I spent almost a decade in the Human Resource function and of that a considerable portion in recruitment and staffing. Please don’t be disappointed to see a very unusual analogy here. I can explain. Almost every HR specialist has read a book title “The first 90 days” and how it impacts the success of a new recruit or a newly elevated leader. And I live by this book. Most of your lives early experiences will largely determine how well you fare in those areas. And the same goes for the early breastfeeding days.
New mothers need to see successes in their early breastfeeding days in order to have a journey that is fulfilling and satisfying to both her newborn child and herself.
And of course, as you would have with most things in life, it is the early breastfeeding days which are most challenging and sadly, when most people tend to give up. While it is true that a little perseverance and determination can get most people through any challenge life throws at them, breastfeeding is different. It is combined with a woman who is bearing the severe trauma of childbirth, is a muddle of hormones and is probably fielding a myriad of opinions & statements on how she should be raising that little being that may be less than a day old even. Breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally and is hard.
Looking back at my personal journey, I recall very vividly how I would writhe in pain every time babyT latched on. And this was in the hospital on day 2 of his arrival. In those moments my mother held me close. Yes literally. She held me tight as my body twisted in pain while my newborn son sucked. Inside me, I was hating myself. Why could my body not bear to feed this tiny little being with petal soft lips, no teeth in his mouth? Surely I “sucked” at this. No pun intended. Beginning of #MomGuilt.
Breastfeeding is not just about supply dynamics or sheer will power. Problems don’t always correct themselves either. They can, in fact, take an ugly turn and new moms need all the help they can get. Thankfully I had a good support system and I sought professional help at the right time. Or my story may have turned out very differently.
Latching pain/ cracked or bleeding nipples
This is the most common experience of new mothers who start breastfeeding. They experience mild to severe pain when the baby latches on for a feed and as result end up with bleeding & sore nipples. First-time mothers also experience this more as they are not quite used to a baby feeding at the breast. The pain that comes with this, can be severe enough to discourage many mothers from feeding at the breast. Some may resort to pumping and within those, some may see similar outcomes again.
Most often a good latch helps solve all the problems faced in early breastfeeding. A good latch is half the job done.
A deep latch
As this graphic illustrates the baby’s mouth must open like a loud shout and cover as much as possible of the areola than just the nipple. Watching YouTube videos really helped prepare me for the big latch on.
I was also a complete clutz with a wriggly and tiny new baby. Most of the time I was scared I would hurt him and so my position for breastfeeding was all wrong. However, relief came in the form of a lactation counselor who was allotted to me in the hospital where I had babyT.
She told me about the various positions for breastfeeding and soon the football hold became a big favourite. I used around 3 pillows to rest babyT on while I held him in a football hold. It amused people around me to no end. But hey, if you want to watch then be prepared to see something really interesting and unique here. 🙂
Most nipple soreness and bleeding can be healed with constant applications of Lanolin cream. I thank my stars for a new mommy friend from the US who recommended Lansinoh to me.
I got myself a pack of this and it arrived just before I was to deliver and applied Lansinoh after every breastfeeding session. Lansinoh is also safe for babies to consume so you don’t always have to rub it off before feeding. Frequent washing and rubbing off may cause more discomfort to an already sore nipple so I preferred leaving this on. I highly recommend you get this one product if nothing else. You are welcome, in advance. 🙂
I have also seen many new moms recommend leaving breast milk on the nipple. This also aids to moisturize and soften the sensitive skin after a breastfeeding session.
Clogged ducts appear when the breast has not drained completely over feeding sessions or if the breasts have been constrained in a tight or ill fitting bra. They manifest in the form of hard lumps on the breasts. Clogged ducts can be very painful and need urgent attention if accompanied with fever and flu like symptoms (See below section on Engorgement & Mastitis too)
It is very common for this to be dismissed as “Milk Fever” a literal translation in the local language here. But it really should not be taken so lightly.
Try and identify if the problem lies in tight bras. Please invest in good nursing bras. They will do good to your lactating breasts.
The solution to clogged ducts, especially if it is in the early breastfeeding stage is to ensure the breasts are drained completely. And who better to do that than the baby. Let baby feed extensively at the problem breast. You can also gently massage the lump area so as to allow any milk to loosen out and drain completely during a feed.
Rest assured that any milk inside the breasts whether in the case of clogged ducts or other issues as will be discussed below is safe for baby to consume.
If the baby is not able to drain the breast completely, you can express milk by massaging the problem area.
This one is another ugly monster which visits almost every newly breastfeeding mother. Engorgement happens when they breasts fill up with milk and it is in turn not getting drained just as quickly. The most common times this happens is when milk comes in after the early colostrum or when baby starts sleeping for longer hours or if you are away from a new baby for a long period of time.
Engorgement results in the breasts becoming rock hard and is incredibly painful. The baby also finds it difficult to latch on and drink, which in turn makes the engorgement problem worse.
The best way to drain breasts is to get baby to latch on the affected side and drink away to glory. However, in cases where baby is finding it difficult to latch on you may find the need to try and express a little bit of milk first. This may be incredibly painful but you will glad to be relieved of the pain soon enough. To aid the process have a warm/ hot shower and massage the affected breast under the shower if possible. It makes the expression process easier. You can even try pumping if not expression (not under the shower though. 🙂 )
Once you feel a bit relieved you can try to get baby to latch on and drain it completely till done. Do remember it is not mandatory to switch sides during a normal breastfeeding session. Let baby and your body deal with that between themselves. 🙂
Read my post from World Breastfeeding Week 2016 on tips that worked for me.
Some people also recommend cold cabbage leaves to relieve the pain. I tried that once but the cabbage leaves did not stay cold for very long and so did not help much. But companies like Lansinoh make this great breast therapy pad which can be used hot or cold to give relief during engorgement or clogged ducts.
Mastitis is an infection of the mammary glands caused by bacterial infection from a sore bleeding nipple. Most commonly it is preceded by clogged ducts or engorgement which don’t get remedied early. Breasts not getting drained completely also can result in mastitis. So stop watching the clock and follow baby’s cues instead. So they develop into flu like symptoms and are very painful.
Mastitis usually carries with it flu like symptoms and can be very painful. However, it is still safe to breastfeed if you are suffering.
While it is important to seek medical help, the mother can also try home remedies like hot compress, draining the breast and letting baby empty it. If the doctor finds it to be severe you will be prescribed a dose of antibiotics. Do make sure you remind the doctor that you are breastfeeding so as to be prescribed breastfeeding friendly medication.
Especially the early growth spurts. I still shudder at my first experience with these. This was the one time I truly doubted my supply and we almost decided to feed alternate milk to babyT. But we read up and understood the monsters that are growth spurts. We learned that it would be a small phase and would pass soon. I also upped my nutrition intake and nursed constantly without thinking if there was milk or not. This was only building the demand – supply equation between babyT and my body and they were bargaining hard. BabyT won of course, as is the case always. If you stick it out, it will be free flowing from then on. Once more pun intended. 🙂
I blogged about growth spurts last year too. You can read about how to manage yourself during growth spurts here.
“Are you sure there is any milk?”
Saving the best one for last. This is not meant to be funny. It is a stark reality of what has shot down many early breastfeeding attempts. Breastfeeding is as much a mental task as it is a physical one. And constant statements like this one keep undermining the determination of the mother. It pushes the mother to doubt herself and that she has been bestowed the ability to feed and nourish her child.
Of course, there is milk. Milk glands start being active right from the time of pregnancy and this could be as early as week 14 of pregnancy. So believe in yourself momma and learn to give a deaf ear to all the ill suited advice you receive.
Also, remember that babies cry for a variety of reasons. And hunger is not it every time. My fellow mom blogger at Baby and Beyond lists just a few reasons why babies nurse around the clock. Read all about it here.
Most early breastfeeding experiences should be about the new mother and child. Together they have it in them to build a synergetic relationship. The basic principle of life, demand equals supply, is nowhere more evident than it is with breastfeeding. Early growth spurts, challenges are all indicators to your body of how much milk it needs to produce.
If you are a new mother or soon to be one, do read up about breastfeeding. Do watch lots of latching videos on YouTube (Keyword: Deep latch for breastfeeding), ensure your own nutrition is balanced and healthy, get rest and above all relax. You got this mamma.
What were some of the challenges you saw in the period of early breastfeeding? Did you try any remedies or therapies which helped you along your journey?