breast pain. Cracked nipples, bleeding, blisters and bruises are all signs that something is wrong—usually related to the baby's latch and/or positioning.

The best ways to prevent and treat sore nipples >>

"Breast pain is misunderstood," says Ann Witt, M.D., I.B.C.L.C., a breastfeeding medicine practitioner at Breastfeeding Medicine of Northeast Ohio in Cleveland. "Many women are prescribed antibiotics or anti-fungal medication even though they don't have a bacterial infection."

To continue breastfeeding, try:

Get evaluated immediately by a pro. There are a lot of different causes of breast pain but most can be traced to an incorrect latch. A lactation consultant can teach you and your baby the best positions for pain-free nursing. "It's easier to correct early on," says Witt. "The majority of breast pain issues are manageable and most women can continue to breastfeed."

Don't jump to antibiotics first. Signs of a breast infection (aka mastitis) include red, tender or swollen breasts, fever and tenderness in the armpit area. If you have cracked nipples and are not running a fever, it's likely a latch problem, not an infection. To get the right diagnosis, see a practitioner who is breastfeeding- friendly and knowledgeable. Visit the site of the International Lactation Consultant Association (ilca.org) to find one near you.

Allow your breasts to heal. Pumping instead of nursing for a few days may be uncomfortable, but it won't be painful and it will buy you time to recover. once healed, you can put your baby right back on the breast—with the correct latch, natch.

Keep Reading: I'm not producing enough milk

#6"I'm not producing enough milk for my baby."

In the Pediatrics study, this was the No. 1 reason women stopped breastfeeding or introduced solids before their baby reached 6 months old.

Yet, "the true prevalence of mothers who are unable to produce enough milk to accomplish their infant's weight gain is only about 5 percent," says Ruowei Li, M.D., Ph.D., a breastfeeding researcher in the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the CDC in Atlanta. In other words, 95 percent of nursing moms can make enough milk, but those who stop breastfeeding, supplement or introduce solids perceive that they aren't.

Read More: How to Boost Your Milk Supply >>

To continue breastfeeding, try:

Weigh your baby before and after a feed. You'll be amazed at how the number on the scale goes up (and up!). If your baby is gaining weight and pooping like a champ, you're producing enough milk.

Is My Baby Getting Enough Breast Milk? Four tips on how to tell >>

Don't be fooled by the pump. Some women don't let down easily when expressing milk, says Hurst. "They see they're not getting much when pumping and believe that's what the baby is getting," she says.

Talk to your pediatrician about infant nutrition. "Breast milk alone didn't satisfy my baby" is one of the top three reasons women quit and/or introduce solids before recommended. "Early introduction of solid foods is concerning as developmentally, younger infants are not prepared for solid foods," says Li. Discuss the signs of infant hunger with your pediatrician.

Take a "babymoon" Do nothing but nurse on demand for two to three days. "the more your breasts are stimulated, the more milk you'll produce," says Lebbing, who is also a lactation consultant at Silver Cross hospital in New Lenox, Ill. During your babymoon vacation, get rid of the pacifier and bring your baby into your bedroom at night. the trick is to be with your baby constantly and nurse when she's hungry and when she needs comforting.

Rent a hospital-grade pump. These are used in hospitals by mothers of preemies who need to establish milk production quickly. the "limo of pumps," as Lebbing calls them, is more effective at expressing than any pump you can buy. Visit Medela (medelabreastfeedingus.com) or ameda (ameda.com) online to find a rental outlet near you.

Visit LowMilkSupply.org to learn everything you need to know about the topic: causes of low milk; how to make more; when and when not to supplement; and where to find a specialist near you.

Try This: Natural ways to boost milk production >>