Sore breasts caused by a sudden increase in milk flow and/or barriers to breastfeeding are absolutely normal and dreadfully unavoidable. There are, however, ways to ease the pain and assist mom in enjoying the art of breastfeeding.
Whether pain and discomfort is from engorgement, cracking and drying, or mechanical issues (i.e. improper latching), mom does not have to suffer in silence. Breastfeeding is an amazing achievement and experience, and should not be discontinued or dreaded because of soreness!
Awful, unbearable pain is not exactly normal. Yes, it does happen, and there are reasons for it, but pain should not last more than 24-36 hours. Consult a physician, doula, or lactation consultant in the case of extreme pain, fever, or excessive cracking or bleeding, as there is a possibility of an infection or underlying issue.
When milk is being produced in abundance without a release, breasts can become hard, swollen, and tender. Here are a few ways to help make it easier to tolerate:
Having cracked and dried nipples can make breastfeeding extremely painful. Allowing them to heal is vital for the success of breastfeeding. Below are a few suggestions for how to soothe sore nipples due to cracking, drying, and more:
If symptoms persist for more than a few days (after beginning treatment), a clogged duct or infection is suspected, or there is a noticeable amount of blood excreting from the nipple, contact your physician, doula, or lactation consultant.
Lactation consultants and doulas are well-educated and very resourceful. Contact one at a local hospital, try La Leche League, or ask around. There are many forums and websites devoted to helping make mom and baby's lives easier, breast feeding included. Speak with someone about any questions or concerns, and meet in person to review positions, latching, and more, as this will help significantly improve the quality of feedings.
Make sure to stay hydrated, of course, when breast feeding. Adding natural anti-inflammatory and pain relieving ingredients - such as garlic, turmeric, and ginger - to the diet may help as well.
Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing, and so beneficial for both mom and baby! This is just a tiny pebble in the road to bonding, nutrition, and pure blissful love. Do not suffer in silence, mama!
As if society does not place enough pressure on breastfeeding mothers, add in that nagging “good mother’s voice” and times of low milk supply with a demanding infant ready to nurse, and one has the ultimate recipe for a milk supply strike. First and foremost, women have been breastfeeding for thousands of years. The body is perfectly engineered to give baby what baby needs, when baby needs it. Demanding the breast and constantly wanting to nurse is a sign of a healthy eater who wants to breastfeed. It may mean less restful sleep for mom, or possibly sore breasts, but it is important to stick with it, and know that baby will help the body produce more milk. A woman’s body is designed and destined to work with the baby. As the baby demands more milk, the body produces it. Sometimes, it may feel as though the body is not keeping up with baby, and then - as if with a snap of fingers, the white gold flows.
Babies go through an average of five to seven growth spurts within the first year of life.1Growth spurts are directly correlated to the sleep and eating patterns of babies. One of the most common reasons for ending nursing early, supplementing with formula, and causes for stress for a breastfeeding mother is what is thought to be a low milk supply. Often, during growth spurts, the body takes a bit of time to catch up to the always-changing demand of the baby. It is vital that the baby be allowed to continue to attempt to nurse, especially during times of growth spurts, in order to solidify the longevity of breast feeding. Supplementing takes away from time at the breast, which is a contributing factor to low milk supply in the first place.
There are many reasons one may have a low milk supply; stress, baby not nursing due to lip tie, hormones, recent surgery, lack of time at the breast/pumping, poor nutrition, etc. Regardless of the reason, there are plenty of ways to help pick that milk supply back up in order to nurse on! After determining (the best one can) the cause of the drop in production, consider some of the following to aid in getting back on track.
Staying hydrated is important for anyone and everyone, but especially so for breastfeeding mothers. Skip the caffeine whenever possible. Too much caffeine can deplete the body of vital nutrients and cause dehydration. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. For those who easily bore with basic water, add in some almond milk, coconut water, or a juice of a variety of fruits and vegetables. It is natural and normal for mothers to feel dehydrated when nursing. Keep a water bottle handy and within reach, and sip the day away.
Just as there are natural remedies for ridding the carpet of that pesky stain, and for lessening the duration of the seemingly ever-lasting cold, increasing milk production has its own herbal best friends. Fenugreek and blessed thistle are classified as galactogogues, or milk makers.2 Other beneficial natural herbs include fennel, brewer’s yeast (used most often in “lactation cookies”), raspberry leaf, alfalfa, hops, stinging nettle, motherwort, milk thistle, basil, chamomile, and goat’s rue. These herbal ingredients can be consumed as a tea, mixed in with water, used in foods, or taken as a supplement. Do some further research on each to determine if it is the right choice, and become familiar with the galactogogue of choice. Mother’s milk tea, from Earth Mama Angel Baby, is widely recommended, as it encompasses a few galactagogues in one, easy to drink tea.
Along with staying hydrated and adding herbs to the diet, eating proper and healthy meals throughout the day is also important; not just for maintaining and producing breast milk, but for the baby, too. Anti-inflammatory foods may help; like garlic, ginger, and turmeric. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with an adequate amount of protein, will produce great results, and help mom and baby to feel fantastic all day long.
Boob, Boob, and More Boob
One of the easiest, yet tedious and tiring, ways to produce more milk is to trick the glands into thinking that it is growth spurt time. Offer the breast at every given possibility, even if baby only nurses for a short time. Pump or express milk, too. Massage the breasts in between nursings and/or pumping/expressions. This will help to reduce the likelihood of clogged ducts (another reason for a dip in supply). Think happy baby thoughts while pumping and/or nursing to help with the let down and stimulation of milk ducts. Look at pictures of the lovely little one, or read a magazine or article about babies or breast feeding.
Being stressed is bad all-around, not just for breast feeding. The higher the stress level, the less milk is produced. How, though, with such little time in the day, do moms find time to unwind? Taking a few moments to meditate can be as calming as taking a long run, just as doing yoga with or without baby is a stress reliever all the same. Other things to reduce stress are to journal, talk with a friend, go for a quick walk, take a bath or shower, drink some tea, read a book, take a class, do a craft, do an at-home facial, sit in silence for five minutes, cuddle, cook a favorite meal, paint nails, look at old pictures, plan a vacation, do some pushups or a quick ab workout, color or paint a picture, write a letter to baby or a friend, or do something else that requires some “me time”.
If absolutely necessary, there are natural herbs and foods that can help alleviate stress, like L-Theanine, Inositol, St. John’s Wort, lavender, and magnesium. Of course, as always, do personal research, as other medications being taken may interact. The main point in taking such herbs is to lower stress levels. Long-term use of such herbs may not be best for everyone. Therefore, finding stress relieving avenues that do not involve herbs and medications, and fits well with one’s lifestyle and schedule, is recommended.
Other Ways to Increase Milk Production
Skin to skin contact with baby may help make baby want to nurse more, and may help to stimulate milk production in mom. Some mothers opt for acupuncture as a means to stepping up the breast milk game. If back issues and pain are contributing to a decrease in milk supply, seeing a chiropractor may help. Antibiotics and other medications can contribute to a dip in production, too. Taking probiotics daily can help the body to combat the effects of such medications.
Decreasing the use of nipple shields, bottles, and pacifiers may aid as well, as sometimes cause barriers to nursing at the breast. If there is an issue in regards to nipple confusion or baby pacifying, try limiting the use of such products. "Babywearing" helps to keep baby near the breast, which - like skin to skin contact - helps both mom and baby with wanting to nurse.
An old Irish wives tale is to drink half (about six ounces) of a craft beer daily. It is thought that not only will it help mom to relax, but the barley and hops (typically higher in content in craft and specialty beers) helps with milk production as well.3 Doing so is at the discretion of the mother, and should be done with proper timing, as to avoid possibly (although unlikely) contaminating the breast milk. As TBS can not condone drinking while nursing, please do thorough research and always be responsible, as TBS knows moms are with every decision.
Consuming the placenta has been known to help increase milk supply as well as many other fascinating benefits. The placenta can be dehydrated and encapsulated, initially eaten raw as part of a smoothie, or consumed more long-term as a tincture.
If all else fails, yes, there are medications that have been known to help increase breast milk supply. Speak with a physician or lactation consultant, and research further about medication. There are many known side effects, and medication is not personally recommended, but it is an option. Physicians can determine if low levels of prolactin or other hormone imbalances are a part of the problem. Some medications that are commonly prescribed for low milk supply are Metoclopramide (Reglan), Sulpiride (Dolmatil, Eglonyl, Sulpitil, Equemote, Sulparex), and Domperidone (Motilium). Empowering and educating oneself is the first step in determining whether or not medication is the right path to take.
Chin Up and Feed On
Breastfeeding moms with a dip in supply can most definitely bounce back to nursing bliss. Surrounding oneself with support and positivity can work wonders, along with the help of nature, exercise, baby, and sometimes, doctors. Do not suffer in silence, or stress over “not producing enough for baby”. There are already so many factors working against breastfeeding mothers, that mothers’ thoughts need not be one.
Nurse away, and do so with the confidence that breastfeeding and baby’s health are absolutely worth it. Seek help if needed, confide in others, and rest assured that more mothers suffer from low milk supply than one would think. Again, there are many factors that are attributed to a decrease in milk production, but the majority of them can be resolved easily and painlessly.
With these suggestions, next stop: How to Manage an Oversupply…
1Life Stages Feeding. Brittney Kirton. Everything you need to know about infant growth spurts. <http://www.lifestagesfeeding.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-infant-growth-spurts/>
2 Ask Dr. Sears. 2013. Herbs to Increase Milk Supply <http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-eating/breastfeeding/while-taking-medication/herbs-increase-milk-supply>
3 Mother Food - A Lactogenic Diet. Hillary Jacobson. 13 Oct. 2011. Beer as a Galactagogue - A Brief History. <http://lactogenicdiet.blogspot.com/2011/10/beer-as-galactagogue-brief-history.html>
When my daughter Jade was born just over a year ago, I planned on exclusively breastfeeding. I had successfully breastfed her sister Josie for 14 months, at which point Josie had self-weaned. I loved breastfeeding and the bond that it gave me with Josie. Breastfeeding Jade was something that I was looking forward to.
When I had Josie, I had minimal problems over the first couple of weeks, and I expected that I was an old pro and Jade and I would have no problems at all.
I couldn’t have been more wrong!
In those early days, breastfeeding Jade was very painful, but I assumed it was just my nipples getting used to breastfeeding. I was certain that by the end of the second week, I would be just fine. Instead, things just got worse. My nipples were cracked and bleeding. I slathered on the Lansinoh and walked around topless to the dismay of my five year old daughter. Still, things were not getting better. Every time Jade ate, I was in excruciating pain. Every time she ate, the sores were opened up again.
My midwife came to visit when I finally admitted that I wasn’t the successful breastfeeding mother that I thought I would be. I actually thought I had a milk bleb. My midwife took one look at me and said that it wasn’t a blister. That little bump I could see was all that was left of my nipple. She said that it was the worst nipple damage that she had ever seen. She advised me to express from that side until it healed, and to feed my baby the milk that I had expressed.
I was stunned.
Having a newborn is such an emotional time. The reality was not matching up to my expectations. I had to go back to work when Josie was six weeks old. I expressed until she was nine months old and I was able to quit my job. I absolutely did not want to express to feed Jade, and in my irrational, just-had-a-baby mind, I was a failure. Never mind that Jade would be getting my milk. It was coming from a bottle! Making matters worse was that she struggled to latch onto a bottle. But I soldiered on, determined that expressing was going to be a short term fix and that I would be able to breastfeed without pain soon.
I wanted an answer. I saw nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants. I called breastfeeding helplines. The consensus was that Jade’s mouth was too small to make a good latch. I was assured that once she grew, her mouth would get bigger and breastfeeding would not be painful.
In the meantime I became very anxious every time I thought about feeding Jade. It hurt. I honestly would call it excruciating pain. I was in tears multiple times a day. I thought about quitting. Even though I was super committed to making it work, if I hadn’t had a good experience with Josie I don’t think that I would have had the confidence or desire to continue with Jade. But I had taken on the mindset that I was a breastfeeding mother, and there was no way I was going to give up. I kept reflecting on the experience I had with Josie, and I knew that breastfeeding could be euphoric. I was determined to do anything I could to feel that with Jade. I affirmed to myself that I could breastfeed successfully.
Over time, my nipples both healed. Jade’s mouth grew and she wasn’t damaging me as she fed anymore. However, I knew that her latch still wasn’t right. It didn’t look like Josie’s latch. Her top lip was always tucked under. She was often gassy and fussy and I was still uncomfortable feeding her. At this point she was 10 weeks old.
I decided to search the internet for “baby’s top lip tucked under” and I found myself on a forum where mothers were discussing lip tie. I had never heard of lip tie. I know that the nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants had all checked Jade for tongue tie and said that her tongue was fine. But lip tie? Nobody had mentioned that. Lip tie, I learned, was when skin at the top of the lip is attached tightly to the upper gum. There was a link in the forum to images of lip tie. I looked at the photo. Jade was in my arms. I flipped up her top lip, and she most certainly had lip tie.
I cried. I was so relieved to finally know what was ‘wrong’. Then I was angry. It was frustrating that nobody had caught it. I expected that lactation consultants would have checked for this structural problem. But I couldn’t dwell on the negative. I had to switch my focus to fixing the problem. I decided that I could cope with the discomfort, but I had to determine whether this lip tie was going to cause Jade any long term problems. The forum had led me to Dr. Lawrence Kotlow’s website. I studied his website, fact sheets, and videos. The research I did led me to believe that there was a risk of dental and speech problems if I left the lip tie. Dr. Kotlow was a dentist and he corrected lip tie with a laser. I started calling dentists in my area. None of them would perform the procedure.
I took Jade to the doctor to confirm that she had lip tie and to find out my options for treatment. I was told that I could take her to a pediatric surgeon. I did not want to put my baby under general anesthetic. I started to look into dentists in Sydney, which was about a three hour drive from where we live in Canberra, Australia. I was able to find a dentist that would use a laser to cut the lip tie. I sent the photo of Jade’s lip tie to the dentist and he confirmed that it was lip tie and that he could correct it. We made an appointment for a couple of weeks later.
My husband and I made the trek to Sydney. The procedure, though quick, was very difficult for us as parents. Jade hated being restrained, and Jon had to hold her very still on his lap. There was more blood than I expected, and Jade refused to feed as she was very angry, numbed, and possibly sore. What took a few minutes felt like hours, but eventually Jade calmed down and had a good breastfeed.
I wish I could say that this was the start of euphoric breastfeeding. It wasn’t. Because Jade was already three months old, she was set in her ways. On top of that, I was overly full many times and she wasn’t able to latch well unless I expressed first. The damage she had done to my nipple led me to have what the doctor said was a cyst from the poor latch. This ‘cyst’ remained until Jade was ten months old. She bit it one day as she was slipping off my breast and it opened and drained. Finally I could feed comfortably.
Yes, it took ten months to breastfeed comfortably. Jade has just turned one, and I hope she doesn’t wean as early as her sister did. I’d like to enjoy our breastfeeding journey for a little while longer, while it’s still enjoyable.
I hope that by sharing this story I can raise awareness of lip tie. I think that if Jade’s lip tie had been caught earlier, we would have had a much better breastfeeding experience. I also know that if I hadn't previously breastfed successfully it's very likely that I would have given up due to the excruciating pain. I hope that by sharing my story I can prevent other mothers from unnecessarily giving up on breastfeeding, or from going through what I went through. I believe that when there are problems with attachment, health care providers should be checking for tongue and lip tie. I am happy to report that I was able to share Jade's photo with my midwife, who in turn shared it with her colleagues. I share the photo of Jade's lip tie with nurses and midwives when I get the opportunity. One by one, I know that my story and Jade's photo can make a difference in the lives of mothers.
To learn more about lip tie, visit Dr. Kotlow's website - www.kidsteeth.com or see his fact sheet on tongue and lip tie here: http://www.kiddsteeth.com/articles/ttfactssheet.pdf
Parenting is such a thing that everybody thinks she knows how to do it perfectly, especially if it not about her own child. Breastfeeding is also a ‘topic of everybody’ – when, where, how, how long and so on. It can be very confusing if everybody provides different information, and the situation is more problematic if they belong to your close family.
Here I’d like to collect some views about breastfeeding which can be useful in the first few months. I also had to face these problems, but now I know what to do to give the best to my child.
I’d like to share two other problems with you with which I don’t have personal experience but I heard about them or some of my friends experienced them. I hope these will also be useful for you.
This is not a complete list, but I’d try to collect the most common problems for the first few months. But it is not an impossible mission to overcome them. Believe me I’m a practicing mother of a 2-year-old boy and a 3-month-old girl and I’m a breastfeeding fan!
Molnár, Á.(2012, September). A mellgyulladás kezelése (Treating mastitis), Anyák lapja, p14-16
Mohrbacher, N. Szopási sztrájk (Strike against breastfeeding). Retrieved July 17, 2013 from http://www.lll.hu/fuzetek/szopasi_sztrajk
Disclaimer: On occasion, a mother/baby breastfeeding dyad is be compromised by a medical situation. If your intuition tells you baby's signs are needing extra attention, please do what you believe is best for you and baby. Good sources for special circumstances in breastfeeding include LLLI and kellymom (do you have a good resource? Comment below!). Please don't give up, you can breastfeed as long as you would like!
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