Common breastfeeding woes

23 July 2013


Dr Emma-Jane Down offers insight into common breastfeeding woes...

Why people say ‘breast is best’

Breast milk is regarded as nature’s natural food for your baby and it’s certainly full of essential nutrients.

According to Unicef, research has shown that breastfeeding provides babies with various health benefits, including essential nutrients that offer protection from infections and diseases. 


Plus, women who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer

Breastfeeding for beginners 

Since 2003, the Department of Health has recommended that women should ideally feed their baby with breast milk for the first six months of an infant’s life, before introducing any other food or drink. 

But like any skill, learning to breastfeed can be difficult to start with, and some women can be affected by health issues during feeding.  

If you’re finding it difficult or painful to breastfeed, be assured that you are not the only one to feel this way. “It’s important to ask for help if you aren’t finding it easy or comfortable,” advises GP, Dr Emma-Jane Down. “It does get easier.”

Breastfeeding health conditions

Sometimes health conditions can occur during breastfeeding, creating difficulties for mum and baby. These include issues such as blocked milk ducts, mastitis, abscesses and thrush

Blocked milk duct 

“Occasionally a blocked milk duct can occur, causing a swollen, red area on the breast,” explains Dr Down. 


Mastitis occurs when a blocked milk duct doesn’t settle after one to two days, making the breast infected. “It will become red, hard, painful and swollen, and you may develop a fever and feel very unwell. You need antibiotics to clear this up, along with continuing to feed from that breast to clear the blockage,” advises Dr Down. 

Breast abscess

“A breast abscess is another rarer complication causing a red painful, hard lump.” This contains a collection of pus and needs draining quickly by a doctor, along with a course of antibiotics. 


Breast thrush causes severe nipple or breast pain and can be spread from mum to infant. “Thrush is treated with prescribed anti-fungal medications, usually cream for the mother and drops or gel for the baby’s mouth,” explained a spokesperson for Unicef. Painkillers may be required too to help ease pain.

How to make breastfeeding comfortable

Breastfeeding can be an important way of bonding with your baby. The skin-to-skin contact helps comfort your baby and the more you feed, the more milk you produce. So it’s worth persevering with it, even if it doesn’t feel comfortable at first.

Some of the issues that can contribute to making breastfeeding difficult, suggests Dr Down, include not latching on properly, timed or scheduled feeding and the overuse of pacifiers and dummies. 

“Latching on and getting into the correct position for mum and baby is key,” she says. “This helps prevent sore nipples and blocked milk ducts.”

Tips to make breastfeeding go more smoothly

To help breastfeeding go more smoothly, the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) suggests these tips:

  • Sit comfortably before you start feeding. Make sure you relax your arms and shoulders.
  • Make sure your baby’s head and body are in a straight line. This will help them swallow more easily.
  • Position your baby’s nose level with your nipple, so they can reach up and attach easily to your breast.
  • Ensure your baby’s neck, shoulders and back are well supported. 

If your baby needs encouragement to feed, try stroking their top lip to encourage them to open their mouth wide. 

“If your baby is difficult to feed or seems unhappy, then do ask for help,” emphasise the NCT.

Feeding with formula

If breastfeeding doesn’t work for you and your baby, then the next best step is formula feeding.

“No mother should be made to feel ashamed or guilty for using formula,” believes Dr Down. 

“It may not be quite as good for your baby as breast milk, but is a safe alternative if you’re not able to breastfeed the baby,” she says. “A happy mum makes a happy baby, so sometimes you have to do what is best for you too.”

Tips on making up formula milk 

When you’re making up formula milk, Dr Down advises:

  • Follow the instructions carefully.
  • Don’t change the ratio of powder to water, as it’s not safe.
  • Always carefully wash and sterilise bottles to avoid dangerous vomiting or diarrhoea bugs – they can quickly grow in formula milk that’s left hanging around in unsterilised bottles. 

If you have any concerns or worries about feeding your baby, then do speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor for advice and support.