3 Common Breastfeeding Traps for Women (and How to Solve Them)

By Laura Flynn McCarthy

breastfeedingtrapsBreastfeeding is the easiest, most natural process in the world, right?

Well, not always. Many women experience breastfeeding snags in the first few days after birth. Most problems resolve on their own or with a little help from you, but call your doctor if you have signs of infection: persistent tenderness, pain or hardness in the breasts, reddened breast skin, fever, chills or other flu-like symptoms. Here, lactation consultant Heather Kelly gives insider tips on overcoming three common breastfeeding traps — and how to solve them:

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1. Engorgement: Whose Breasts Are These Anyway? The first three days of life, your nursing baby ingests colostrum, a rich substance sometimes referred to as “white gold” because it is high in nutrients and protective antibodies, although the volume of milk is low.  When your baby is three or four days old, through, your breasts fill with milk, and you may feel like you have Dolly Parton’s body, not your own. “Some women develop watermelon-sized breasts on their third or fourth day after delivering their baby,” says Kelly. “Engorgement usually lasts only a day or two, but it can be tricky for your baby as well as you. Latching on may be more difficult when your breasts are engorged.”

Solution? Get the milk out:

  • Take a hot shower or apply warm wet washcloths to your breasts before you breastfeed.
  • If latching on is difficult for your baby, place your fingertips around the base of your nipple and press down on your areola — the dark area surrounding your nipple — for just under a minute to soften the area before bringing your baby to your breast.

If your breasts are still engorged after your baby has had a full feeding, pump both breasts for ten minutes. (Kelly recommends using an electric double pump such as Medela Pump In Style.) “Pumping relieves the discomfort of engorgement, and can help you maintain your milk supply,” says Kelly.

Once you have removed as much milk as possible through breastfeeding and/or pumping, apply ice packs, cold washcloths or chilled cabbage leaves to your breasts to reduce swelling and discomfort.

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2. Get Unplugged  Sometimes milk gets stuck — a condition called “milk stasis” — in a breast duct, causing the duct to become plugged. Symptoms may include a painful white or yellow “milk blister” on your nipple or areola, or a sore area of your breast that feels like a frozen pea under your skin. “Some women’s milk seems particularly prone to plugged ducts, which often resolve when the breast is drained,” says Kelly. Her tips:

  • Massage the area with your fingers, using a little olive oil to reduce friction if necessary.
  • Offer that breast first at the next feeding, when your baby’s nursing is most vigorous.
  • Position your baby strategically. “The area that gets the most drainage is the area where your baby’s chin is pointed,” says Kelly. “For example, if your plugged duct is on the outside of your right breast, start the baby off on that breast in the football position so that duct is near his tongue for maximum stimulation.”

3. Ouch! Nipple Soreness Of course your nipples are sensitive. They have to be to trigger the “let down reflex” which makes your breasts release milk. That same sensitivity can cause discomfort, though, especially during the early days of breastfeeding. You may experience nipple soreness, cracks or fissures. Solutions:

  • Check your baby’s latch. Both your areola and your nipple should be in your baby’s mouth during nursing. “To minimize pain, aim for an asymmetrical latch with most of the breast tissue in your baby’s mouth near his tongue and your nipple just clearing the top of his mouth,” says Kelly.
  • Rest your nipples. Once you and your baby have gotten the hang of latching on correctly, if your nipples are still sore and painful, allow them to heal. “Give your baby a bottle of breast milk for at least one feeding and possibly more,” says Kelly. “Pump your own breasts during those bottle feedings. It might hurt to pump, but not as much as having the baby on your nipples. It’s amazing how much your nipples can heal by taking off even one feeding.”
  • Try a salt water bath. To speed healing of nipple cracks or fissures dissolve a half teaspoon of salt into one cup of warm water; pour small amounts onto your nipples.

Knowing how to solve nursing problems is a key skill if you’re going to breastfeed your baby for six months or more. The good news is that more and more women are doing it: About 77 percent of American mothers start out breastfeeding, 47 percent are still doing it at six months, and 25 percent continue through the first year. The numbers keep going up. When you know more about solving nursing problems, your likelihood of success goes up, too. That’s a healthy thing for your baby—and you.

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Laura Flynn McCarthy is a New Hampshire-based writer who specializes in health and parenting topics.

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