Breastfeeding may be natural, but it’s not always easy. The truth is, there are several things that occur along your nursing journey. What is easy? Getting great advice from the experts that know breasts and babies best. We asked them for their best tips for how to handle the most common breastfeeding problems new moms face. Here’s what they said.
- Latching Pain
It’s 100 percent normal for your nipples to feel a little (or a lot) sore when you first start breastfeeding, especially if you’re a first-timer. But if the pain lasts longer than a few seconds into your feeding session, there may be an issue with the baby’s latch. Remember, both you and baby are learning the ropes here, so an improper latch is one of the most common breastfeeding problems to surface.
Solution: First, gently rub your nipple under the baby’s nose to encourage a wide-open mouth. “Most babies will ‘root’ at the breast and give you a good, open mouth when they’re ready to nurse,” says Stephanie Nguyen, RN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant and founder of Modern Milk, a breastfeeding clinic and prenatal-postnatal education center in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Next, place baby so their bottom lip is positioned well below your nipple, not at the base of the nipple,” she adds. “But be sure to bring baby onto your breast, rather than putting your breast in their mouth.” You’ll know baby is positioned correctly when their chin touches your breast, their lips are splayed out and you can’t see your nipple or part of the lower areola.
- Cracked Nipples
This is one of those breastfeeding problems that can be the result of many different things: a shallow latch, pumping improperly, thrush, and sometimes even dry skin. During your first week of breastfeeding, when baby is just learning to latch, you may even experience some bloody discharge, says Jane Morton, MD, a clinical professor of pediatrics emerita at Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto, California, and founder of Droplet, an online resource for breastfeeding moms. Cracked nipples might be a little frightening (and uncomfortable), but this breastfeeding problem is nothing to worry about.
Solution: Your first step is to make sure the baby is properly positioned. “When a baby has a shallow latch, your nipple is positioned in the front of baby’s mouth, which means your nipple is rubbing along baby’s hard palate,” says Nguyen. Once you get a deeper latch, your nipple settles farther back in the baby’s mouth where the soft palate lies, which is a much more comfortable (and effective) latch. It’s always best to have an OB or lactation consultant determine the cause of your cracked nipples before jumping into treatment, but for many moms, soothing gel pads, nursing ointments, and/or taking a mild painkiller like acetaminophen (Tylenol) 30 minutes before nursing can help ease discomfort. Morton also suggests letting some milk stay on your nipples after feeding and air dry to aid healing. And because cracked nipples can allow for bacteria to enter the breast, wash your sore nipples with soap and water at least twice a day.
Engorged breasts (aka breasts bulging with a whole lot of milk) are very full, firm, and taut, making it hard for the baby to latch—and yes, like so many breastfeeding problems, engorged breasts can be pretty uncomfortable for mom. Your breasts may become engorged at the beginning of your breastfeeding journey when your milk first comes in and your body is still figuring out how to regulate milk production. Engorgement can also happen if you go too long between feedings or if the baby isn’t properly draining your breasts of milk.
Solution: Try hand-expressing a little before feeding the baby. This will get the milk flowing and soften the breast, making it easier for the baby to latch and access milk, says Morton. Of course, the more you nurse, the less likely your breasts are to get engorged.
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- Clogged Ducts
When your breasts are overly full or you’ve gone longer than usual between feeds, milk can back up into your ducts, clogging them up. You’ll know you’ve got a plugged duct if there’s a hard lump on your breast, if your breast is sore to the touch, and/or there’s some redness. If you’ve got a fever too, that’s a sign of mastitis (see below). Other causes of clogged ducts include: Compressing your breasts while sleeping; using wrong-sized pumping parts or an inefficient pump or having something hit your breast in the same spot, like the underwire of your bra. “But some women are simply more prone to plugged ducts and there may not actually be an underlying cause,” says Nguyen.
Solution: For clogged milk ducts, Morton encourages getting adequate rest (you should recruit your partner to pick up some slack when possible). You can also try feeding the baby on the affected side first at each feeding until the duct is cleared. Applying warm compresses to your breasts and massaging them can also help break up the clog. “Vibration works too,” says Nguyen. “Try an electric massager or the end of an electric toothbrush.”
- Low Milk Supply
In theory, breastfeeding is a supply-and-demand system. The more you nurse or pump, the more milk your body should make. That said, there can be many reasons for a low milk supply, so it’s always best to consult a lactation consultant to see what’s going on.
Solution: Frequent nursing and pumping during the day can help up your breast milk supply. While it’s important to stay hydrated and well-nourished when nursing, surprisingly, downing an excess of fluids and consuming more calories hasn’t been shown to increase milk production, Morton notes.