If you’re a new mum, breastfeeding will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. Some women take to it naturally and find that it’s a special time to bond with their baby, while others can find it a little more difficult. There’s nothing wrong with this and for some mums it might just require a little more patience and determination.
Whether you’re breezing through it or taking some time to adjust, you should remain focused on your breast health during this time. You’ll be able to make yourself familiar with some of the most common issues below.
It’s not unusual for breastfeeding mums to experience some milk issues. Some of the most common problems with breast milk include:
Too much milk
In the first six to eight weeks it’s possible to be producing surplus breast milk as your body adjusts to what its supply levels should be. If your breasts are engorged and your baby gulps or coughs while feeding, it’s a sign that your body is producing more milk than your baby needs. To ease the flow you can try expressing some milk before a feed or switching breasts frequently during a feed.
Not enough milk
If your breasts are starting to feel less full, this is usually a sign of your body adjusting to your baby’s feeding needs. Milk supply is based on demand, so in theory, the more your baby feeds, the more milk your body will produce. Sometimes milk production can slow or stop if breastfeeding patterns are disrupted and breastfeeding becomes less frequent. For example, bottle feeding or using a dummy results in less time spent on the breast.
It’s completely normal for breasts to leak, particularly in the first few weeks after giving birth. While it can be inconvenient, this is often a sign that you’re producing a good amount of milk for your baby. There is no way to stop leakage, however, many women find breast pads helpful. You may also find that leakage slows down with more frequent feeds.
Mastitis is a result of a blocked duct or a build-up of milk that causes your breast tissue to become inflamed. If you have mastitis you may be able to feel a lump where the blocked duct is located. Other symptoms include red, sore, swollen, or hot breasts, as well as flu-like symptoms such as fever and headaches. A visit to your doctor is recommended, especially if mastitis has not cleared after a couple of days.
Sore nipples are a common complaint amongst breastfeeding mums, however, this doesn’t mean that you should ignore or put up with it. If you’re experiencing breastfeeding pain in the form of dry, cracked, or bleeding nipples, something may not be right. If you’re concerned consult your health care professional. An exception to this is the first few days of breastfeeding, where new mums will feel some discomfort from their nipples being stretched. This is normal and should fade after a while.
What causes sore nipples?
The most common cause of sore nipples is the inability to latch on correctly. In order to latch on, your baby will need to have their mouth wide open, with the nipple sitting far back in their mouth. Sore nipples occur when the baby sucks the nipple in.
Some other causes of sore nipples:
- Breastfeeding while pregnant
How to tell if sore nipples are affecting your baby
If your baby has trouble latching on correctly, you may notice the following signs:
- Very frequent feeds
- Long time spent on breast
- Baby gaining weight slower than expected
- Baby is unsettled after feeds
What to do about sore nipples
If you’re experiencing sore breasts from breastfeeding, it’s best to speak to your doctor or lactation consultant so you can rectify the problem as soon as possible. Avoid self-diagnosis online, as the information you read may not be specifically relevant to you.
Breastfeeding positions and comfort
For one of the most natural activities, breastfeeding can often feel complicated. Thankfully, there are a number of breastfeeding positions you can try out. It’s important that you find a position which feels comfortable and allows you to completely relax - after all, you will be spending a lot of time breastfeeding!
The cradle hold
Support your baby’s head in the crook of your arm (the same arm as the breast you’re using), with the hand of that arm supporting their bottom. Position your baby on their side, with their nose facing your nipple. Use your free arm to support your breast. For your own comfort, sit in a chair with cushioned arm rests, or place a breastfeeding pillow underneath your arms and elbows.
The cross-over hold
This position is a reverse of the classic cradle hold. Instead of using the same arm as the breast you’re using, use the opposite arm. In this position your hand will be supporting your baby’s head and neck, not the crook of your arm. Once again, a breastfeeding pillow or a comfortable chair with soft arm rests will help you stay comfortable in this position.
The football hold
Hold your baby at your side and under your arm. They should be on their back, with their head supported by your hand and their nose facing your nipple. Rest a pillow under your arm for support. As the name of this breastfeeding position suggests, you should be holding your baby as you would a football. This position works especially well for women who have had caesarean births, as it doesn’t put pressure on the abdomen.
The side-lying position
A great position for women who have had caesarean births, as well as for night feeds, as you can stay in bed! How to breastfeed lying down: lie down on the side that you will be nursing from, with your back supported by pillows. For extra comfort, support your head and neck with pillows and place a pillow between your knees. Baby should be on their side, facing you. You can choose to support your baby’s head with the crook of the same arm or the hand of your opposite arm – whichever is more comfortable for you. Make sure to stay awake and alert, so if you feel yourself drifting off, just switch to one of the seated positions above.
Laid-back breastfeeding (biological nurturing)
This breastfeeding position is often referred to as biological nurturing, as it enables your baby to use their natural instincts to locate their food source and latch on. You will need to get yourself into a semi-reclined position – a breastfeeding chair, reclining lounge, or lots of pillows in bed are all suitable options. Place your baby on their front, on your body, with their feet near your thighs (though this is the most popular positioning of baby, you can also try other angles). Your baby will then use their natural instinct to find your nipple and latch on. They may have to wriggle around a bit to get there; this is normal.
More tips on breastfeeding
Would you like to know what kind of nutrition will help support your baby’s ongoing healthy development, or tips on how to manage your lifestyle as a breastfeeding mother? Visit our breastfeeding nutrition page for advice on your diet and head over to our lifestyle page for tips to prepare for the challenges as a breastfeeding mum.