Breastfeeding concerns, problems and solutions

New mums can feel unsure about breastfeeding and what it’s going to be like. Here we address common breastfeeding concerns and problems with information and helpful tips.

What if I don't make enough breast milk?

All mums make breastmilk, and supply continues in response to their baby’s needs – frequent and effective emptying of the breast drives the supply. If there are problems with supply, then these can often resolve by feeding more often, and making sure the baby is comfortably positioned and effectively attached

Do speak to a midwife, health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor about this, and explore whether your expectations (and those around you) might be making you believe there’s a problem with supply, when there isn't.   

However, there are a few women whose bodies can't physically make enough breastmilk for their babies, even after problems have been addressed.

There are ways of maintaining breastfeeding, if this is what you want. You can breastfeed alongside the use of formula milk, and/or express your milk and give it to your baby if direct breastfeeding is not working well enough. 

I don't know whether I will want to breastfeed

If you’re not sure what you want to do when it comes to feeding your baby, you can wait until after the birth and see how you feel then. Your breasts will make colostrum – the first milk you make – which has a number of valuable health properties, and you might decide to give this to your baby even if you don’t plan to breastfeed long-term.

Or you might just take it one feed at a time. Your milk will ‘come in’ about three days after your baby is born and breastfeeding will help you relieve any fullness you experience then. 

Whatever your plans, cuddling skin-to-skin with your baby gives you the best time to get to know and bond with each other.

If you stop breastfeeding and start to give formula, it is possible to change your mind and start breastfeeding again but it can take time and patience. An NCT breastfeeding counsellor will be able to give you appropriate support, with no judgment. 

I don't know if I will be able to breastfeed and continue my medication

For a very few women breastfeeding is not possible for medical reasons, but you needn't assume that any medicine you need to take rules out breastfeeding.

Check with your GP to see if your medications are safe while breastfeeding, or if not, if there is an alternative. You can also download factsheets on drugs and feeding from the Breastfeeding Network.

What if I develop breastfeeding problems? 

Some new mums have a difficult time establishing breastfeeding. This might be more likely after a long or difficult birth, or because they or their baby are not well enough to breastfeed straight away.

Your midwife will be able to help you express milk or bring your baby to you for breastfeeds, if you can’t be kept together. 

I want to breastfeed. But what if I end up using formula? How will I feel?

If you planned to fully breastfeed, and then use formula either partially or fully, or temporarily or longer-term, then you might have mixed feelings about using formula. You may feel disappointed or angry – even guilty. You might think people are criticising you, or judging you.

We know from research that these negative feelings can be very real. Logically, of course, guilt is misplaced – guilt is what you feel when you deliberately and consciously decide to do something you know to be wrong, and this does not apply with a baby who needs to be fed! But feeding produces emotional responses. The reality of the situation is that most people don’t judge or criticise you, but you might still be sensitive to their comments and maybe ‘read’ them in that way.  

Or, you might not have planned to breastfeed at all. 

Regardless of how you feed your baby, you are entitled to support and understanding. If you’re feeling concerned about using formula, share this with someone who can help you feel more positive, and support you.

Is long-term expressing feasible?

Some mums decide for whatever reason not to breastfeed directly, but are still able to express their milk and feed it to their baby in a bottle

Remember, you can put your baby to your breast whenever you want, even if you decide breastfeeding isn’t for you, and whether or not your baby actually breastfeeds; you can give your baby the closeness of skin-to-skin contact, and give the bottle like that, too.

Last updated: August 2016

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Feeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions. You can also find more useful articles here.

National Breastfeeding Line (government funded): 0300 100 0212.

You can call the NCT breastfeeding line: 0300 330 0700 for support with any of these issues.

See Breastfeeding Network for answers to frequently asked questions, breastfeeding and smoking, drugs and illness. Also you can download factsheets on medication, drugs and feeding your baby.

Cleft lip and Palate association has information on feeding babies with cleft lip or palate.

BLISS, a charity supporting families with premature and special care babies, has information on feeding.

If you are breastfeeding twins or more, The Twins and Multiples Birth Association (Tamba) has a team of 12 NCT-accredited peer supporters who have all breastfed twins and can offer mother-to-mother information and support to families on breastfeeding twins and triplets. If you would like to contact a Peer Supporter, please e-mail tambabreastfeeding@gmail.com.

The Department of Health publishes its 'Feeding your baby' guide, available in hard copy or to download.

NHS guidance is available here.

See also, Association of Breastfeeding Mothers.

Bump to Breastfeeding DVD: your midwife should be able to provide a copy for you to borrow, or go to www.bestbeginnings.org.uk