What Are Some Common Challenges With Breastfeeding?
There are several challenges that mothers who breastfeed face, including:
- Sore nipples. In the first weeks of breastfeeding, you can expect some nipple soreness. Make sure your baby latches on correctly, and use one finger to break the suction of your baby's mouth after each feeding. That will help prevent sore nipples. If you still get sore, be sure you nurse with each breast fully enough to empty the milk ducts. If you don't, your breasts can become engorged, swollen, and painful. Holding ice or a bag of frozen peas against sore nipples can temporarily ease discomfort. Keeping your nipples dry and letting them "air dry" between feedings helps. Your baby tends to suck more actively at the start. So begin feedings with the less-sore nipple.
- Dry, cracked nipples. Avoiding soaps, perfumed creams, or lotions with alcohol in them, which can make nipples even more dry and cracked, can help relieve dry cracked nipples. You can try gently applying pure lanolin to your nipples after breastfeeding, but be sure you gently wash the lanolin off before breastfeeding again. Changing your bra pads often will help your nipples stay dry. And you should use only cotton bra pads.
- Worries about producing enough milk. Many women worry that they won't produce enough milk. A general rule of thumb is that a baby who's wetting six to eight diapers a day is most likely getting enough milk. Avoid supplementing your breast milk with formula or bottles of water. Your body needs the frequent, regular demand of your baby's nursing to keep producing its milk supply. Some women mistakenly think they can't breastfeed if they have small breasts. But small-breasted women can produce milk just as well as large-breasted women do. Good nutrition, plenty of rest, and staying well hydrated all help your body produce plenty of milk.
- Pumping and storing milk. You can express breast milk by hand or pump it with a breast pump. It may take a few days or weeks for your baby to get used to breast milk in a bottle. So begin experimenting early if you're going back to work. Breast milk can be safely used within two days if it's stored in a refrigerator. You can freeze breast milk for up to three months. Don't warm up or thaw frozen breast milk in a microwave. That will destroy some of its immune-boosting qualities, and heat the milk unevenly. Thaw in the refrigerator or in a bowl of warm water.
- Inverted nipples. An inverted nipple doesn't poke forward when you pinch the areola, the dark skin around the nipple. A lactation consultant -- that's a specialist in breastfeeding education -- can give simple tips that have allowed women with inverted nipples to breastfeed successfully.
- Breast engorgement. Breast fullness is natural and healthy. It happens as your breasts become full of milk, staying soft and pliable. But breast engorgement means the blood vessels in your breast have become congested. This traps fluid in your breasts and makes them feel hard, painful, and swollen. Alternating heat and cold, for instance using ice packs and hot showers, can relieve mild symptoms. Expressing milk, either by releasing your milk by hand or using a breast pump, can also help.
- Blocked ducts. A single sore spot on your breast, which may be red and hot, can signal a plugged milk duct. A plugged duct can often be relieved by warm compresses and gentle massage over the area to release the blockage. More frequent nursing can also help.
- Breast infection (mastitis). Occasionally, a breast infection, which is called mastitis, results when bacteria enter the breast, often through a cracked nipple after breastfeeding. If you have a sore area on your breast along with flu-like symptoms, fever, and fatigue, call your doctor. Antibiotics are usually needed to clear up a breast infection, but you can most likely continue to breastfeed while you have the infection and take antibiotics. To relieve breast tenderness, apply moist heat to the sore area four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each time.
- Stress. Being overly anxious or stressed can interfere with your let-down reflex. That's your body's natural release of milk into the milk ducts. The let-down reflex, triggered by hormones -- oxytocin and prolactin -- released when your baby nurses, can also be triggered just by hearing your baby cry or thinking about your baby. Staying as relaxed and calm as possible before and during nursing can help your milk let down and flow more easily. That, in turn, can help calm and relax your infant and increase your emotional bonding.
- Premature babies. Babies born prematurely may not be able to breastfeed right away. In some cases, mothers can express breast milk and feed it through a bottle or feeding tube.
- Warning signs. Breastfeeding is a natural, healthy process. But call your doctor if:
- your breasts become unusually red, swollen, hard, or sore
- you have unusual discharge or bleeding from your nipples
- you're concerned your baby isn't gaining weight or getting enough milk
Where Can I Get Help With Breastfeeding?
Images of mothers breastfeeding their babies make it look simple and spontaneous. But you should know that most women need some help and coaching. It can come from a nurse, doctor, family member, or friend, and it helps mothers get over the bumps in the road they may encounter.
Reach out to friends, family, and your doctor with any questions you may have. Most likely, the women in your life have had those same questions.