When you and your baby are successfully breastfeeding, the perks are off-the-charts awesome. In addition to the many health benefits associated with nursing, you get to bond with your little one in one of the most intimate ways, save tons of money on formula and never have to lug around bottles and worry about where you’re going to find a source of heat in the park strong enough to adjust the temperature of milk from freezing to lukewarm.
But oh boy, when nursing doesn’t come easily — and one recent study showed that a whopping 92 percent of new moms said they had trouble breastfeeding the week after giving birth — it can be a nightmarish experience that can leave you with sore breasts, scary discharge and low morale.
One way to feel empowered even before you start your nursing journey is to know about the problems that can occur so that you aren’t caught off-guard if breastfeeding isn’t a breeze. Here are some breastfeeding issues that can happen and that moms need to be prepared to handle.
Raynaud’s phenomenon: Most people who have heard of Raynaud’s phenomenon think of it solely as a condition that causes the blood vessels in the fingers and toes to narrow in cold temperatures and when a person is under stress, which can create a bluish appearance in the hands and feet. Buckle up, because although it’s extremely rare, some women can experience Raynaud’s phenomenon in their breasts when they nurse.
”The nipples can go white in a cold room, and it’s extremely painful,” says Dr. Deena Blanchard, a pediatrician at Premier Pediatrics who helped launch The First Month Program. “It’s often mistaken for yeast, which can cause the same type of problem.”
To prevent Raynaud’s syndrome while breastfeeding, Blanchard recommends feeding your baby in a warm room, covering yourself after nursing and avoiding caffeine. Medications are available for this condition, so be sure to visit your doctor if you suspect this is the culprit behind painful breastfeeding.
Yeast of the breast: The breast is a warm, moist environment, and newborns are prone to getting thrush. Put these two factors together, and you can see why yeast of the breast is a rare but not totally uncommon nursing-associated problem. “It’s extremely painful,” Blanchard says, adding that some of her patients describe the agony, which is worse when their babies latch on, as a shooting pain not unlike the bite from a fire ant. Triple ouch. If you notice your baby has thrush (symptoms include white patches on the inside of the mouth and tongue, a loss of appetite and diaper rash), it’s important to treat both your baby and yourself, because babies and moms pass the yeast back and forth to each other.
“Make sure you’re changing your nipple pad, and let your nipples air-dry before you put your bra back on,” Blanchard says. “If you have yeast and use artificial nipples, boil them every day.”
Rusty pipe syndrome: There’s a good chance you’ll get so used to seeing a bit of blood on your cracked nipples, especially during the first few weeks of breastfeeding, that you’ll simply start wiping it off with a tissue, laughing when family members ask if you need help and carrying on with your nursing like a sleep-deprived boss (nipple cream faithfully at your side). While the culprit for blood is usually cracked nipples, Blanchard says rusty pipe syndrome is a rare possibility as well. The syndrome with the oddest of names is most common among first-time moms and can occur when old blood is left inside the milk ducts as a result of vascular engorgement. It isn’t dangerous and isn’t usually painful, though the sight of rust-colored blood leaking from your breasts or appearing in your baby’s spit-up can be alarming.
“You can keep breastfeeding through it — use cream, and be aware it can result in blood in baby’s spit-up, and it can be irritating to baby’s belly if there’s a lot of blood,” Blanchard says.
Typically rusty pipe syndrome clears up on its own within a week and doesn’t require treatment.
Oversupply: Most of the time you’ll hear from new moms who are worried they aren’t producing enough milk for their babies. Oversupply is the opposite problem and occurs when a mom makes so much milk her baby can’t handle the fast flow and has trouble learning to nurse properly. If your baby is choking, having difficulty swallowing, refuses to nurse for longer than a few minutes, tends to spit up a lot, and you’re noticing milk “spraying” when your baby releases his or her latch, oversupply could be the root problem.
Strategies to combat this include feeding your baby on only one breast at a time and (if you experience discomfort in your other breast) pumping just enough to relieve the pain. Also, pump one hour prior to each feeding to ensure there is less milk available for your child. And remember: You aren’t alone. Visit your pediatrician, and seek the help of a lactation counselor.
Mastitis: This infection of the breast is no joke — symptoms include pain, swelling, warmth, redness and even fever and flu-like symptoms. Lactation mastitis usually occurs during the first six to 12 weeks of breastfeeding, and possible causes include a blocked milk duct or bacteria entering the breast. Blanchard says mastitis is not as common as some women think it is and that there are ways to prevent it before it gets worse.
“Some people get the sense that they should pump, pump, pump, but you don’t want to create an oversupply,” Blanchard says, reminding women to visit a doctor as soon as you feel the start of what could be mastitis. “If you start to feel clogged up, take action right away. Face the baby’s chin in the direction of the clogged duct. Don’t wait until you have fever or feel like you have the flu.”
Bruised breasts: A little bruising on and around the nipples is to be expected, especially when newborns (and their mamas) are first trying to get the hang of this whole breastfeeding gig. But if you continue to find fresh black and blue marks on your breasts, your baby may not be latching on properly, even if he or she seems to be getting enough milk.
“People don’t realize the mouth should be puckered like a fish. You really should see the entire lip,” Blanchard says. “If your baby is putting his lip under and you can’t see it, breastfeeding can be painful. Take your little finger, and pop out that upper lip so you really see the entire lip — that really helps a lot.” Even if you are supplementing with formula or a bottle of breast milk now and then — because we all need to sleep — Blanchard warns that it’s important to train your baby to keep that same lip position on the bottle. “You want to make sure you are maintaining that so your baby gets used to the position,” Blanchard says. “It’s so small, but it makes such a big difference.
“Everyone thinks the baby is going to come out, and it’s going to be baby and Madonna,” Blanchard continues. “The expectation is that breastfeeding is going to be natural. For some people it’s super easy, but that’s a small majority. For most people the first time is hard for baby and parent — that doesn’t make you deficient as a parent.”
And another thing: Stop calling your baby “good” if he or she takes to breastfeeding and “lazy” or “difficult” if he or she has trouble latching on. Blanchard says she often hears parents attributing qualities to their babies and forgetting that they are just small people who have to learn how to breastfeed. And for goodness’ sake, give yourself a break when it comes to how much milk you are — or aren’t — producing.
“It takes time for milk to come in, especially with the first, and if you [had] a C-section or delivery problems, it can take even longer,” Blanchard says. “Seek support from your pediatrician, partner and lactation consultant.”
Before you go, check out our slideshowbelow: