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Common breastfeeding problems and ways to tackle them

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 By Dr. Kavita Pujar

Breastfeeding is an integral part of experiencing motherhood but it may not be smooth for every new mother. Many of the new moms experience different types of challenges within the first week after delivery that seem to interfere in the process of breastfeeding.  Issues with breastfeeding can continue to pop up even after the baby learns to settle with the process but can be tackled well by understanding the underlying causes of these problems.

Right from feeding the baby at a newborn stage till the mother decides to wean off, listed below are some of the common breastfeeding problems and their possible solutions. However, it is always better to consult a doctor if the problem persists more than usual.

Sore & Tender Nipples

Tender nipples are common and normal during the first few weeks of breastfeeding. But if they appear cracked, bleeding, painful and extremely sore, then it isn’t normal. In such a situation, breastfeeding a baby can result in increased soreness and pain. It is important to treat tender nipples immediately. While consulting a lactation specialist, make sure that the baby is latching on properly and try to breastfeed by trying and changing positions. Breastfeeding for shorter duration but frequently can also help. While breaking away the suction, use your finger before you remove the baby from the breast. It is advisable to breastfeed when the nipples are less sore. Applying moist and warm compress can also help improve the soreness and help them heal. During consultation with a specialist, check for infections and notify them if the situation turns worse.

Swollen and tightness in the breasts

By the end of the first week of breastfeeding, the breasts may become swollen and feel tight because of breast milk. Referred to as breast engorgement also, swollen and tightness in the breasts can be painful and can make it difficult for the baby to latch. This may last only for a few days till the supply of milk gets adjusted based on the newborn’s feeding needs. Meanwhile, to get relief from the pain and tightness, you can: 

Breastfeed frequently, for about 8 – 12 times in a day, for shorter duration

Correct the way you breastfeed and help the baby latch better to breastfeed efficiently

Use a breast pump to remove more milk after feeding the baby

Remove some milk before breastfeeding to release pressure from the breasts and ease out the flow of milk for the baby to latch on easily

Warm compresses on the breasts

Massage the breasts gently

Bathe with warm water and allow the water to run over the breasts

Clogged Milk Ducts

These are small and hard lumps that form due to clogging up of breast milk and blocking the milk ducts. The areas where plugged milk ducts form become swollen, tender and have redness. Although they may heal after a few days or weeks, to get relief from the pain and soreness, follow these simple tips:

·        Check if the baby is latching on and getting fed properly and efficiently

·        Frequent breastfeeding can prevent the milk ducts from getting clogged

·        Starting the breastfeeding process with the breast that has clogged milk ducts can be beneficial. With the baby’s sucking, the clogs may open up

·        Try different positions of breastfeeding so as to ensure that the entire breast is used while feeding

·        Warm compresses can help the breast milk flow better

·        Massage your breasts after breastfeeding

·        Stay hydrated and rest properly

Breast Infections or Mastitis

Often referred to as breast infection, Mastitis is basically inflammation caused in the breast issue. The symptoms are tenderness in the breasts, flu or similar symptoms along with fever. Mastitis can also be caused due to plugged milk ducts, breast engorgement, chronic fatigue or illness. If you suspect mastitis after identifying the symptoms, consult a doctor immediately and start treatment. You can continue to breastfeed the baby during this time but follow your doctor’s advice. Rest plenty and apply warm compress on the breasts to get relief from inflammation.

Low supply of breast milk

Not producing enough breast milk can be scary and frustrating for the new mother. It can be challenging for the baby as well who may not be getting adequate enough. This can be corrected by eating healthy, resting more and staying hydrated. Additionally, following some tips like breastfeeding often and sucking for longer duration, putting extra stimulation by using a breast pump and helping the baby latch properly and the entire nipple and surrounding breast tissue can help in increasing milk supply.

When it’s too much

If lack of supply of breast milk is a problem, then having it in overabundance can be challenging too. This can lead to plugging of the milk ducts, engorgement of the breasts and even mastitis. With too much milk, there is a possibility of buildup of milk and cause faster flow of the milk due to the pressure created. This can result in choking the baby while feeding and make him fussy, spitting up and cause gas. To tackle this problem, offer one breast for feeding first and use the same one if feeding again within an hour. Try to lie on a reclining chair or the bed to feed the baby. This technique of breastfeeding against gravity may slow down the flow. Lastly, ensure that the baby burps frequently and not swallow excessive air while gulping down fast flowing milk.

Do you know about Thrush?

A type of yeast infection, thrush can occur on the nipples as well as in the baby’s mouth. The typical symptoms include itchiness with or without rashes and redness in the nipples, and painful breasts. On the baby’s mouth, they may appear as white patches or redness. It is crucial to notify the doctor immediately after identifying the symptoms and initiate treatment. Maintain hygiene by cleaning and sterilizing pacifiers, breast pump, bottles and toys and wash hands frequently to stop the infection from spreading further.

Seek Help

The breastfeeding problems that new mothers generally face are mostly resolved within a few days or weeks. However, for some, they may continue beyond and make the situation worse. In such a case, it is advisable to consult a doctor or any lactation consultant to help identify and treat the problem, making it easier for both mother and the baby.

*Dr. Kavita Pujar is Senior Consultant – Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Kinder Women’s Hospital and Fertility Centre, Bengaluru

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