There’s this strange, annoying contradiction out there when it comes to breastfeeding. Everything you learn about it would have you believe that it’s the "natural" thing to do. And it is; it's what babies are born to eat, and most of them are well-served by eating it. But if you speak with almost any mother, you will hear stories of how difficult breastfeeding was for her or at least a few other women she knows.
Guess what, though? Breastfeeding is natural and difficult! It happens to be something that we assume our babies will be able to figure out alongside us, and when that doesn’t happen immediately (or it does, and then there are some bumps in the road), we get upset. Or depressed. Or frustrated. Or we feel guilty for not being a good enough mother. Clearly, all of that sucks.
I felt all of those things when my daughter was born. She appeared to latch well enough in the hospital, but then when we came home that night, I simply couldn’t get her to latch again. I panicked. My midwife came to help me, but my daughter just wouldn’t latch — for four weeks. I felt like an utter failure, pumping, finger-feeding, cup-feeding and using a nipple shield. I persevered, though, and at 4 weeks old, she finally latched. I thought I was in the clear! Ha — I was wrong. There would continue to be even more problems of varying degrees of seriousness and difficulty. We powered through, but in no way could what we experienced be described as "easy" even if it was "natural."
By the time my daughter weaned at 23 months, I felt like I had all the answers when it came to breastfeed. So obviously, my smug ass got schooled all over again with my second child. So here I am to tell you about the myriad problems you can run into when you’re breastfeeding — and what you can do to make things better.
Too Much Milk
Also known as “oversupply." But you can never have too much of a good thing, right? Wrong: Your milk actually comes out in different stages. The foremilk comes out first, and has a different composition than the hindmilk, which comes at the very end. If your baby has too much of the foremilk, they’ll miss the hindmilk, which has the fat, and babies need that fat. Drinking too much foremilk also tends to make their poop green and slightly foamy looking. Fun!
Possible solution: Always start on the breast that you finished on, the last time you breastfed. That way, a lot of the foremilk is out of the way, allowing your baby to get the hindmilk if she filled up too quickly the last time. This was my magic formula with my first child, and kept the green foamy poop to a minimum, which was a very good thing.
Too Little Milk
Unsurprisingly known as “undersupply," this is one of the most stressful scenarios any new mom can go through if she wanted to exclusively breastfeed her baby. This happened to me after I had oversupply and followed a lactation consultant’s suggestion to change my feeding position so that less milk flowed out. I’m actually not sure what happened, but I went from clearly having more than enough, to clearly not having anywhere near enough for my little girl.
Possible solution: There are multiple ways to come at this problem, and some work more consistently than others. A few obvious aids are making sure you’re drinking enough water (2+ liters a day is generally thought to be a good goal to shoot for) and eating oatmeal every day. Another more intensive choice is Lactation Cookies, either pre-made or baked from scratch. Flax, oatmeal, Brewer’s yeast and wheat germ are all typically found in the ingredients list, but it’s the Brewer’s yeast that is key.
There are also several different brands of milk-boosting teas on the market, which contain herbs that are known to help boost supply. I hated drinking cups of tea, so I would grab a giant mason jar at night, fill it with water and 3 tea bags, and let it steep overnight. Then I would drink my tea-water all day! Finally, there are the straight herbal supplements: fenugreek and blessed thistle. These can create great results, but be aware that some people may have intestinal distress from the high dosage of Fenugreek necessary in order to boost supply. (This was certainly the case with me.)
(Also, I'm not a doctor or a lactation consultant so please don't be a ridiculous person who takes even vaguely medical advice from a listicle — ask your trusted professionals about your particular boobs.)
Yup, I said blisters. These are also known as nipple blisters, or blebs, and can be truly horrific to deal with. Think shard of glass caught underneath the skin of your nipple, every time the baby sucks. How do you know you’ve got one? Well, the pain is a great indicator, but you’ll also see a white or pale yellow spot, often barely visible, on the nipple (the color is due to milk building up behind the skin). It may bulge out a little bit, after your baby feeds on that side. Sometimes you just get one. Other times, if you’re like me, you get them again and again. What causes them? No one is 100% certain, but poor latch and plugged milk ducts have both been suggested.
Possible solution: One way that was suggested to me was to use a shot glass filled with warm-as-you-can-stand-it water with epsom salt dissolved. Before breastfeeding on that side, give your nipple that shot, so to speak. Allow your nipple to soak for several minutes, to soften the skin of the blister. The goal is to have broken down the skin enough that the suction of breastfeeding pulls milk through the blister, thus opening it up. Another option is getting the blister lanced by a doctor, nurse, or lactation consultant. This is not generally recommended to attempt by yourself, due to the possibility of infection. The last option is to use a hot shower to soften the skin and then pick it with a (CLEAN, for the love of god, it's your nipple) fingernail. Again, infection is a real possibility, but sometimes if breastfeeding isn’t breaking it up, you have to do things the hard way.
This sounds like loads of fun as well, doesn’t it? A plugged duct is exactly what it sounds like: One of the hundreds of little ducts in your breast that carry milk gets blocked, and then the milk gets stuck in there. This can cause all sorts of lovely problems. There are varying degrees of “plugged” ranging from a small lump that ends up causing milk blister (this is what I had, repeatedly), to a larger, more painful lump that can turn into mastitis, if you’re not careful.
Possible solution: Again, multiple solutions are possible here. At the very least, you should put some heat on the area and do some self-massage on the area to help get things moving. Some sources suggest feeding your baby with their nose pointing in the direction of the plugged duct can help release the plugged duct (although I’ve never had that work for me). And lastly, if you’re like me and appear to have ongoing issues with plugged ducts, you can try taking lecithin as a supplement. This was the only thing that worked for me, but it did work!
No word of a lie, this one is super annoying because of its pervasiveness. Thrush is essentially a yeast infection on your breast. It's as horrible as it sounds. Signs: itchy nipples, pink nipples, white patches in your baby’s mouth (not to be confused with a milky tongue), and sometimes shooting pain deep in the breast. Usually if there’s thrush on your breast, then there’s thrush in your baby’s mouth, too. It’s actually quite common, but it can be a bitch to get rid of.
Possible solution: The easiest solution is a prescription for an anti-fungal liquid that you put in your baby’s mouth for 1-2 weeks, combined with a topical cream for your nipple. Some breastfeeding experts don’t believe the typically prescribed stuff actually works, though. But I have to think if it's still getting prescribed, it's for a reason. Other options include using Gentian Violet, which is totally messy and stains both the baby’s mouth and your breast a lovely shade of purple, but is extremely effective. As well, using Grapefruit Seed Extract topically and internally is another great option. Here’s a great resource of a more natural protocol to follow, if you feel so inclined.
The dreaded infection. It’s interesting because this was the one I dreaded more than anything when I started breastfeeding. It just sounded so awful! But I’ve had it 4 times now, and it hasn’t really been that bad for me, to be honest. Not that I wish it on any of my friends, but I think I got it in a fairly mild form. The key is to get on top of treating it as soon as you feel like something is off. How will that feel? Generally, you start with feeling like you’re coming down with ~something~; You'll feel whatever you feel when you're getting a hardcore flu. If this happens early on during breastfeeding, go to a mirror and look at your breasts. Do you see any red or pink streaks or large patches? Is there an area of one breast that’s warm? If yes to any or all of these questions, then you’re possibly on your way to mastitis. If you get a fever, it’s definitely mastitis (probably; not a doctor), I’m sorry to say.
Possible solution: TL;DR– if you have a fever, you need antibiotics. Period. If you’re still in the early stages, you can try and stave it off by going to bed, bringing your baby with you, and nursing the shit out of those breasts. Do not, I REPEAT, DO NOT avoid nursing! You'll want to. Because your whole body will feel like raw ass. But your baby will actually help that infection move through quicker, believe it or not. Rest, lots of water, and even cool cabbage leaves placed inside your nursing bra will help as well. But once you get into the fever zone, get a prescription from your doctor for an antibiotic. Again, these are your boobs. They matter. Don't play around.