Baby’s hungry and you’re bursting, but no one’s getting fed. Here’s what to do when Mother Nature throws a curve ball at your intentions to breastfeed
Choosing to breastfeed is one of the first big decisions you’ll make as a new mom. And despite how natural it is supposed to be, it is actually just like many other learned things in life: It calls for a bit of practice, patience, and perseverance.
In fact, sometimes it seems like there are just as many obstacles to breastfeeding as there are benefits. But being aware of what could go wrong will give your baby a much better chance at the breast. Here are some solutions to the most common problems of nursing to get you one step closer to breastfeeding bliss, if there is such a thing.
Right after birth, your breasts may seem normal while they are producing the yellowish substance colostrum. This is also known as “starter milk,” which is great for your baby’s immune system. Then, boom! Between two to six days after birth, your milk comes in and your breasts may get bigger, tender, firm…or engorged. Usually this is manageable and will last a day or two. If it becomes too uncomfortable, just know that your breasts will adjust.
It may sound crazy, but putting cold cabbage on your breasts when they become engorged actually works. Leaves should be washed, dried a bit, and refrigerated. After each feeding, contour a single green cabbage leaf around each breast. Leave on for about 20 minutes.
Sore or cracked nipples
At first, your nipples may feel sore and tender. Once you learn how to properly latch your baby onto your breast, the soreness will abate. Always remember that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. Until then: Use lanolin made especially for the nipple after feeds; invest in breast shells to keep your nipples from rubbing against your bra; and feed your baby often with a deep latch to minimize forceful sucking.
Low milk supply
Many nursing moms worry their babies don’t get enough milk. It’s one of the biggest reasons why many new moms stop breastfeeding, but stimulation is the answer to increasing your milk production.
You can encourage milk production by nursing and pumping often. Lactation consultants recommend pumping 15 to 20 minutes after you nurse, especially in the morning when your milk supply is highest. Some suggest a technique called “third breast pumping.” This is when you pump the first breast your baby just nursed from at the same time he or she is nursing on the second breast. You may not get any milk, but your body is receiving a signal that your baby still wants to eat, tricking it into thinking that it needs to produce more milk.
But milk needs to be removed from the breast in order to increase, so make sure your newborn is properly latched on. Then follow her cues and feed when she seems hungry.
Thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in the baby’s mouth. It usually affects infants younger than 6 months. You’ll see white patches on baby’s tongue and on the inside of his cheeks. It can also be passed to you, causing itchy, cracked, and painful nipples accompanied by a burning sensation.
Be sure to see your doctor for treatment options. Both you and your baby will need to be treated at the same time, or else the thrush can continue to be passed back and forth. You will need an antifungal cream to put on your nipples, and medicine to treat the inside of your baby’s mouth, which is usually applied with a cotton swab.
In addition to treatments suggested by your doctor, you might want to take additional acidophilus, reduce dairy products and sugar from your diet, and remember to sterilize all bottles, pacifiers, and toys that your baby puts in her mouth.
If left untreated, a plugged milk duct (see “All Plugged Up,” left) could turn to mastitis, which is an inflammation of the breast. If your breast feels hot, swollen, and painful, and you start to experience flu-like symptoms such as chills, a fever, and a headache, call your doctor.
Keep on keeping on
The first step in successful nursing is acknowledging that it is tough—even when everything is going well. On those days when the universe challenges your good intentions and you’re sure you’re done breastfeeding for good, take a deep breath, make a list of all the things that made you decide to try it in the first place, and call a fellow breastfeeding friend. She’ll know what to say.