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Breastfeeding's often touted as a blissful bonding experience for mama and baby, but the reality is often more complicated than expected. Some moms and babies ease into breastfeeding problem-free, but for many nursing duos, getting the process down takes time and patience.
Lack of exposure and experience is one of the main reasons for early breastfeeding challenges. "Most moms have never seen someone breastfeed until it's their turn," says Board Certified Lactation Consultant Katy Linda, "and what should be a beautiful and natural process becomes scary and frightening."
Chat with friends who've had positive nursing experiences, or attend a breastfeeding class. A 2008 study by the Quebec, Canada Public Health Office found that women who attend breastfeeding clinics are much more likely to continue breastfeeding for at least six months than women who don't attend a class or clinic. By getting good support early on, you'll be in a position to avoid many of the pitfalls of breastfeeding, including:
- Lack of milk. If you're worried that you're not producing enough milk to feed your baby, your fear is probably unfounded. "If you're feeding your baby 8 to 12 times per day and your baby has 6 to 8 wet diapers each day, you have enough milk," says Kristen Frankovitch, RN, BSN and certified lactation consultant. To boost your breast milk supply, avoid supplementing with formula and focus on increasing feedings, which will stimulate production. Most women need between 300 and 500 extra calories each day while nursing, so now's not the time to diet. Instead, focus on eating a diet high in whole grains, lean protein, vegetables and fruits.
- Engorged Breasts. Swollen breasts can be excrutiating, and usually occur within the first few weeks of breastfeeding because you're producing more milk than your baby's drinking. Resist the temptation to stop nursing—instead, place warm, moist compresses on your breasts for five minutes before feeding. If nursing's too painful, express or pump some of the milk first to relieve the swelling. After nursing, use ice packs to further reduce swelling. If nursing doesn't relieve engorged breasts within a few hours, call a lactation consultant or OB nurse, says Frankovitch. Untreated engorgement is extremely uncomfortable and can lead to more serious problems like clogged ducts and mastitis.
- Sore nipples. If your baby's not latching properly, you may end up with painful nipples. To solve this problem, place your arm behind your little one's neck instead of her head, which causes her chin to slump down. Hold your baby skin to skin to stimulate her feeding instinct, and make sure she takes the entire nipple into her mouth. After a feeding, look at your nipples. Wrinkled, pinched or misshapen nipples are signs that baby isn't latching on correctly. Let your nipples air dry to promote healing before applying topical pain-relieving ointments.
- Mastitis. This infection or inflammation causes painful, red or swollen breasts—and in extreme cases, body aches, chills or a fever. Use moist, warm compresses on your breasts and take an analgesic to relieve the pain. Continue nursing frequently or pump the milk if your baby refuses to nurse. Take care of yourself as you would if you had the flu—head to bed, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious soups or light meals to boost your immune system. If you don't feel better within two days, or your condition gets worse, contact your doctor for antibiotics.
- Clogged milk ducts. This painful plugging occurs when milk from the milk-producing cells to the nipple become backed up. You'll notice a small, painful lump in the breast, but unlike mastitis, the pain comes and goes. Left untreated, clogged milk ducts can lead to mastitis or a breast abscess. Apply moist, warm compresses before you nurse, and massage your breast from the top down towards the nipple. Nurse your baby often and use different positions, such as the clutch hold or side-lying position. A white blister on the nipple's surface is the end of the plugged milk duct. Place a warm compress on your nipple and then carefully pop the blister with a sterile needle to allow the milk to flow freely.
- Candida. Candida (or thrush) is a yeast infection that thrives in wet, warm places such as nipples or in your baby's mouth. Thrush often causes intense, shooting pain during feedings and immediately after your milk lets down. Candida is often caused by antibiotic use, and white spots in your baby's mouth are telltale signs. To cure candida, eat live culture yogurt. Allow your breasts to air dry after feedings and expose them to sunlight several times each day. Wear cotton bras or go bra-less, and wash bras in hot water every day. If symptoms don't subside within a day or two, check with your doctor; he may prescribe an antifungal cream. Let your pediatrician know too, as thrush is very contagious.
Breastfeeding can be a joyful experience for you and your baby, but it requires perseverence. Most new moms and babies need six to eight weeks to develop a good breastfeeding pattern, says Katy Linda.
In the meantime, nurse often to reduce the risk of clogged ducts, engorgement and mastitis, and call a friend or lactation specialist if you're frustrated. Nap when you can and continue eating several healthy meals and snacks everyday to keep your energy up. With a little support and good care, you and your breastfeeding baby will be old pros in no time!