Overcoming common breastfeeding problems
Breastfeeding is a knack and, despite poplar belief, this knack often takes some time to develop. In the meantime, problems such as soreness and engorgement can ensue. But the good news is that you can easily manage most breastfeeding problems. Breastfeeding counsellors are an excellent place to start if you have any problem of any kind. But here are a few tips to help you stave off some of the most common complaints.
Coping with cracked nipples
Sore, cracked nipples can have you climbing the walls in agony – and they’re the number-one reason for new mums resorting to the milk bottle. Sore nipples are usually caused by your baby not latching on properly, so check your positioning when breastfeeding to make sure he’s getting the whole of the nipple and most of the areola in his mouth. Ask for help from your health visitor or breastfeeding counsellor immediately if you’re in any doubt about your positioning. Cracked nipples in themselves are painful, but not dangerous. If your breasts become red and tender, however, you may have mastitis.
If you find yourself with cracked nipples, take this advice:
- Keep the nipple dry with breastpads (change as soon as they become damp) or clean tissues and go topless whenever possible – the air helps heal the skin.
- Try applying a few drops of breast milk or dab on some lanolin, vitamin E ointment, olive oil, or petroleum jelly onto the nipple after feeding.
- Try to continue feeding from the sore nipple – it may be agony, but do it if you can bear it, even if only for a few minutes, to keep the nipple conditioned to feeding.
- Increase the number of feeds, and feed for a shorter period each time. That way, your baby may not be as hungry as usual and may not suck as hard.
- Express a little milk manually before you put your baby to the breast. This starts the milk flow, so your baby won’t have to suck so hard to get the flow going.
If your breasts become over full, they’ll feel hard and painful, making it difficult for your baby to latch on. To avoid engorgement, try the following techniques:
- Feed your baby regularly. Keeping your milk flowing regularly is important, so try not to miss feeds – many experts recommend waking your baby up if necessary in the early days. He shouldn’t go more than six hours without a feed, day or night.
- If you have to miss a feed, express some milk. Check out the post about ‘Expressing milk’ for some suggestions.
- If, despite your best efforts, your breasts become engorged, try gently expressing a little milk by hand or with a breast pump. Massage your breast with a warm flannel to ease the discomfort and stimulate the letdown reflex.
Beating blocked ducts
When a milk duct becomes blocked, you’ll feel a hard red patch or lump on the outside of your breast. The best way to prevent this is by feeding often and encouraging your baby to empty your breast. If the baby won’t do it, assume the chore yourself: Get expressing. If your ducts get blocked anyway, try these things to improve the situation:
- Check that your bra fits properly, because tight clothing can make the problem worse.
- Feed often. Offer your baby the affected breast first, massaging towards the nipple as you do so.
- Apply heat to the lump. A warm bath or shower can also work wonders.
- Most importantly, keep feeding.
Bacteria from your baby’s mouth or a blocked duct that has not been treated can lead to mastitis, an acute infection that can make your breast swollen and painful, with red patches. Mastitis is often accompanied by fever (over 38°C), malaise, and general body aches, similar to having flu.
Soothe sore swollen breasts by placing a couple of chilled cabbage leaves on to the affected area. Really! Try it! You don’t need to tell anyone what you’ve got down your bra . . .
If you suspect you’ve got mastitis, see your doctor as soon as possible, as you may need antibiotics to clear up the infection. Try to continue to breastfeed your baby, in order to avoid engorgement, which makes the condition more painful. Ibuprofen, paracetamol (both safe to take while breastfeeding), or warm compresses may help relieve the pain while you’re waiting for antibiotics take effect (usually around 2 days).
If you see white spots on your breasts and in your baby’s mouth, and your breasts feel itchy, you may have contracted thrush, a common fungal infection. Make an appointment to see your doctor immediately, as you and your baby are going to need treatment with antibiotics or anti-fungal creams. Seek immediate help; you and your baby need to be treated simultaneously to prevent reinfecting each other.