Your relationship with your breasts takes on a whole new meaning once you have a baby. Once a source of pleasure (and once a month, some pain), their seemingly sole purpose postpartum is to provide nutrition to your newborn. But that doesn’t always happen, especially if you’re experiencing some breastfeeding problems. Here are some of the issues you might encounter and how to solve them.
If you’ve ever woken up with what feels like a sore boob, then there’s a chance you might have mastitis. “Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue typically caused by infection or obstruction of milk flow and most common in people who are nursing or pumping,” Jada Shapiro, a maternal health expert, lactation consultant and founder of boober tells Romper. You might experience what feels like the flu (i.e. chills, body aches, fatigue, and just a general malaise). But what sets mastitis apart from a cold or flu is a painful area on the breast accompanied by redness and streaking. Mastitis can go away on its own by draining your breasts fully after each feeding (pumping can help), and with rest. But in some cases, you might need medical attention, including antibiotics, to cure the infection, or else it could turn into a breast abscess, which can require surgery to drain.
Insufficient Glandular Tissue (IGT)
Insufficient Glandular Tissue can be another breastfeeding roadblock. “IGT may cause someone to have low or no milk supply,” explains Shapiro. “Glandular tissue is the milk making tissue of the breast, and people with IGT may have distinct breast shape, including asymmetrical breasts, tubular shaped breasts, breasts spread quite far apart, or bulbous areolas.” Interestingly enough, people with IGT often do not have any change of breast size or shape during pregnancy.
In a PubMed study, researchers found that women who had IGT sometimes didn’t experience breast changes that are typical during pregnancy, as well as a lack of postpartum breast engorgement. “Lactating parents who are experiencing low milk supply and may have some of the attributes may need to supplement with donor breast milk or formula,” suggests Shapiro. A lactation consultant can also help you determine how much milk you are transferring to your baby, any other ways to try to maximize your supply and how best to supplement, like using a supplemental nursing system or SNS to continue to nurse while supplementing.
If your baby opens their mouth and it looks like they had a spoonful of cottage cheese, chances are they have thrush. “Thrush is a type of yeast infection which can affect the nipple, areola, breast and baby’s mouth during nursing, caused by an overgrowth of Candida fungus,” Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, a lactation consultant tells Romper. “Nursing parents are more susceptible if they have cracks and fissures on their nipples due to a poor latch.” Symptoms of thrush may include white patches on baby’s tongue or cheeks and itching, pain or sensations of burning of the nipple, areola or breast. The breast may have shiny or flaky skin and the areolas may become lighter, too.
What actually causes thrush? Well, chances are you can develop thrush if you’re taking antibiotics or other medications, or if you’re stressed, the Cleveland Clinic reported. When Baby has thrush, they can pass it on to their mother, and if the mom develops a thrush infection around her breasts or nipples, she can pass it onto her baby, creating a vicious cycle of sorts.
Thrush can resolve on its own, but some parents might need an anti-fungal treatment to stop the infection. “You’ll also need to routinely clean all bottles, pump parts, pacifiers and clothes in contact with your breast milk, since thrush is highly contagious,” says Shapiro.
It’s always nerve wracking to know if your newborn is getting enough breast milk. Although your supply is probably sufficient, some lactating parents produce too much milk, and in the case of breastfeeding, sometimes you can get too much of a good thing. “Oversupply can make nursing difficult for parent and baby,” says Shapiro. “Some issues caused by oversupply include a fussy, gassy baby who may sputter and spit milk or a baby who gets so frustrated at the breast that they refuse to nurse at all.” And soaking through all of your breast pads is never fun.
Hyperlactation isn’t an easy issue to deal with, especially for your baby, who might develop a disordered latch, increased (or decreased) weight gain, and large, frothy stools, according to a PubMed study. “Oversupply can be caused by high levels of milk producing, prolactin in your body, or can be caused by overstimulation from too much pumping,” Shapiro explains. How to slow your flow: Nursing in the laid back position can help significantly so that milk flows upward toward the baby and allows the baby better control of the milk flow. You can also try expressing some milk prior to a feeding so that the extra milk is released before baby latches onto your breast. Researchers from the study also found that birth control pills can also aid in decreasing your supply.
During your pregnancy, you were completely positive that you would nurse your baby postpartum. But now that Baby has arrived, you’re finding that you don’t like breastfeeding — at all. While many moms can feel overwhelmed at having to nurse incessantly, there are many women who develop a disdain towards nursing. This phenomenon is known as Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), and it’s a real thing. D-MER is when women feel an unpleasant emotion tied to the milk ejection reflex, a PubMed study found. And by unpleasant, we mean that participants in the study felt anxious, irritable, panicked, agitated, and tearful. This emotion sometimes lasted less than five minutes, researchers found, and while there’s not a direct link to postpartum depression, more work needs to be done to determine the link between hormones and how they affect feelings towards lactation. Women who experience D-MER can work with a lactation consultant to find out why they feel the way they do, and to perhaps put a pause on breastfeeding if it makes them feel upset.
Just because you planned to breastfeed doesn’t mean that everything will, well, go as planned. If you want to nurse your newborn, (and are having breastfeeding issues), talk to a lactation consultant or your child’s pediatrician to figure out how to make things flow again for both you and Baby.
Ureno, T., Berry-Caban, C., Adams, A., Buchheit, T., Hopkinson, S. “Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex: A Descriptive Study” 2019.
Neifert, M., Seacat, J., Jobe., W. “Lactation failure due to insufficient glandular development of the breast” 1985.
Taylor, M., Raja, A. “Oral Candidiasis” 2021.
Trimeloni, L., Spencer, J. “Diagnosis and Management of Breast Milk Oversupply” 2016.
Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, LCCE, a lactation consultant