3 Common breastfeeding problems and how to solve them

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Is your breastfeeding journey fraught with struggles? Read on to find out more about some common problems moms face, and how to solve them.

Every mom’s breastfeeding journey is somewhat like a rollercoaster. Sometimes it peaks, sometimes you hit an all time low and sometimes you just get by. But any nursing mom would know just how distressing it is when you encounter a hurdle. So to help you, we’ve come up with a list of three common breastfeeding problems and how you can solve them.

We spoke to a Certified Breastfeeding Specialist, Tessa Webb Lyman, for advice on how to get around these common breastfeeding problems.

1. Blocked Ducts

One of the most common breastfeeding problems that moms encounter is ‘blocked ducts’. Often, they don’t even know that they have blocked ducts. First of all, what are blocked ducts?

Ducts are the tiny tubes that carry milk from tissues deep in your breast to your nipple. When there's a blocked duct, it simply means that milk is not moving well in a part of your breast. This causes the milk to back up and it causes lumpiness and discomfort. There is nothing actually blocking the flow of milk completely. 

So why do blocked ducts occur?

Tessa explains that blocked ducts tend to occur when a nursing mom is trying to do too much. Moms like to get themselves busy and sometimes they are juggling everything from playdates, to travelling, to chasing a hyperactive toddler in addition to nursing a baby and managing the household chores.

This of course results in the mom not looking after herself enough, not resting and hydrating herself sufficiently. As Tessa puts it, a situation that’s “all too real for most of us”.

The good news is that blocked ducts are a common breastfeeding problem that you can easily solve. Tessa advises that you frequently nurse the baby on the affected side, while pushing on the painful blocked spot and try to draw the blockage towards the nipple.

common breastfeeding problems

If you have a blocked duct, nurse your baby more frequently on the affected side.

Apply heat before emptying the breast to get things moving. Tessa cautions not to ignore the unaffected side for feeds, but rather, to focus more on the side that needs relief. It will hurt, but you must work to unblock that spot before any infection sets it.

In addition, you can try to get baby’s chin pointing at the blockage or even just change from your usual position to see if it helps. If possible, ask someone with strong hands to massage the blockage while you nurse or pump to see if they can work it out. For especially stubborn cases, there are breast massage specialists around town who can use their expert techniques to assist you.

You can even use an electric toothbrush to try to wiggle things loose! If you are comfortable with it, consider going bra-less just in case there is some constriction in your inner clothing that may have been a contributing factor.

If you do run a fever, don’t panic immediately. It’s not an instant indication to head to the doctor for antibiotics but rather a sign that your body is working to fight an infection. What you need to do is rest, rest, and get more rest with baby in bed with you and a full glass of water nearby.

If your fever persists for more than three days, then it might be best to get some medical help. 

2. Engorgement

This is likely to be at the top of the list of common breastfeeding problems. Most breastfeeding moms have experienced engorgement at some point in time. According to Tessa, this tends to occur in those early days when one's milk just starts to come in. It can also occur anytime the baby, or the pump, has not done their job frequently or effectively enough.

common breastfeeding problems

It's common for moms to feel engorged in the early stages of breastfeeding.

Well, the solution is really pretty simple. Feed your baby of course. Tessa says that in general, we like to feed babies so they do not get too upset from hunger and later try to overfeed to compensate. We like to keep our milk supply regulated and flowing well, by feeding just enough, many times day. Often, this is all that's required to keep engorgement at bay.

With that in mind, Tessa reminds that hand expression is a mother's best friend to take the edge off that painful feeling of engorgement without sending the body mixed messages. Mothers who tend towards oversupply find that they do much more than "take the edge off their bodies" then their bodies respond by making even more milk. This of course exacerbates the problem.

Mothers of newborns should aim to feed or pump 8 to 12 times within a 24 hour period. 

3. Nipple Thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection caused by the organism Candida Albicans which can occur in the nipple or breast tissue. If you have nipple pain that doesn't go away when you adjust your breastfeeding attachment, you need to get yourself checked. Early diagnosis and treatment of nipple and breast thrush will make a big difference in improving your breastfeeding journey.

Tessa states that this is a common breastfeeding problem in Singapore and it tends to recur often once it occurs for the first time. Many mothers are in a seemingly constant battle against nursing thrush! 

It also tends to hit after a round of antibiotics have finished since the medication tends to  wipe out all the good bacteria along with the bad, leaving normal bodily levels of Candida with an opportunity to overgrow. Tessa reminds that this is another reason not to run to the doctor for prescription medication for blocked duct cases.

The solution for this common breastfeeding problem should be in consultation with your medical professional and may involve oral anti-fungals. This is especially if the nipple thrush has been left long enough to become milk duct thrush (that hurts!).

common breastfeeding problems

Nipple thrush can be awfully painful.

You can go for over-the-counter creams such as Miconazole or Gentian Violet for a more natural option. It is important that both baby and mom are treated as thrush is often passed back and forth repeatedly. Make sure also to replace any bottles, nipples, pacifiers, or other toys that go into baby's mouth often.

Harsh treatment is also necessary for bras, nursing pads, nightgowns or anything else that comes in contact with your nipples. They need a hot water wash with vinegar and a good tumble in the dryer or a lot of full sun afterwards.

Many mothers find that a change in diet by focussing on gut health in general, eliminating or reducing sugars, and drinking some apple cider vinegar in water before meals can make a big difference. If they can realistically manage it of course. Adding well-timed probiotics can also be helpful in the fight.

So there you go moms, 3 of your most common breastfeeding problems and their simple solutions. Remember, if you encounter a problem, don't give up breastfeeding immediately. Seek help, make a few changes and it will all be well!

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore

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