Breastfeeding comes naturally to some lucky mothers, and not-so-naturally to many others. To some new moms, breastfeeding can be a huge (and sometimes, quite painful) challenge. If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, you’re far from alone. Here are the top 10 most common breastfeeding problems, and how to deal with them:
1. Low milk supply. It can be easy to think your supply is low when it actually isn’t. If your breasts feel not-as-full, or your nipples are no longer leaking like faucets, that does not always mean your supply is in peril. It could just mean that you have adjusted to your baby’s feeding needs. It’s a supply-and-demand process. IF your pediatrician becomes concerned about your baby’s weight gain, then there are some things you can do to help boost your supply, like more frequent nursing and pumping during the day. If you are concerned that your milk supply is lower than your baby needs, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about it.
2. Painful latching or failure to latch. People will try to tell you that if breastfeeding hurts, you’re doing it wrong. That’s not entirely true. For most people, there’s an adjustment period, especially if this is your first attempt at breastfeeding. Your nipples will need to toughen up a little bit before the pain-free feeding comes in. Until that glorious happening, the latch can (and probably will) sting just a little bit. If your soreness lasts more than a minute or two during nursing, you may have a latching problem. You can try to reposition your baby, so that his mouth covers more of the areola below your nipple than above. If you’ve got a good position and think you have a good latch, but you’re still in pain, you may have other issues. (See below.)
3. Cracked nipples. If nursing is causing you pain, take a closer look at your nipples. Are they cracked, dry, or bleeding? Cracked nipples can be the result of many different things, but the solutions are fairly simple. Use a lanolin-based breast cream on them between nursing sessions. Do not use soap, alcohol, or regular hand or body lotion, and wear loose cotton bras. Leaving a little bit of milk on them after a feeding session will also help speed the healing process. In the meantime, try nursing more frequently at shorter intervals, so that your baby will suck a little softer.
4. Plugged or clogged ducts. If you’re making milk faster than it’s getting expressed, it can get backed up in the duct when it doesn’t drain completely. When this happens, the tissue around the duct may become swollen and inflamed and press on the duct, causing a blockage. (If you start feeling feverish and achy, that’s a sign of infection and you should see your doctor.) Experts recommend that you massage the sore area, and applying warm compresses before nursing can help open the ducts and relieve pain and swelling. Some women also use cold compresses after a painful nursing session. You should NOT stop nursing (even on the affected side), and in fact, more frequent nursing can help relieve a clogged duct. Try nursing on the side with the clogged duct first, because your baby sucks strongest at the beginning and that may help dislodge the plug. Once the plug has been dislodged, the area may still feel tender for a week or so, but the hard lump should be gone and it shouldn’t be as painful to nurse. To help prevent clogs in the future, avoid long stretches between feedings, and make sure your nursing bras are well-fitting and avoid underwires, which can compress milk ducts.
5. Painful engorgement. If your breasts feel swollen, throbbing, and uncomfortably full, you may have a high milk supply and be suffering from engorgement. (Swelling may extend all the way to your armpit and you could run a low fever.) If your milk supply is causing you to become engorged, your first thought may be to pump the extra for storage, but your body will keep producing enough milk to fill the perceived need, so you might be contributing more to the problem than the solution by excess pumping. Instead, try feeding your baby before he’s very hungry, when he’s likely to suck more gently, which should stimulate your breasts less and lighten your flow.
6. Mastitis. Mastitis is a bacterial infection in your breasts (usually just one at a time). It is usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as fever and pain in your breasts. It’s generally caused by untreated clogged milk ducts, engorgement, or even cracked nipples that have allowed in an infection. It is important to treat a mastitis infection with antibiotics, and also frequent emptying of the affected breast. Hot compresses can also be used to ease the pain and swelling.
7. Thrush. Thrush is a common yeast infection in your baby’s mouth, which can also spread to your nipples during nursing. If your baby has thrush, he can (and probably will) pass it on to you, so it is important to treat both mom and baby with an antifungal, to keep you from passing the infection back and forth. Moms will recognize signs of thrush in her breasts including constant nipple itchiness, possible redness, shooting pains in the breast during or after a feeding, and sometimes a rash.
9. Baby won’t stay awake while nursing. Both you and your baby will be sleepy in the first couple of months after birth (Well, YOU may be sleepy for the next 5 years. Your baby, notsomuch.) so falling asleep while nursing is pretty common. But if she’s constantly falling asleep before getting her belly full, that can lead to more frequent feedings (i.e. more frustration and less sleep for you). When she’s a little older, she’ll be able to stay awake for longer, but in the meantime, it’s perfectly okay to wake her up so she can get a full feed. When you notice your baby’s sucking slowing down and her eyes closing, you can stimulate her by burping, tickling her feet, blowing softly on her face, or talking to her while rubbing her back. (Although that contrarily would put Mom straight to sleep!)
10. Baby might be tongue-tied. This means that the tissue connecting his tongue to the floor of his mouth is too short or extends too far to the front of his tongue. This can cause latching problems, and sore nipples, and a cranky, hungry baby, but it can be easily fixed with minor surgery. Your pediatrician or lactation consultant should be able to examine your baby’s mouth to determine if this is an issue, if you are having problems.
If you’re experiencing any problems with breastfeeding, including pain or not, never put off talking to your doctor or lactation consultant. And, remember: There are far, far worse things than feeding your baby formula!