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Getting Past Breastfeeding Barriers

How can new mothers get past nipple problems?

The baby's position while nursing is key, says Garrison. Mothers need to position them so that they can reach the area an inch to an inch-and-a-half around the nipple. Otherwise, the baby is feeding on the end of the nipple, which causes the mother pain.

The ideal position, explains McCoy, "is the cradle hold, where they are on the side, level across your chest, with head slightly down ... but making sure the head is not hanging down and tugging at the nipple, and making sure that the head is adequately supported. Many moms initially feel uncomfortable, that they're suffocating the baby in the breast tissue, but the tip of the nose presses against the breast tissue and pushes the little airway open so the baby can continue to breathe."

If nursing hurts, ask a healthcare provider for help, Garrison advises. "There are too many women who are told it's going to hurt in the early days," she says. "If they tough it out and they never look for ways to correct this ... they think they have to go through this pain. Different tolerances of pain mean some women won't continue."

"The skin of nipples is tender, and it does need to get a little bit toughened up," says McCoy. "After mothers get past that, [the pain] usually subsides after the first few days. Persistent pain with nursing is unusual ... it could also indicate that the mom or baby has [an] ... infection that could be causing the pain -- because it normally shouldn't hurt, except for that tingly feeling that moms get when their milk lets down. That's very brief, right at the beginning of the feeding."

"Cracked nipples are usually a sign the baby is not latched on properly, or the mother has not been instructed how to care for her nipples -- making sure she cleans them, air-dries her nipples, before she covers back up," says McCoy. "Using a lanolin cream is also very helpful in healing nipples."

What is mastitis?

Mastitis is a painful inflammation of the milk glands caused by a blockage. "It can happen even in a mom who is nursing well, just because some milk ducts get plugged and bacterial growth occurs," McCoy explains.

"The most difficult thing we have to say to moms is that they should continue to nurse the baby," she tells WebMD. "That will help draw the milk out, which will help pull the infection out. If she quits nursing, her breasts will become more engorged, which increases the pain and makes the infection worse."

Symptoms of mastitis are redness, warmness, and tenderness of a portion of the breast, along with fever. You should see your doctor if this occurs.

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