When breastfeeding doesn’t go to plan

Breastfeeding - mother and newborn breastfeeding holding hands intimacy

Breastfeeding – it’s one of the most natural things in the world – and so it must be really easy. Right? Not always. You might have been utterly sure that you would breastfeed your baby. You might have read all the books and attended NCT sessions about feeding your baby. You might have been very sure that breastfeeding is absolutely the right choice for you. So when things don’t go to plan it can feel really stressful. If you assumed that breastfeeding would just happen automatically it, can be a real shock when it turns out to be harder than you thought.

If you struggle with breastfeeding you are NOT alone

For some mums (and babies) breastfeeding is a breeze and they take to it right away. But for many others it is not that easy. It can take time, patience and support to get it established. A study by The Baby Show in 2016 revealed that more than three quarters of new mums found breastfeeding a struggle. In the study of just over 1000 mums, a massive 81% admitted that they found it challenging to breastfeed. 72% of mums sought help from a midwife or specialist. So if you are finding that breastfeeding is not as easy as you expected, then rest assured that you are certainly not the first mama to feel like this and don’t be afraid to seek help and support.

We’ve put together some of the most common problems mums face along with some top tips to help.

I just can’t seem to get it right

Breastfeeding may look straightforward, however in practice it is often not as easy as it looks.There are many clear diagrams in books about the correct way for your baby to latch on, as well as useful videos that you can watch, such as this one:

Reach out to someone who can help

Getting support while you feed can make a massive difference. In hospital ask your midwife, or ask if there is a lactation specialist to help. They can show you the best way to ‘offer your breast’ to your baby. They can check the latch and position and talk to you about how it feels and whether you need to make any adjustments. Having an expert nearby as you feed helps you feel more supported and less alone.

At home do ask your midwife or health visitor about any breastfeeding issues. They might be able to watch you feed and check whether you are getting it right and answer any of your questions or concerns. If they aren’t able to help then there are plenty of other people who you can call on for help if you are struggling. Sometimes it may be a close friend or family member who has successfully breastfed her own baby. They might be able to sit with you and help you find the best positions to try. Alternatively you can contact one of the many lactation consultants out there who could offer help and advice. Remember to check their qualifications and their experience along with reviews from other mothers before making contact, so that you make sure you get someone who is right for you.

Breastfeeding - mother breastfeeding her newborn and midwife standing nearby to help with breastfeedingSometimes you struggle with feeding late in the evening or in the middle or the night, when it’s too late to call on anyone to help. Start4Life is a service that provides free breastfeeding help and support and you can contact a Start4Life Breastfeeding Friend ANY time of the day or night (even at 4 in the morning when you’re at your wit’s end).

The main message is NOT to struggle alone and to speak up and get the help and support that is out there for new mums.

My nipples are cracked and sore

Once your baby latches on correctly, breastfeeding should not be painful. However if you have had a few tries before working out the right technique, your nipples can become sore and cracked and then each feed is agony.

Tips to ease the pain:

  • Try hand expressing a few drops of milk at the end of each feed to massage on the nipples.
  • Many mums swear by products, such as lanolin cream, to soothe and protect sore and cracked nipples. You could use these after each feed.
  • Don’t use soap as it can dry out your nipples and make them sorer still.
  • Let nipples dry completely before getting dressed.
  • If you’re using breast pads choose those without plastic backings and change them at each feed.
  • Wear a cotton non-underwired bra.

If your nipples are in agony every time you feed, then get help as soon as you can as there may be an underlying reason. It may be that your baby is still not latching correctly, thrush, or a case of tongue-tie. These issues may need to be resolved so that breastfeeding is no longer painful.

My baby keeps falling asleep in the middle of a feed

It’s great when your baby is happy and content during a feed but not so great when they are so cosy that they keep falling asleep before they have finished. When this happens it can be frustrating as babies only sleep for a short time of about 20 minutes. They then wake up and take up where they left off and demand another feed. Before you know it one feed blends into another and this continuous mid-feed snoozing is a surefire way to exhaust new mums.

Tips to help your baby stay awake:

  • Try to feed your baby as soon as they wake up so that they are alert and have more chance of finishing a feed. It’s good to try to work towards a general wake-eat-play-sleep cycle.
  • If baby starts drifting off during a feed, gently rub his cheek to keep him alert.
  • Sit him up and burp him if you notice he is becoming drowsy. The jostling around will help keep him awake long enough to finish.
  • Some babies also like the soles of their feet to be rubbed during a feed, which helps them stay more awake too.
  • If you’re really struggling to keep baby awake, you can stop the feed and change their nappy or clothes (or both). The commotion should wake them up completely. This means that you can pick up where you left off and finish the feed before they settle for a (hopefully longer) sleep.


I’m worried that my baby’s not getting enough milk

This is a really common worry for new mums. If only boobs were transparent so you could see how much your baby was guzzling. Here is a checklist to see if your baby is feeding well:

  • Your baby starts a feed with a few rapid sucks and then settles into a rhythm of long sucks with swallows and pauses
  • Your baby’s cheeks are round and not hollow when feeding
  • You can see milk in the corners of their mouth while they are feeding
  • They are gulping/swallowing
  • They stay calm and relaxed during feeds and come off the breast on their own at the end of feeds
  • Your breasts feel softer after a feed
  • Your nipples look the same after a feed and are not flattened or pinched or white in colour
  • Your baby settles for long sleeps after a feed
  • Your baby is not crying constantly and unable to settle
  • Your baby is putting on weight steadily after the first two weeks
  • Your baby has plenty of wet and soiled nappies. Do note that in the fist few days your baby will need less frequent changing but from the fourth day they should do at least two yellow poos a day. From day 5 onwards they should start having at least 6 wet nappies in each 24 hour period. If you’re concerned ask your midwife, health visitor or GP and get reassurance as well as any additional support you feel you need.

Feed on demand

Top Tip

Breastfeeding tip

One way to remember which breast you last offered is to pop a paper clip on the cup of your bra. You can then start with the other one at the next feed.

As you start breastfeeding feed your baby whenever he or she wants to. Offer both breasts at each feed and alternate which one you start with. Your body usually takes cues from your baby’s feeding patterns and adjusts the milk supply to match baby’s demand.

When a baby continues to cry after a feed, then it may mean that they need more milk and you might want to explore other options. If you’re worried about not giving your baby enough milk, always discuss it with your midwife or health visitor and ask about ways you can boost your supply. This can be done by expressing milk using a pump, doing more regular feeds to boost supply or supplementing with formula.

Always trust your instincts if you feel your baby is not getting enough food. Remember that as much as you want to breastfeed for the baby, fed is always best. It is far better to give them some formula alongside your breast milk to ensure they are fed, than to starve a baby while trying to breastfeed exclusively.

My boobs are agony and I feel awful. Have I go mastitis?

Breastfeeding - mother holding breasts with a look of pain on her face mastitisMastitis is a condition, which causes the breast tissue to become painful, and inflamed. It’s common in breastfeeding women, usually within the first three months. It can make you feel pretty rubbish and it’s best to get advice and treatment from your GP as soon as possible. Symptoms include:

  • A red, swollen area on your breast that can feel hot and painful to touch
  • A lump or area of hardness on your breast
  • A burning pain, which is either continuous or only occurs when you breastfeed
  • Nipple discharge (which can be white or contain streaks of blood)
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, feeling achy and feeling tired

See a doctor for diagnosis and treatment

Mastitis can easily be treated. Most women start to feel better very soon and make a complete recovery, so make sure you see a doctor sooner rather than later. In the meantime here are some things you can do to help ease the pain:

  • Use warm and cool breastpads. There are a large selection of these on the market, some go in the microwave/freezer while others just take a click to start heating. They can provide relief for painful lumps in breasts.
  • Get as much rest as you can and drink lots of water to stay hydrated
  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce the pain and fever
  • Wear loose clothing and ditch the bra until your boobs are less painful
  • Continue breastfeeding. It won’t harm your baby and it can help you improve your symptoms. It may also help to feed more frequently and to express milk after and between feeds.

I feel like a failure because I can’t get it right

Breastfeeding is a brand new skill for both you and your baby and it can take time and practice, and sometimes a lot of help and support, to get it right. In any other walk of life, you would wait for a time when you were well rested and relaxed before taking up a new skill or challenge. New mamas don’t get this luxury. You have to start your breastfeeding journey after you have been through labour and at a time when you have just been catapulted into a whole new world of parenting. You’re probably feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. So, be kind to yourself.

breastfeeding - mother cuddling her sleeping newborn on her chest looking happyDon’t beat yourself up if it’s not working

Breastfeeding is hard. It ‘s harder still because all you want to do is feed your baby, soothe his cries and enjoy your first few days as a new mother. If you can’t seem to get the hang of it, it can be really stressful and make you feel miserable. Lack of sleep and the flood of hormones can make you feel wobblier still.

It’s OK to cry and to talk about your feelings. It’s also more than OK to ask for help with breastfeeding and make sure you don’t feel like you’re struggling alone.

If, despite the help, breastfeeding isn’t working out and your baby is still crying (and both of you are exhausted) then it’s OK to give baby formula. You might give a bottle and then try again with breastfeeding. You might start mixed feeding, using a combination of both or you might decide that bottle-feeding is the best thing for you AND your baby. Whatever you choose, don’t feel guilty. A fed baby is a happy baby. Care for your baby in the best way for both of you, and remember what an amazing job you’re doing!

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at our Tips to help your newborn baby sleep