Common Breastfeeding Mistakes to Avoid

Mother is breastfeeding her newborn baby

Breastfeeding is a natural and important process for both mothers and their babies. It provides numerous health benefits for infants and can help to establish a strong bond between mother and child. 

In my practice as a neonatologist, I observed many mistakes that mothers make while feeding their babies. By learning about and avoiding these mistakes, mothers can increase their chances of successful breastfeeding and ensure their babies receive optimal nutrition and care.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for infants and young children. They recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding and complementary foods for up to two years or beyond. 

Despite the numerous benefits of breastfeeding, many mothers face challenges and make mistakes that can disrupt the breastfeeding process. 

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, only about 43% of infants in the United States are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months. Many mothers struggle with low milk supply, latching difficulties, and discomfort or pain while breastfeeding. These challenges can lead to frustration and discourage mothers from continuing to breastfeed.

I have already written an article about the health benefits of breastfeeding for the mother and another on the benefits for the baby.

In this article, I will explore common breastfeeding mistakes and provide tips on how to avoid them. By understanding and addressing these issues, mothers can increase their chances of successful breastfeeding and ensure their babies receive the most optimal nutrition and care.

Insufficient breastfeeding frequency

One common breastfeeding mistake that mothers may make is not breastfeeding frequently enough. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), newborns should be fed at least 8-12 times per day. This frequency may decrease with time as the baby grows older. 

Not breastfeeding frequently enough can lead to some problems. One of the main issues is that it can affect mothers’ milk production. The mother’s body may produce less milk when a baby feeds less often. 

This, in turn, will decrease milk supply and make it more difficult for the mother to sustain breastfeeding. Consequently, low milk intake will affect a baby’s nutrition and lead to weight loss or slow weight gain.

Several factors may contribute to mothers not breastfeeding frequently enough. Some mothers may feel that they don’t have enough milk, while others may be concerned about disturbing the baby’s sleep or not having enough time to breastfeed. 

On the other hand, some may be under pressure to return to work or feel overwhelmed by the demands of breastfeeding.

To rectify the problem, it’s essential for mothers to understand the importance of frequent breastfeeding and to make it a priority. 

It’s also helpful to seek support from healthcare providers, lactation consultants, and other breastfeeding mothers who can provide guidance and encouragement. 

Inadequate breastfeeding duration

It is essential to breastfeed for at least the first year of a baby’s life. 

However, many mothers stop breastfeeding before the recommended one-year mark. There are many reasons why mothers may stop breastfeeding, such as returning to work, difficulty breastfeeding, or a lack of support. 

The health community must provide mothers with the support and resources they need to continue breastfeeding for as long as they wish.

Suppose a mother has difficulty breastfeeding or is considering stopping before the recommended one-year mark. Then, we can refer her to seek help from a lactation consultant or other healthcare professional. Talking to mothers who successfully breastfed their babies may also be of great help. 

Improper breastfeeding positioning

Proper positioning is vital for successful breastfeeding. The baby should be close to the mother’s body, with the nose level with the nipple. The baby’s body should be turned towards the mother, with the head in a comfortable position. This allows the baby to correctly latch onto the breast and transfer milk effectively.

A mother can use several different breastfeeding positions, depending on her comfort level and the baby’s needs. 

Some common positions include the cradle hold, the cross-cradle hold, and the football hold. 

The mother needs to find a position that is comfortable for her and allows the baby to latch on correctly.

Finding the best position for the mother and baby to be comfortable and successful may involve several steps. For example, the mother may want to use a breastfeeding pillow or chair, adjust the room’s lighting or temperature, and ensure she has access to water and snacks.

If a mother is having trouble positioning the baby correctly or is experiencing discomfort while breastfeeding, it is important to seek help from a lactation consultant or other healthcare professional. 

Incorrect breastfeeding latch technique

A proper latch is essential for successful breastfeeding. The baby should take as much of the areola (the dark area around the nipple) into their mouth as possible. Such positioning will allow the baby to transfer milk from the breast effectively. It will also prevent sore nipples in the mother.

To achieve a proper latch, the mother can gently guide the baby to the breast, ensuring that the mouth is wide open. The baby should latch onto the breast with lips flanged outward, taking as much of the areola into their mouth as possible. The baby’s chin should be touching the breast, and the nose should be clear of the breast.

An incorrect latching technique will decrease the amount of milk transferred from the breast. As a result, the mother’s milk production may decrease, and the baby will become frustrated or fussy as it is not getting enough milk to satisfy its needs.          

Early use of pacifiers or bottles

Using pacifiers and bottles can be a common breastfeeding mistake. While pacifiers and bottles can be helpful in certain situations, their early use can disrupt the breastfeeding process and lead to several problems.

As mentioned above, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. Ideally, the baby should receive only breast milk and no other liquids or solids, including pacifiers or bottles. 

Introducing pacifiers or bottles too soon can interfere with breastfeeding and may decrease milk supply.

Pacifiers and bottles can also affect the baby’s ability to latch on properly to the breast. Some lactation specialists say that when a baby sucks on a pacifier or bottle, they use a different sucking technique compared to breastfeeding. 

Therefore, using bottles and pacifiers can lead to confusion and difficulty latching on to the breast, making breastfeeding more challenging and uncomfortable for the mother.

In addition, the use of pacifiers and bottles too soon can also lead to a decrease in the baby’s demand for breast milk. When a baby sucks on a pacifier or bottle, they may feel satisfied and not want to breastfeed as frequently. This can lead to a decrease in milk production and low supply and may discourage the mother from breastfeeding.

According to a study published in the journal “Pediatrics,” using pacifiers or bottles before six weeks of age is associated with a shorter duration of breastfeeding. 

“A total of 181 mothers (68%) introduced a pacifier before 6 weeks. In adjusted analyses, pacifier introduction by 6 weeks was associated with a significantly increased risk for shortened duration of full… and overall… breastfeeding.”

Take home message from this study is that mothers should only use pacifiers or bottles once breastfeeding is well established.

Not seeking help when needed

Many mothers struggle with breastfeeding at some point and need to seek help when needed. However, as medical professionals, we are also responsible for noticing the breastfeeding struggles of our patients and addressing them promptly. 

There are a variety of resources and professionals available to help mothers. They include lactation consultants, breastfeeding support groups, and healthcare providers.

Lactation consultants are trained professionals who can guide and support breastfeeding mothers. They can help mothers with positioning, latch, and other breastfeeding issues. In addition, they have expertise in using breast pumps, milk warmers, and nipple shields.

Breastfeeding support groups can also be a helpful resource. These support groups provide a non-judgmental environment where mothers can discuss their breastfeeding challenges and receive advice from other mothers who have experienced similar problems.

In addition to lactation consultants and support groups, mothers can also seek help from their healthcare providers. Medical professionals, such as doctors and midwives, have vast knowledge and experience in resolving various breastfeeding issues, particularly if a medical condition contributes to those problems. 

Whenever faced with breastfeeding difficulty, mothers should seek help as soon as possible. With the proper support and guidance, most mothers can continue breastfeeding successfully.

In conclusion: 

Breastfeeding problems are common, and even experienced mothers encounter challenges while breastfeeding. Mothers need to be patient and remember that breastfeeding is a learning process for both the mother and the baby. With the proper support and guidance, most mothers will be successful and continue breastfeeding for the desired amount of time. 


Dr.Wisniewski is a board-certified pediatrician and neonatologist with over 20 years of clinical experience in the USA. He authored the book: "Babies Born Early - A guide for Parents of Babies Born Before 32 Weeks" Dr.Wisniewski loves educating parents on various health conditions affecting their newborn babies and children.