Breastfeeding can be one of the most challenging endeavors of early parenthood. As a new mom, I can attest to that fact. When things go wrong during breastfeeding, it adds stress and anguish that a new mother simply doesn’t need. Common breastfeeding issues also tend to result in a crying baby, so it’s natural to want things resolved as soon as possible.
Here are some of the most common issues that a nursing mom might encounter during breastfeeding, and some tips for how to naturally treat each one before you consult a doctor or turn to antibiotics. In most cases, you can find relief from your symptoms within a few days (if not immediately) without having to worry about your baby.
1. Engorgement/high milk supply
If you’re suffering from engorged breasts, you may be producing more milk than your baby needs. Ironically, engorgement can make it difficult for baby to get a good latch and relieve your pain. Ease the pressure with a warm compress, heating pad, or hot shower, and hand express or pump some milk to take the edge off. Doing this prior to nursing will make it easier for baby to get a good latch.
In the longer term, adopt nursing practices to help get your supply under control. Use “block feeding” or feeding on the same side for several feedings in a row (ideally, until that side is emptied) before switching to the other breast. This practice helps “teach” your body how much milk is really needed, but it does take some time for your supply to adjust.
If you’re taking supplements or eating foods to increase your milk supply, you may want to cut back or even stop temporarily until your supply has reduced to an adequate level. On the other hand, you may want to take advantage of your high supply and pump extra milk to freeze for later feedings or donate to a baby in need.
If your supply remains very high for more than a week or two or it interferes with your baby’s feedings, talk to a certified lactation consultant for advice on how to proceed.
Thrush is a skin infection caused by the same fungus (candida) that causes yeast infections. It’s common in baby’s mouth but can also appear on mom’s nipples. When you’re nursing, it’s easy to pass the infection back and forth between mom and baby, and it can make it seem difficult to kill. Thrush usually doesn’t cause any discomfort for baby, but it may lead to some sensitivity or pain for mom.
Oral thrush in babies often clears up without any medical treatment, but if mom’s system has a yeast overgrowth, it can come back. Wash bottle nipples and pacifiers in hot water and allow them to air dry. Let your nipples air dry after nursing, and apply a natural nipple ointment for relief. If you use nursing pads to catch leaks, change them frequently.
Gentian violet is also an effective natural remedy. Painted on the nipple with a cotton swab before and after nursing, it treats mom and baby at the same time.
The easiest way to combat yeast overgrowth is to revise your diet. Avoid sugar, alcohol, and wheat products. Increase your Vitamin C intake and add extra probiotics, either in supplement form or via fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut.
If the symptoms worsen or baby starts refusing to nurse, consult with your health care provider. A more serious infection may require medicine.
3. Plugged Ducts
Occasionally, a milk duct can become clogged and create a hard lump that feels tender or hot. It’ll be most sensitive prior to a feeding and should feel less tender after a feeding. Plugged ducts come on gradually and typically only affect one breast, although it’s possible to have multiple plugged ducts at the same time.
Alternating the application of hot and cold compresses will help relieve the pain of a plugged duct. In order to clear the plug itself, you will need to vigorously massage the area of the clog. It may be painful, but it’s an effective way to break up the clog and get things moving again. Frequent nursing, especially “dangle nursing,” will also help. Dangle nursing describes a nursing position in which baby is lying down and mom “dangles” her breast over baby while nursing, so that gravity can assist in clearing the duct.
Eating nutritious foods and increasing your water intake will help your system recover more quickly as well.
It’s time to see a lactation specialist or doctor if a plugged duct persists for more than a week, is unable to be cleared using the techniques mentioned above, or is accompanied by a fever or other symptoms.
Mastitis is an infection in the breast that can occur for a number of reasons. A plugged duct can sometimes turn into a case of mastitis if untreated or undetected. Mastitis has very similar symptoms as a plugged duct, but can also be accompanied by a fever or chills, and there may be red streaks on the skin around the blockage.
If you catch your mastitis in the early stages, before fever really sets in, you can likely clear it naturally. Raw garlic, when ingested, can help your body fight off infection. Add garlic to as many meals as you can stomach, or swallow a small clove whole three times a day. Vitamin C will also help boost your immune system. Take 1,000mg daily for five days, followed by 500mg daily for five more days. Drinks lots of water to help your body flush out the infection. If your mastitis is accompanied by symptoms of a plugged duct, follow the remedies for that at the same time.
Adding these natural antibiotic and antifungal foods to your diet, especially in such high volumes, can upset the balance of your system, so be sure to increase your probiotic intake as well.
If your mastitis symptoms don’t improve or you have a fever that you cannot clear, consult with your health care provider as antibiotics may be necessary.
5. Overactive Let-down
Having an overactive letdown means that when your milk comes, it really gushes. This might be related to a high supply, but not necessarily. This can be uncomfortable for mom and can also cause some problems for baby, because it’s tough to keep up when you’re soaked in milk. A strong letdown can cause baby to gulp or sputter during feeding, which often leads to swallowing air and later to gas. Your baby may also have greenish stools, another strong indication that you might have overactive letdown.
The easiest and quickest way to combat the problems related to overactive let-down is to put baby uphill. Mom can nurse in a reclined position, with baby laying above her belly-to-belly. This means a little more work for baby, but it also means baby can control the milk flow much better.
Another practice to try would be to interrupt the nursing to allow some foremilk to spray off (into a cloth or towel) so that baby can have better access to the hindmilk. Latch baby on and let him nurse until you feel the let-down, then gently remove him and let some milk flow until it is not a forceful spray. Then you can resume nursing as usual. Doing this for a while, and nursing frequently, will help your body adjust.
If you can’t seem to get your let-down under control over time, a lactation consultant may be able to suggest other practices to help improve your nursing relationship.