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Sore truth of motherhood

What to do when breast-feeding becomes distressing.

MAY 2013

Breast-feeding, like parenting, isn’t always a breeze, especially in the first few weeks after birth. It can be easy to forget at this time that, like all new skills, breast-feeding can take a while to learn and become really good at. Not all women may experience true engorgement or mastitis. If you do, however, it may really test your desire to breastfeed. At times you will feel that it isn’t worth it, and that breastfeeding is just not for you. With the help of your OB-GYN or lactation consultant, you can deal with these issues successfully.

Engorged breasts

A few days after the birth, the milk supply comes in. In some women this happens very quickly—often overnight—and their breasts may become swollen, hard, hot and painful. This is normal.

What can you do about engorged breasts?

• Feed your baby on demand until they have had enough.

• If you have a strong let down and milk pours from the breast during the feed, take your bra off and let it run out freely. You can catch it in a towel, cup or a sterilized container for freezing and later consumption.

• Let your baby latch onto the more painful breast first. Try using one side for each feed rather than offering both breasts. If your baby is still hungry offer the other breast.

• Stand in a warm shower for five minutes before feeding. It’s soothing and comfortable. Although it’s generally not a good idea to express off excess milk by hand—expressing a little in the shower can make it easier for a very new baby to latch on correctly.

• Apply a cold pack after feeding or cabbage leaves which have been stored in the refrigerator applied over the whole breast can be very soothing!

• Massage your breast lumps gently towards the nipple while feeding.

• Do not give your baby any other fluids.

• If your breasts are very painful, take some paracetamol. You may feel reluctant to do this, however, remember that being in pain makes establishing a healthy, satisfying breastfeeding pattern much more difficult.

Remember, there’s no greater relief for engorged breasts than an enthusiastically feeding baby.

What is mastitis?

Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue, particularly the milk ducts and glands in a breastfeeding woman. It’s caused by blocked milk ducts because the breasts are too full and the milk isn’t draining properly. It can also be due to a cracked nipple. Bacteria may get into the breast tissue and grow in the blocked milk ducts.

You will have a sore breast and will notice a lump which is usually red and tender. You may also have a temperature and feel unwell with flu-like symptoms. Most cases of mastitis are caused because the baby isn’t latched on or positioned on the breast correctly.

What can you do about mastitis?

• See your doctor or midwife immediately if you have a fever. You may require antibiotics to cure the infection.

• It is very important that you have time to rest and spend time feeding your baby properly. Seek help and support from your partner or family. If this is difficult for you, ask your OB-GYN to help you find some support.

• Breastfeed on demand, starting with the sore breast. Make sure the baby is latched on correctly and drains the breast well. It’s quite safe to feed your baby from the affected breast. When feeding, the baby’s mouth should be covering almost the entire areola—not just the nipple.

• Wear loose-fitting clothes and a bra which is well-fitting and doesn’t dig in anywhere, obstructing the flow of milk.

• Change breast pads or bras frequently if you’re leaking milk.

• Apply warmth to the sore area just before feeding, by taking a shower or applying a warm hot water bottle wrapped in a towel or a hot compress.

• Drink plenty of fluid especially if you have a fever.

• Paracetamol can be taken every four hours if necessary for the pain and fever.

If you are experiencing difficulties with breastfeeding, seek the advice of your OB-GYN, midwife or lactation consultant.

For more informative articles on pregnancy and motherhood, grab a copy of the May issue of HealthToday.

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