If you’re a new or expecting mother (or even an experienced mum), you’ve probably spent a great deal of time preparing for your new addition. From making sure you create a safe sleeping space to getting all those cute baby clothes, and diapers…so many diapers! There are many things you need to be ready for once you’re holding that precious baby in your arms.
One thing you might assume just comes naturally is breastfeeding. Breastfeeding comes with a whole host of benefits and is recommended as the sole source of nutrition for your baby for the first six months of life, and you can bet it will create such a strong bond between you and this tiny new life you brought into the world. While it is such a natural and beautiful experience, you may still encounter questions or challenges along the way.
Doing your research and being prepared for some of the most common issues new mothers face while breastfeeding will help you breeze through the fourth trimester and continue to give your baby the nutrient-dense breastmilk they need to thrive.
Those first few weeks after bringing home your baby are filled with sleepless nights, stressful moments, and a whole lot of love. While you can expect breastfeeding to be demanding and even exhausting at times, we want to give you the best troubleshooting tips to work through common issues that might come up during your breastfeeding journey.
Trust us when we say…every issue can be fixed! Take a deep breath, mama, and let’s tackle these problems together.
We’ve already covered some of the common breastfeeding problems on our blog, so if you think your baby isn't latching correctly or you’re experiencing low milk supply, check out our previous blog posts to see how you can fix these issues. If your baby is refusing a bottle, we’ve got some help for you on our blog too!
Sore, Cracked, and Painful Nipples
Cause of Sore, Cracked, and Painful Nipples
It's not unusual for you to experience pain when you begin breastfeeding, especially if this is your first time. If the pain persists for more than a few seconds, there might be an issue with the baby’s position or latch.
When your baby is in the correct nursing position, your nipple should rest comfortably against the soft palate at the back of their mouth, and there should be no pain. Here you can also read about what a good latch looks like. If your nipple is in the wrong position, it can get pinched, causing cracking, bleeding, and a lot of soreness.
If you’re pumping, check your pump settings because pain or soreness could indicate that you’re using too high of a setting on your breast pump.
How to Treat Sore, Cracked, and Painful Nipples
To learn more about latching and how you can find the proper latch, read our blog post that goes in-depth into achieving the correct latch.
Keep in mind that some pain and soreness are expected in the beginning until your nipples get used to breastfeeding. You'll want to try and stay as comfortable as possible during this time and give your nipples time to heal. Letting them air dry after a feeding, using an ointment like lanolin, or applying a cool compress are ways to relieve the pain and discomfort of breastfeeding in those first few weeks.
If the pain persists, reach out to a lactation consultant or your doctor to find out if your baby has other issues, like a tongue-tie.
Cause of Breast Engorgement
Engorgement happens when your breasts become overly full. This causes them to feel hard, tight, and so painful that even wearing a bra can hurt.
After your baby is born, you can expect to have some engorgement about three days postpartum, as your milk comes in. When your milk supply begins to regulate, that engorgement will go away, usually within a day or two.
Engorgement can happen anytime your baby goes too long between feedings. Especially in the early days, your baby should be fed at least every two to three hours on-demand, or about eight to twelve times per day.
How to Treat Breast Engorgement
The first and best way to relieve breast engorgement is to feed your baby. This will help remove some of the milk from your breast, which will make you feel a lot more comfortable.
If your breasts are so full it’s painful to nurse, try expressing some breast milk to relieve some of the pressure. You can learn more about expressing and storing breast milk here.
It can also help to wear a well-fitting nursing bra, apply a warm compress before feeding and a cold compress after feeding, or massage your breasts while feeding. Putting cabbage leaves on your breasts has also been proven to reduce pain in breast engorgement.
Clogged Milk Ducts
Cause of Clogged Milk Ducts
Several glands in your breasts make the milk, and narrow tubes called the ducts carry the milk from each gland to your nipple. On occasion, your might experience one of these ducts becoming clogged. This can happen when one of the segments isn’t properly drained, causing it to become blocked.
A clogged milk duct feels like a small lump in your breast, and it is often very painful. Blocked ducts need to be relieved quickly, or they could turn into mastitis (which we’ll talk about next).
How to Treat Clogged Milk Ducts
When a milk duct is clogged, your baby can help drain it for you! Try to position them so they’re feeding in the direction of the plugged duct. Be sure to offer your baby frequent feeds and try massaging the lump towards your nipple so you can work together to get the milk flowing freely again. If you find that nursing isn't working, try to fully drain the breast with a breast pump to empty your breast fully.
A warm shower or warm compress can also help loosen the clogged milk duct. Vibrations have been shown to clear the clogged duct, and La Leche League recommends using the flat end of an electric toothbrush against the duct to work it out.
Cause of Mastitis
Mastitis happens when a clogged milk duct gets infected (usually by bacteria from your baby’s mouth). Up to 10 per cent of all women may experience mastitis, typically within the first six weeks after delivery.
When you get mastitis, you’ll experience a great deal of pain and inflammation and will notice red splotches on your breast. Your breast may feel hot and tender, and you'll experience flu-like symptoms, including achiness, tiredness, and a fever.
It’s important to seek treatment right away when you experience these symptoms so the infection doesn't get worse.
How to Treat Mastitis
You'll want to rest as much as possible and continue to nurse from the affected breast. La Leche League says that it is a myth that it is unhealthy for your baby to breastfeed when you have a breast infection – the antibacterial properties of human milk actually protect your baby from infection. Continuing to breastfeed when experiencing a sore breast, plugged duct or breast infection will speed recovery.
If nursing does not drain the breast or your symptoms do not improve right away, seek medical treatment. Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection, which will have you feeling better in no time.
Cause of Thrush
The cause is widely unknown, but thrush is a yeast infection that can appear on your nipples or in your baby’s mouth. You might notice that you have pain in both nipples, and they might be cracked or pink in colour (if the pain is just on one side or you have a fever, it might be mastitis, not thrush). If you notice white patches or sores in your baby's mouth, gums, or tongue, this is probably oral thrush.
Thrush sometimes occurs if your baby is taking antibiotics, as they reduce the number of good bacteria your baby produces and then are transferred to your breast from the baby’s mouth.
How to Treat Thrush
If you suspect you or your baby has thrush, you'll want to see your doctor for treatment right away. You and your baby must receive treatment simultaneously so you don't continue to spread the infection between the two of you.
Practice good hygiene, including washing hands frequently and changing breast pads often, and sterilize anything that's been in contact with your baby's mouth to keep the infection from spreading further.
Oversupply of Breast Milk
Cause of Oversupply of Breast Milk
An oversupply of breast milk might sound like a good thing, but it can present many challenges for both mother and baby. Some mums just have bodies that naturally produce a lot of milk right from the beginning. Other things that cause an oversupply include pumping in between nursing sessions early on to increase milk volume (this can happen easily in the first few weeks when your body is still regulating milk production) or offering both breasts at every feeding (this means your baby doesn't get the full fat hindmilk and gets hungry more frequently).
When you have an oversupply of breast milk, your baby can choke or cough during let-down, and they might bite down to try and slow the rapid flow of milk (which can hurt a lot). Your baby may also be especially gassy and want to feed much more frequently because they fill up on the lower fat foremilk and not the nutrient-rich hindmilk. La Leche League recommends that some mothers benefit from having their thyroid levels checked as overactive thyroids can contribute to oversupply.
How to Treat Oversupply of Breast Milk
Your milk production is based on supply and demand. So, in theory, less demand will create less supply. Try to create a feeding pattern or schedule that allows your baby to nurse fully on one side before offering the other breast. Make sure they completely empty one side so your baby gets that dense hindmilk they need to satisfy their hunger.
Maintain an on-demand feeding schedule and get to know your baby’s hunger and full cues so you can follow their lead. If one or both of your breasts feel full after feeding or you need to relieve one side, you can express some milk to relieve your discomfort (which also helps prevent other issues like clogged ducts or engorgement).
Often women find that when their supply regulates, they have a weaker let-down which means your baby won’t gag or choke on your breast milk at the beginning of each nursing session.
The Good News: All Breastfeeding Issues Can Be Fixed!
Breastfeeding is a way to give your baby the best nutrition from the very start of their life, and aside from all the nutrients and antibodies you’re passing along to them, you’re also embarking on a wonderful bonding experience that you will only share with your baby for a short amount of time.
Enjoy this time, and remember that every issue does not mean it’s time to throw in the towel. All breastfeeding issues can be fixed with a little bit of work. If you suspect the problems are bigger than you can handle, it might be time to contact your doctor.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you’ll want to seek medical help right away if your baby:
· Isn't gaining weight
· Isn't wetting at least six diapers a day
· Isn't having regular bowel movements
· Passes urine that's deep yellow or orange
· Is consistently fussy after feedings
· Seems sleepy all the time
· Has yellow discolouration of the skin and eyes
· Spits up forcefully or more than a small amount at a time
Every baby is unique, and every breastfeeding journey is different. Keep it up, mama, you’ve got this!
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