Breastfeeding challenges

baby breastfeeding

There may be times when breastfeeding is challenging. Never ignore any issues you may have – talk to your health visitor, midwife, GP or breastfeeding specialist as soon as possible, they will be able to help you sort it out quickly.

Here are some common breastfeeding issues, and tips on what to do.

Baby reflux

If your baby brings up milk, or is sick during or after feeding, this is known as reflux. Reflux, also called posseting or spitting up, is quite common and your baby should grow out of it, usually by the time they are 12 months old.

What causes baby reflux?

newborn baby crying

The muscle at the bottom of the food pipe acts as a kind of door into the stomach – so when food or milk travels down, the muscle opens allowing the food into the stomach.

However, while this muscle is still developing in the first year, it can open when it shouldn't (usually when your baby's tummy is full) allowing some food and stomach acid to travel back up again. Acid in the stomach is normal and a necessary part of the digestion process – it helps break down food.

In most babies, reflux is nothing to worry about as long as they are healthy and gaining weight as expected.

Baby reflux symptoms

  • Constant or sudden crying when feeding.
  • Bringing up milk during or after feeds (regularly).
  • Frequent ear infections.
  • Lots of hiccups or coughing.
  • Refusing, gagging, or choking during feeds.
  • Poor weight gain.
  • Waking up at night a lot.

Did you know?

Reflux is very common in the first 3 months, and usually stops by the time your baby is 12 months.

GORD

When reflux becomes painful and it happens frequently, this is known as 'gastro-oesophageal reflux disease' (GORD). GORD is more serious than mild, everyday reflux. The strong stomach acid can irritate and make the food pipe sore and inflamed, which is painful for your baby and may result in them needing medication.

The main signs and symptoms of GORD in your baby are:

  • spitting up frequently
  • abdominal pain
  • feeding difficulties
  • seeming unsettled and grizzly after a feed

These symptoms can lead to your baby not gaining weight, or even losing weight.

Silent reflux

Silent reflux can be confusing as there are no obvious signs or clues (such as spitting up). It's when the food travels back up the food pipe – but it's swallowed rather than spat out so is harder to identify. But your baby may display similar symptoms to those of regular reflux.

Breastfeeding Friend from Start4life

The Breastfeeding Friend, a digital tool from Start4Life, has lots of useful information and expert advice to share with you – and because it's a digital tool, you can access it 24 / 7.

Breastfeeding tips for babies with reflux

  • Feeding little and often (smaller feeds stop their tummy getting too full).
  • Burping them requently during feeds – have a look at our guide to burping your baby for techniques.
  • Try a different feeding position – check out our our guide to breastfeeding positions.
  • Keep your baby upright, for at least an hour after feeding, this should help keep the milk down.

If you are mixed feeding (combining breastmilk and formula feeds), have a look at our advice on bottle feeding and reflux.

When to see the GP

If your baby has difficulty feeding or refuses to feed, regularly brings milk back up and seems uncomfortable after a feed, talk to your pharmacist, GP, or health visitor. They'll be able to give you practical advice on how to ease the symptoms and manage it – they may also need to rule out other causes (such as cow's milk allergy).

It might be helpful to keep a record of when your baby feeds, with details of how often and how much your baby brings the food back up, and how often your baby cries or seems distressed. This will help your health visitor or GP decide if your baby needs treatment.

For confidential breastfeeding information and support, call the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 100 0212. Lines are open 9:30am to 9:30pm every day.

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