They say it’s the most natural thing in the world, however, sometimes it can feel anything but! There are a number of common challenges faced by many new and experienced breastfeeding mothers, but there are tips to help you try and overcome them.
Inverted and flat nipples[i]
Like many other features on our body, nipples come in all different shapes and sizes. Inverted and/or flat nipples can a possible cause of frequent breastfeeding worry. However, despite what your nipples might look like on the outside, on the inside your breasts can successfully make breast milk and you’ll likely still be able to breastfeed!
Depending on the degree of inversion, your baby may be able to stretch the nipple out through feeding. If your nipple doesn’t respond to your baby or gentle manual pulling, consult a lactation expert for guidance on using breast pumps, nipple shields or breast shields. The suction and pressure from these aids may help to draw out the nipples. Your doctor or lactation expert may also be able to recommend some manual techniques you can use at home to try and stretch your nipples out.
Sore and tender nipples[ii]
During your first week of breastfeeding, it’s likely that you’ll experience tender nipples that feel sore. Though it will be tough, you can try and continue nursing on the least sore side with frequent and short feeds. This pain should be short lasting, as within the first week or so, your nipples will toughen up and your pain will subside as your baby learns to properly latch on.
To relieve pain, let the protective factors in breast milk work on your nipples by applying some before and after a feeding, let them air dry and give them some free time out of the bra. Keep your nipples dry by changing nursing pads frequently and prevent them from rubbing on clothes by using breast shells or nipple protectors.
Consult a lactation or healthcare professional for further advice if pain continues.
Cracked, itchy and burning nipples[iii]
If sore nipples are not addressed, they can become cracked and possibly bleed while feeding, or even become infected. Taking some time off breast nursing may help and expressing milk during this time can keep your supply up.
You can use lanolin cream or olive oil to help soothe your nipples. Once you’ve noticed a difference, you can gradually begin to nurse again on the least sore nipple first with frequent, short feeds by making sure you are holding your baby accurately and that he or she is latched on properly.
Get a check-up from your doctor if you feel itchiness, burning or perssitant pain as this may be sign of an infection. Once infection passes, nipple shields or breast shells could offer support after consulting with your healthcare provider first.
Whether you decide to breastfeed or not, during your first week after giving birth, your breasts will engorge with milk. The swelling may extend to the area under your arms and you may also develop a fever. You’ll find that anything cold, especially a chilled cabbage leaf with its long and wide, perfectly shaped structure could help bring some relief.
This pain will last for a day or two if you’re breastfeeding and could last up to a week if you bottle-feed. To manage engorgement, try to breastfeed often, around two hours a day for at least 10 to 15 minutes on each breast, alter your breastfeeding position to drain out all milk ducts, and apply warmth and massage your breast while nursing to help milk flow.[iv]
An unhappy newborn, generally younger than eight months, may refuse their mother’s breasts and go on a ‘nursing strike’ usually for just a day or two, although it can last a week or longer.
A baby can go on strike for many reasons; teething, mouth ulcers, blocked ears or a runny, stuffy nose. A sudden change in your diet may also influence the taste of your milk or could contribute to an intolerance reaction.
Most babies do return to their mother’s breasts when encouraged. Spend your time together between feeds with plenty of skin-to-skin contact and try breastfeeding while walking around or sitting in a rocking chair. Make their work easier by using your hands or a breast pump to draw out droplets before bringing them to your breast. Express as often as you did before to prevent engorgement and to maintain your milk supply.
If you’re having challenges, speak to your maternal health care nurse or contact your local lactation consultant. Despite all your efforts, it’s possible for reasons out of your control that may make breastfeeding challenging. Persevering through much stress and pain to try and feed your baby is one of the most committed motherly acts, but when feeding time becomes dreaded by both mother and child seek advice and guidance from a qualified healthcare professional.
[i] Australian Breastfeeding Association: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/inverted-and-flat-nipples
[ii] Australian Brestfeeding Association: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/common-concerns%E2%80%93mum/sore-cracked-nipples
[iii] Australian Brestfeeding Association: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/common-concerns%E2%80%93mum/sore-cracked-nipples
[iv] Australian Brestfeeding Association: https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bf-info/common-concerns%E2%80%93mum/engorgement