I’m writing this in bed. Why? Because I have the dreaded mastitis.
I love breastfeeding, but I think a lot of people find that it isn’t as easy or instinctive as they may at first think. So today, while boobs are on my mind, I thought I’d put my peer supporter hat on and share some of common breastfeeding issues.
1. Poor latch – Poor latch gives rise to an unbelievable range of problems. From sore cracked nipples, pain while feeding, clicking noises, babies pulling off the breast or being windy; the whole specturum can be attributed to problems with positioning/latch.
First port of call should be you Health Visitor or Midwife, but if they check your latch, think its fine and you still experience problems it would be worth asking for an appointment with your local lactation consultant/breastfeeding counsellor. Lactation consultants should also be able to advise whether there are any underlying issues such as tounge tie.
2. Thrush – If you’ve ever had to take antibiotics while breastfeeding its worth keeping an eye out for thrush. As its a yeast infection, it gets worse over time and can be a nightmare to get rid of, so early treatment is key.
Thrush makes nipples incredibly sensitive, especially to the cold. They become itchy, often blanch after a feed, and are really, really painful to feed through; they best way I can describe it is that its like feeding through broken glass. Shooting pains after feeding are also common. For babies, thrush manifests itself as a furry white covering over the inside of the mouth.
As thrush can be passed from baby to mother and back again, it is essential that both are treated at the same time, with a topical cream for mum and and oral gel for baby. If these fail it is possible to take an oral anti-fungal tablet which can help. An anti-candida diet can also help, which includes omitting refined sugars, products containing yeast and fungi.
3. Engorgement – Engorgement is when boobs become so full of milk that they are hard and solid; like rocks. This is very common as supply becomes established in the early days and is usually relieved by putting baby on the boob. If the breast if too hard for them to be able to latch, then expressing a little milk off, either by hand or pump should help soften the breast enough for them to get on. If the breast is not emptying properly, there may be a blocked duct.
4. Blocked ducts – A blocked duct is, basically exactly what it sounds like, one of the milk passages being blocked. They can become sore and swollen but it is very important that you keep trying to feed from the affected breast, as painful as it is. Paracetamol can be used to relieve the pain (never use asprin while breastfeeding).
Often a baby’s suction is enough to get things going again, especially if you always offer the affected breast first so that they go it it hammer and tongs. Another good bit of advice is to massage towards the nipple while baby is feeding to try and get the milk moving. Warn compresses can also help soften things up, as can a warm bath. Its important, if you have a blockage, to keep feeding, expressing, massaging as much as you can because if its not cleared a blocked duct can turn into mastitis.
5. Mastitis – Mastitis is basically a blocked duct that has become infected. You know when mastitis hits; if you’ve had a blocked duct for a while and then you suddenly begin to feel very unwell – shivery, shaky and with horrible cramps and aches all over, basically like a bad flu. Often there will be a red, hot area of the breast, usually wedge shaped.
If you get mastitis there is little you can do apart from taking to your bed, it makes you feel really poorly. The treatment is much the same as with a blocked duct, although you can alternate ibuprofen with paracetamol to try and help with the inflammation, take your temperature down and relieve aches and chills. If however, things don’t start to get better within 24 hours I would recommend a trip to the GP, you may well need antibiotics to clear it up. Untreated, mastitis can turn into a breast abcess or at worst septicemia.
This happened to me when I was feeding DW. I was dangerously ill, kept refusing an ambulance because I insisted it was just mastitis and I needed to rest. Later I found out that I was hours away from shuffling off this mortal coil, which is a very frightening thing.
Mine is an extreme story, and I don’t want to end this on a low note because, well, even though I had loads of problems, some of them extreme, I still chose to breastfeed my second baby and I still love it. I love the fact that my baby needs me, I love the fact that I am able to provide for him, I love the sensation of feeding and I love that lovely release of oxytocin (the mothering/love hormone) you get with every feed.
Breastfeeding is a very special thing; and although it can throw a few curve balls your way, if you know where to find support, then you can get through it and it can beome a truly magical experience.
Other than your HV/Midwife/Lactation consultant support can also be found via the Breastfeeding Network (who also have loads of useful factsheets on their website, such as which drugs are safe to take while feeding), the La Leche League, NCT and the kellymom website.
Happy feeding mommas, I’m off to sleep!xxxx