Obstacles in Breastfeeding and Why You Need to Stop Blaming Yourself

When you dreamed of having a baby you also dreamed about breastfeeding them too. It’s always what you wanted to do and your heart was set on it. It was easy to imagine sitting in your rocking chair looking down at your beautiful baby feeding from you.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out this way and it can be heartbreaking. Everyone you know breastfed without any issues other than the normal– milk everywhere, sore nipples, and trying to find bras that fit.


But sometimes there is more to why breastfeeding creates obstacles for nursing mothers.


We’re going to give you some reasons breastfeeding can be a challenge. We want you to stop blaming yourself for something out of your control. And understand you have options and support.


Here at Free to Feed our mission is to help breastfeeding mothers continue their journey with an infant with food allergies or intolerances. But we care about all babies and mamas. We want women to feel empowered and know they are not alone during this time of their life.


Your Baby Has a Tongue-Tie


Have you heard the term tongue-tie before? The medical name is ankyloglossia. This occurs when a thin piece of tissue under the tongue doesn’t develop correctly while in the womb. This creates difficulty breastfeeding because the tongue has less movement than normal.


When the tongue has less movement it can be harder for the baby to latch onto the breast. A study in Australia found that “tongue-tie is linked to breastfeeding difficulties, speech, and dental problems. It may prevent the baby from taking enough breast tissue into its mouth to form a teat and the mother may experience painful, bleeding nipples and frequent feeding with poor infant weight gain; these problems may contribute to early breastfeeding cessation.”[1]


There are options for a minor surgical repair called frenotomy. The literature is controversial in this area, but the majority lean towards overall success for long-term breastfeeding. [2] One study found that infants’ latch improved and mothers’ nipple pain decreased after surgical repair. [3]


Depending on the severity of the tongue-tie, surgical intervention may not be warranted. Sometimes the condition physically adapts over time and breastfeeding quality can improve.4 Although it’s considered minor surgery, every surgery poses risks. If a surgical repair was unsuccessful or not recommended, you may end up using formula. Or it may just be a waiting game as your baby grows.


This is something that is out of your control as a mom. There is nothing you did or could have done differently for this not to happen. You can’t blame yourself. You need to work with your doctor and lactation consultant to find the best choices for you and your baby.


You Have an Oversupply of Breastmilk


There is a lot of talk about breastmilk supply and most of it tends to be on undersupply which causes feeding issues. There is also a problem with oversupply in some women leading to issues with feeding their babies.

Mothers with an oversupply may be in pain due to the amount of milk produced. They can have breast engorgement, painful letdowns, and leaking. [5]


Signs of oversupply in infants include [5]:

  • Signs of distress at the start of feeding

  • Difficulty maintaining a latch

  • Gulping during feeding

  • Unlatching several times

  • Showing signs of gassiness

Oversupply creates another challenge as a mother trying to navigate the waters of breastfeeding. You may not be able to breastfeed, but still having the option to pump your milk to bottle feed your baby with breastmilk.


This is another case where you can’t snap your fingers and have a perfect milk supply or easy breastfeeding journey. There are ways to help with oversupply such as block feeding or only nursing from one breast. It’s important to talk to your pediatrician and lactation consultant about the best options for you and your baby.


Your Nipples Hurt...like Real Bad


Pain is often another reason a mother cannot continue breastfeeding. And we don’t mean, “ oh this hurts a little and it’s annoying.” You gave birth, you know real pain. Pain in your breast or nipples while feeding can bring you to tears or knees. And then you’re trying to do that 8-12 times a day!


A study of 1437 breastfeeding mothers showed that 38% complained of wounded or cracked nipples.6 Being in constant pain and trying to care for an infant is beyond difficult. Another study showed that the majority of women discontinued breastfeeding due to cracked nipples. [7]


Causes for nipple pain include:

  • Incorrect position or attachment

  • Tongue-tie

  • Infection

  • Flat or inverted nipples

  • Mastitis

All of these issues create a more challenging environment to breastfeed your baby. This is where a lactation consultant can be a game-changer in finding the source of the pain and working through it with you. Lactation consultants are nursing professionals and are there to provide you with support and education feeding your baby.


Can you imagine all your issues being solved because of your position in nursing? Lactation consultants exist for a reason, so don’t be afraid to use one!


Medical Issues in You or Baby Can Prevent Breastfeeding


There are certain times when medical issues can prevent a mother from breastfeeding her baby either due to her health conditions or infants.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a mother should not breastfeed if she has HIV as this poses risk to the infant of contracting HIV.8 Another condition breastfeeding needs to be avoided is human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or II. [9]

Other medical reasons moms may have difficulty breastfeed include:

  • Postpartum Depression (PPD)

  • Postpartum Anxiety (PPA)

  • Certain necessary medications that mom needs to take

  • Insufficient glandular tissue (IGT)

Again, all the above conditions cannot be prevented. While you may be able to treat PPD or PPA, it may still affect your ability to successfully breastfeed. What’s important is a happy healthy baby and mom.


There are certain rare conditions in infants that make breastfeeding impossible. One of these conditions is galactosemia. This is an inherited condition, “that impairs the body’s ability to process and produce energy from a sugar called galactose.”[10] This specific sugar is in many sources including all dairy products, fruits, and vegetables [10]. In this case, you can only give your infant a special formula.


Medical issues preventing you from breastfeeding can still hurt your heart and we understand. It’s hard to wrap your head around not feeding your baby due to a medical condition. But giving your baby formula is the best option for rare medical conditions and your mental health.


Stop Blaming Yourself for Not Being Able to Breastfeed

The reasons above are only a few out there for making breastfeeding your baby difficult. Some conditions prevent breastfeeding to be successful and it can be hard on mothers. Other conditions can take time to improve or work through.


We know this.

We understand.

We see you.


You are not alone and many other mothers are struggling to breastfeed for various reasons. Don’t beat yourself up and it’s okay to mourn the loss of wanting to breastfeed if your unable to.


Free to Feed is on a mission to help breastfeeding mothers who have infants with food allergies or intolerances. But we also care about all mothers and journeys raising the next generations.


We’re in this together as mothers and families across the world. We need to support every mother and family.


If you're unable to breastfeed and also have an infant with food allergies be sure to view our page on formulas here.


References

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21608523/#:~:text=One%20factor%20that%20contributes%20to,difficulties%2C%20speech%20and%20dental%20problems.

  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24892968/

  3. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0890334418816973

  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27403491/

  5. https://www.jabfm.org/content/29/1/139

  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1877575617303671?via%3Dihub

  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6835226/

  8. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/69938/WHO_FCH_CAH_09.01_eng.pdf;jsessionid=291B4DB2F84C752185F20D6CAE937D06?sequence=1

  9. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827

  10. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/2424/galactosemia#:~:text=Galactosemia%2C%20which%20means%20%E2%80%9Cgalactose%20in,build%20up%20in%20the%20blood.