For me, breastfeeding was hard, painful, and nothing like how I envisioned. And because nursing is something you have to experience to understand, I didn't know which parts were normal, which symptoms were not a big deal, and when I needed to get professional help. To make matters worse, I received different and sometimes conflicting information from the internet, my friends, and my baby’s doctor about what was normal and what shouldn't happen when you’re breastfeeding. Yay parenthood, right?
Fortunately, once you get past the first couple of months, breastfeeding does — at least in theory — get easier. You also have a larger opportunity to figure out what's normal for you and your baby. In the meantime, though, it's helpful to know what red flags you should look out for, especially in terms of overall breastfeeding health and wellness. For example, according to the Fed is Best Foundation, while your baby might eat frequently when they are going through a growth spurt or during their "fussy" time of day, in the early days this so-called cluster-feeding can be a sign that they aren't getting enough to eat. And while the Mayo Clinic notes that pain during breastfeeding can be normal, they also tell new moms that if their breasts are red or hot to the touch they might have mastitis — a condition that requires medical treatment. Having some anxiety as a new mom is super-common, too, but if you feel dread every time you let down, you might have Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), according to D-MER.org — a condition caused by changes in hormones during nursing.
While all of these potential diagnosis sound scary and overwhelming, the good news is that many breastfeeding problems are temporary, as long as you know what to look for and when to get help. And if you decide to stop breastfeeding, that's totally OK, too.
Your Newborn Eats Around The Clock
According to the Fed is Best Foundation, cluster-feeding — when your baby wants to eat frequently or even constantly — can totally be normal if your milk is in, your supply is good, and it only happens once in a while.
Alternatively, if you have just brought your baby home from the hospital, and they want to be attached to your breast 24 hours a day, it might be a sign that your milk has not come in yet, or that your baby is not getting enough to eat because they can't latch effectively or you aren't making enough breast milk.
You Dread Breastfeeding
According to D-MER.org, if you feel negative emotions, like sadness, anger, or anxiety, right before let-down when your breast milk is released and during breastfeeding or pumping, you might have a condition called D-MER. According to the same site, D-MER is caused by a drop in dopamine, and afflicts an unknown number of new moms. If you have D-MER, you might choose to wean, pump, or continue breastfeeding. The site notes that if your negative feelings persist, you might consider medical treatment to address the underlying medical causes of the condition.
You Are In Constant Pain
As Philippa Pearson-Glaze, IBCLC writes for Breastfeeding Support, breastfeeding can hurt, especially in the early days, due to things like poor latch, thrust infections, or bacterial infections.
However, sometimes nipple or breast pain during or after breastfeeding can happen, even if your baby has a perfect latch. Nipple vasospasm, or the constriction of blood vessels, can cause pain and burning in your nipples and even deep in your breasts. According to the same site, you don't have to power through the pain. Treatment options include applying heat, prescription medications, vitamin B6, and pumping instead of breastfeeding.
Your Breasts Become Red Or Hot To The Touch
The Mayo Clinic notes that symptoms like burning or breasts that are red and hot to the touch might be signs of a breast infections like mastitis. Because mastitis can need a prescription antibiotic and can cause dangerous complications, you should contact your doctor right away.
Your Baby Loses Weight Or Doesn't Start Gaining
While some weight loss is normal, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) if your baby loses more than seven percent of their birth weight during their first days of life, you need to get them checked out to make sure they are getting enough to eat (or supplement with formula or breast milk if they aren't).
You Feel A Lump That Doesn't Move Or Go Away
Healthline reports that while breastfeeding can make your breasts lumpy, and bumpy, a lump that doesn't move or go away, lingering breast pain, or itchy nipples can all be signs of breast cancer, and should be reported to your doctor right away. Detecting breast cancer early can save your life, so you absolutely shouldn't dismiss these symptoms.
You Continue Breastfeeding Even Though You Want To Stop
No one should feel pressured to continue breastfeeding if they hate it, if it isn't working, or if your baby isn't thriving. Period. It's your body, and it's absolutely your choice. Continuing when you don't want to is something that absolutely should not happen when you're breastfeeding.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.