"Nursing can be painful while the baby and mother are getting the hang of it, but if all is going well, the discomfort shouldn't last more than a week or so," says Mona Gabbay, M.D., creator of TheBreastFeedingDoctor.com and a nursing expert in New Rochelle, New York. If you're still experiencing pain after the first week, it could be a sign that your babe hasn't mastered the latch. Helpful checks: Your sweetie's mouth is wide open, with lips curled out; he has taken as much of the areola into his mouth as possible; he is sucking rhythmically; and you can hear regular swallows. If you need to, seek help from a lactation consultant.No Breast Soreness!
Soothe those hardworking nipples with lanolin or olive oil. (Avoid using lanolin for more than a week or two, however, because it could contribute to thrush; see the next page.) "Soaking your breasts in warm saltwater after nursing can also alleviate pain and heal cuts," Dr. Gabbay says. Mix 1 teaspoon salt with 1 cup warm water in a bowl, and pour into shot glasses or bowls. Dip your nipples in for about three minutes at a time, and pray nobody rings your doorbell.
Another common cause of discomfort is engorgement, which causes full, hard breasts. The best fix: Nurse the baby on demand. If he is sleeping for long periods at night, wake up to pump. Decrease these pumping sessions over the next few nights so your breasts can adjust to longer periods of not nursing. Before feeding, take a warm shower or place a washcloth doused in warm water on your breasts to facilitate the letdown of milk; to further encourage la leche to flow, massage your breasts toward the nipple while feeding. Placing ice packs on your breasts between sessions will reduce swelling. Frozen cabbage leaves also work for some unknown reason, though you might feel like human coleslaw.
No Blocked Ducts!
Going for long stretches between nursing or putting pressure on breasts for an extended period of time (with a too-tight bra or a seat belt, or by sleeping on your stomach) can lead to a blocked duct, which causes milk to build up and form a painful, hard mass in the breast. Treat a blocked duct as you would engorgement (see previous page), offering Baby the sore breast first if you can tolerate it; she'll nurse more vigorously there and drain it more effectively. If you develop a fever or body aches, or if the skin on your breast becomes red and sore, you may have mastitis, a bacterial infection caused by blocked ducts or open wounds on the nipples. About a third of nursing women get it. It's treatable with antibiotics, so if you have symptoms, call your doctor.No Low Milk Supply!
Tanks not as full as you'd like them to be? Blame infrequent nursing, certain medications (such as antihistamines), hormonal medical conditions (like thyroid dysfunction), or anatomical issues (such as past breast surgery). If your baby is fussy or wants to nurse constantly, he may not be getting enough to eat, so see a lactation consultant. She may suggest barley, oatmeal, almonds, and other foods that increase milk production, or herbs and teas like fenugreek, fennel, and nettle.No Thrush!
Pink, sensitive nipples that sting between feedings signal this yeast infection. "A baby's gut naturally gets colonized with yeast, but because a newborn's immunity isn't very strong, he can develop an overgrowth and pass it along to his mother," Dr. Gabbay says. Other signs: white patches on Baby's inner cheeks or gums, or a fungal diaper rash (it's red and raised, with satellite red spots). See your pediatrician to get an accurate diagnosis. You and your baby will both require an antifungal medication. To prevent thrush, do your best to keep your breasts dry (yeast thrives in warm, moist environments), which means avoiding lanolin after the first week postpartum and changing wet breast pads often. Take care!
Originally published in the October 2011 issue of American Baby magazine.
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