Breastfeeding is a completely natural, wonderful, beautiful process between mother and baby. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. From bacterial infections to painful hard breasts, a breastfeeding mother can face many challenges.
However, for every issue a mother faces breastfeeding, there’s a solution. Whether you found yourself here because you are struggling to breastfeed or are trying to learn as much as you can before giving birth to your baby, know this: there is a light at the end of every tunnel.
Doctors and trained professionals will help you get through the challenges, as will the many moms who have faced the very same struggles. Here are just a few nuggets of information to get you started.
A mom that has been told by a doctor that her baby is not gaining weight at a fast enough rate may have an issue with low milk supply. Her body is simply not producing enough milk for her baby.
Solving this problem is a simple case of supply and demand. The more “demand” placed on a mom’s milk ducts, the more “supply” her body will create. More frequent feeding or pumping should signal to her body that it needs to produce more milk.
First, it’s recommended that mom not impose a feeding schedule on her baby. Feeding on demand (whenever the baby is hungry) is best for baby and best for establishing an adequate milk supply.
Mom may need to regularly pump several times a day (after baby eats) to signal to her body that it needs to produce more. She can always offer pumped milk in a bottle or freeze in milk storage bags for later use. Additionally, if mom feeds her baby formula or milk that has been expressed and bottled because she is not with her baby, she will need to pump for every bottle of given – otherwise her body will start to think the milk in her breasts is not needed and will produce even less.
Some moms find success with power pumping. This means that mom allows baby to breastfeed for as much and as long as she wants. Then mom will pump after every feeding or as many feedings as possible. Although this is very time consuming, it can be very effective when done for two to three days.
While having “too much milk” may not seem like a problem, it can be a very real issue for moms. Engorgement happens when a mother’s breasts become so full of milk that it is painful. The first four to six weeks after birth is the time for a mother’s body to adjust to the needs of the baby, so engorgement is not uncommon. During this crucial time, a mother should not try to lessen her milk supply.
After the first initial weeks, if engorgement is still an issue, a mother can try “block feeding” to reduce her milk supply.
How to block feed:
- Nurse on one side only for each breastfeeding session (only if baby is gaining weight adequately)
- Hand express milk on the side that has not been used until mom is more comfortable and then use a cold compress to discourage milk production.
- Each time she does this, she should try to express less and less milk.
- Apply cold compresses (for about 30 minutes) to breasts in between feedings.
Moms should be very cautious when using block feeding because it can greatly reduce a mother’s milk supply and those who continue to have oversupply issues after trying block feeding, should contact a lactation consultant.
Painful Latching/Cracked Nipples
It is perfectly normal to have nipple pain during the first two weeks of breastfeeding. If pain persists after two weeks, and if it occurs longer than a minute after breastfeeding begins, it is time to reach out to a lactation consultant so she can check to make sure the baby’s latch is correct.
A correct latch is slightly asymmetrical so that the baby’s mouth is around mom’s entire nipple and baby should have slightly more of mom’s lower areola in his mouth than the upper areola. To reposition baby, mom can place her finger in baby’s mouth and pull him off the breast before trying again.
- Soothe and treat damaged nipples with natural oil-based nipple cream (not lanolin)
- Nurse initially on the least damaged nipple (babies tend to be more gentle to the second breast)
- If necessary, pump or hand express from the breast with the damaged nipple and feed to your baby with a bottle.
- Rinse with salt water after breastfeeding and keep nipples as dry as possible in between feedings.
When a baby gets a yeast infection in her mouth, this is called thrush. A baby can pass thrush to mom, which causes mom’s nipples to be extremely itchy, sore, and sometimes have a rash. The joys of motherhood.
A doctor will prescribe an antifungal medication which mom will use to treat both her nipples and her baby’s mouth.
We’ve always been told - never wake a sleeping baby! But when breastfeeding, that saying gets pushed aside. A sleepy baby can cause many problems to a nursing mom – like extremely long nursing sessions, low weight gain in baby, engorgement because breasts are not emptied, and eventually low supply.
It is important that baby be sufficiently awake when breastfeeding so he can eat what he needs to grow healthy and strong. To help keep a sleepy baby awake during feedings:
- Undress him before nursing
- Play with him before feeding
- Tickle his feet during feeding or apply ice to his heels if he starts to drift off to sleep
- Switch sides often
- Start nursing on the fullest breast
Clogged or Plugged Ducts
If milk ducts do not completely empty during breastfeeding, mom may experience clogged ducts. She will usually notice a hard lump on her nipples that is painful to the touch. Fever and achiness mean that the clogged duct has turned into an infection (mastitis) and mom should contact a doctor right away.
Two things that can cause a clogged duct are stress and a restrictive nursing bra. When dealing with a clogged duct, mom should make sure her nursing bra is not too tight and try to get as much rest as possible. She should apply warm compresses and nurse (or pump) as often as possible. A clogged duct cannot hurt baby so mom should continue to breastfeed on demand.
Clogged ducts, engorged breasts, and cracked nipples can cause mastitis, which is a bacterial infection in a mother’s breasts. Mastitis often causes fever and painful breasts (flu-like symptoms) and can only be successfully treated with an antibiotic. It is recommended that a doctor be consulted at the first sign of mastitis, due to the risk of infection.
To reduce symptoms, mom should use warm compresses and empty their breasts as much as possible. This usually means pumping in addition to allowing baby to nurse often. Most doctors recommend continuing to breastfeed through mastitis.