August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, which means now’s as good a time as any to educate yourself and others on the topic. As a parent, you’ve likely already experienced pumping, formula feeding or breastfeeding. However, many new mothers are completely unaware of what these processes entail, especially nursing.
This feeding method promotes development and bonding between newborns and their mothers. However, it can also be an incredibly painful experience — not to mention completely unexpected. From cracked nipples to mastitis, breastfeeding is one hell of a ride, and more moms need to start talking about these common issues.
1. Low Milk Supply
Most mothers assume they’ll produce enough breast milk to meet their infant’s nutritional needs. However, many struggle with low milk supplies and must rely on supplemental or alternative feeding methods to ensure their baby is eating enough. While any number of factors can limit milk supply — including endocrine problems and using hormonal birth control — it’s important for new mothers to understand that a fed baby is the best kind of baby, no matter what feeding looks like.
2. Too Much Breast Milk
At the other end of the spectrum, some mothers produce too much milk. Whether they’re switching breasts too often during feedings or pumping too much before a feed, their hyperlactation can certainly complicate things. In most cases, a midwife or breastfeeding specialist can help determine the cause of too much breast milk and suggest ways to decrease supply. Hyperlactating moms might also freeze extra milk and mix it into their child’s food when they start eating solids instead of pumping and tossing it.
3. Trouble Latching
Breastfeeding is a skill that you and your baby must learn together, so it might take some time before your baby latches successfully. Still, there are a number of issues that can make latching even more difficult. For instance, you might have inverted nipples or your baby could have a tongue or lip tie, making breastfeeding challenging, if not impossible. These moms might require additional assistance from a midwife if they wish to breastfeed.
4. Breast Engorgement
Hyperlactation or failing to pump and feed regularly can eventually result in breast engorgement. This painful condition occurs when the breasts become too full of milk. However, expressing breast milk can alleviate tightness and pain, making it easier for your baby to latch on and relieve pressure. Just don’t strip the breast of too much milk or you might end up producing more and exacerbating the issue. Applying chilled cabbage leaves may also reduce pain and swelling, although there’s less evidence to support this treatment method.
5. Blocked Milk Ducts
If breast engorgement continues or your baby fails to latch properly, you may experience blocked milk ducts. Small, tender lumps in your breast are a telltale sign of this common issue. Luckily, your baby can relieve this problem almost immediately if you place their chin towards the lump so they can feed from that part of the breast. Wearing loose clothing and showering under warm water may also aid in loosening the blockage and promoting flow.
It’s important to deal with blocked ducts quickly. Otherwise, they can lead to mastitis — or breast inflammation. This condition can be incredibly painful and cause flu-like symptoms. In some cases, mastitis can even turn into an infection and you’ll have to take antibiotics to heal. While breastfeeding may hurt, it’s important to maintain your feeding schedule to clear the infection and prevent further complications like a breast abscess, which may require an operation to drain it.
7. Sore or Cracked Nipples
Many mothers experience sore and cracked nipples as a result of their infant failing to latch properly. Of course, these issues can make breastfeeding frustrating and tearful. However, it’s important to keep feeding your baby for as long as they want to reduce the chance of infection and regulate your milk supply. Mothers dealing with cracked and bleeding nipples should also get help as soon as possible to prevent mastitis and other complications.
If you don’t remedy cracked nipples soon enough, you might develop thrush. This infection is contagious and can affect your baby and other people in your family. Thrush infections can also occur after a round of antibiotics since these medications reduce the number of helpful bacteria in your body and allow candida fungus to flourish. Mothers suffering from thrush should see their health visitor or pediatrician who will likely recommend anti-fungal tablets or medicated cream.
Do What’s Right for You
Breastfeeding is a magical journey, one that can help you form an unbreakable bond with your child. However, it certainly has its downsides. So, if you decide that nursing isn’t right for you, there are plenty of excellent alternatives. And, if anyone questions your methods, feel free to tell them all about engorgement, cracked nipples and breast infections. Odds are they won’t doubt you or your parenting choices again.