Breastfeeding is a journey that can make you feel happy, but also very stressed. After being a human vessel for several months of pregnancy, many women would like to reclaim some ownership over their body again. But, if you opt to be a breastfeeding mom, then you have to be cognizant of everything you do and the potential impacts it has on you and your baby. Even certain lifestyle preferences or parental choices might need to be assessed for safety and risk. Because the truth is there are some common dangers while breastfeeding.
That being said, these dangers are nothing to be alarmed about. There is nothing to be inherently afraid of when it comes to nursing your infant. There are just many overlooked aspects of breastfeeding that don't always fit the positive nursing vibe. For example, some sexual abuse survivors find breastfeeding to be a trigger. This can be dangerous for the mom and the baby, and needs to be examined and treated right away. That's just once example of a pretty prevalent danger that tends to be more taboo and less talked about when it comes to conversations surrounding breastfeeding and potential risks.
The more people can expand their minds to the plausible and common dangers associated with breastfeeding, the more people can help support breastfeeding mothers and their babies in as many ways possible. Here are seven things to watch out for if you're breastfeeding.
1. Mastitis Development
Anyone that's ever suffered from clogged ducts or mastitis can tell you that it's dreadful and painful. Mastitis is the inflammation of the breast caused by an infection, as defined by Web MD, and it's super common. It happens when bacteria enters the nipple through cracked or sore nipples. The site also explained that it can happen if you go too long between feedings or you don't fully empty your breasts during feedings.
Signs you have mastitis include pain in the breast, pain in the lymph nodes under the armpit, and even flu like symptoms. Taking a full course of prescribed antibiotics generally clears the infection up and so does continuing to breastfeed, if you feel up to it. As explained in the aforementioned Web MD article, delaying treatment of mastitis can lead to an abscess which can be slightly more dangerous because it's sometimes harder to treat.
It's pretty commonly known that smoking in general is bad for anyone's health, and of course, this also includes babies.
According to Kelly Mom, nicotine from a smoking mother who is breastfeeding can pass through breast milk, which is dangerous to a degree, but it's not a reason to stop breastfeeding. If a mom can't stop smoking she should still breastfeed. This information may sound counter intuitive, but breast milk is packed with so much immunity that it can actually counteract some of the effects of cigarette smoke on the baby, as explained on the site.
Additionally, Baby Center noted that exposure to second hand smoke puts a child at risk for upper respiratory issues. Exposure to second hand smoke has also been shown to increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
If a mom does smoke, it's best to do it right after a feeding so as to limit the amount of nicotine in the milk as explained in the aforementioned Kelly Mom post. Smoking outside, changing clothes, and washing hands is also recommended.
There is a lot of conflicting information about this topic, but La Leche League International confirmed that alcohol does pass through to breast milk. The amount that passes through, however, is directly related to how much is consumed and how much time has passed between consumption and nursing.
Despite what nursing moms have been told in the past, Very Well explained that it's also not necessary to "pump and dump" if you've had alcohol. According to the site, time is all you need for the alcohol to cycle out of your body. You might just want to wait to breastfeed, especially if you are impaired.
4. Drug Use Of Any Kind
There is a running list of drugs compatible with breastfeeding women from the American Academy of Pediatrics. As explained on the same site, these recommended drugs can be excreted into human milk, but their risk is assessed based on negative (if any) impacts on the supply and the infant.
Generally speaking, illegal drugs and street drugs can pass from the breastfeeding mother’s blood stream into the breast milk and reach the baby just like prescription and over the counter drugs, according to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine. The direct impact on the baby is theorized to be varied and mostly unknown, but it's recommended that a breastfeeding mother avoid these drugs.
Putting the medical effects aside, it's important to remember that these drugs alter and impair senses, judgement and perceptions. These risks may make a breastfeeding mother less able to properly care for her baby, which could lead to accidents or injury to the baby, and even death.
Vitamins and minerals are generally not necessary for a breastfeeding mother with a varied diet. In some cases, they are recommended and you can be rest assured that most water soluble supplements like B and C vitamins are totally fine, as stated on Kelly Mom. The only time you need to be careful of possible danger is if you're taking fat soluble supplements (Vitamins A and E). These can build up in breast milk and excessive amounts may be harmful to a breastfeeding baby.
6. Nursing In Unsafe Sleeping Environments
As a nursing mom you're bound to be exhausted. No one would blame you for taking a little snooze and catching up on some Zs during a breastfeeding session, and many women do it every day. The dangerous part is dependent on where you're falling asleep with your baby.
There are some conflicting views about this, but March of Dimes noted that you should never sleep with a baby on a couch, as the baby could fall off or suffocate. The baby could fall off or suffocate. A similar danger exists in a bed that is not set up properly for safe bed-sharing, according to the same site. If you breastsleep, a term to describe safe breastfeeding while sleeping with an infant, experts in a recent Romper article stated that the best way to reduce dangers is to do it on a firm surface, have no loose blankets or pillows around the baby, and not be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.
7. Getting Tattoos While Nursing
The question that gets asked a lot on online parenting forums is, "Can I get a tattoo if I'm breastfeeding?" The short answer is "yes." According to LLLI, the ink molecules are too big to pass through to breast milk and, therefore, have no impact on the baby. That doesn't mean getting inked carries zero danger to a breastfeeding mother.
The general risk to all humans applies to breastfeeding women in the sense that local or systemic infections from tattooing can happen to anyone. A breastfeeding mother faces the same risk and is encouraged to follow all aftercare instructions if she gets a tattoo.
With all of these common breastfeeding dangers it's good to be simply aware of them. There's no need to overhaul your life, or drastically change how you breastfeed your baby. As long as you know the possible risks that exist for you and your baby, and how to handle them, you're doing the best you can to keep both of you safe.