Welcome to Kira's Blog

Welcome to My Blog

Life with young children can be challenging, but with the support and advice of friends, we can feel empowered and thankful for the blessing of being a Mom.

My musings are those of a self-proclaimed attachment-parenting Tiger mom, who juggles full-time mommying with a small (but growing!) baby-related business. I hope some of my thoughts help you
Enjoy your day, Enjoy your night, and Enjoy your kids!!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Common Breastfeeding Challenges

Breastfeeding is a challenge. I've heard from many sources that if it's done "correctly" it shouldn't hurt. Well, that's both a true and false.

The truth is this: when the mom and baby are in a healthy groove, it won't hurt. In fact, it will feel good for both, and joyously nurturing. But it can take a few weeks for this "healthy groove" to fall into place. Especially with the first baby, it feels like a long time for mom and baby to learn each other and establish nursing "habits".

And another truth is this: while waiting for your "healthy groove" with your baby, you can be plagued with all sorts of painful setbacks. Some are common and some are unique/rare. Even some lactation consultants may be stumped with certain anatomical challenges - you'd be wise to confer with more than one, if problems persist (like getting a second opinion from a doctor). But as for the common problems, many of us have experienced them, and they can be both physically and emotionally painful. And yet, those who breastfeed for longer than 6 months will tell you that it was worth persisting.

The first challenge in breastfeeding is getting a good latch. For this, lactation consultants are an amazing gift to mothers, old and new alike. I've heard over and over from friends, "if I could just get the latch as good as the consultant did in the hospital, this would be easy..." Alas, most of us exhausted and overwhelmed mothers are lucky if we get a good latch within the first 5 tries. Multiply that by 8-12 nursing sessions per day, and you get a lot of wear-and-tear on our nipples. The best advice is to try different positions, because while you may think one is most comfortable for you, the baby may need a different setup to properly latch and stay on. Experiment and practice. Just like everything else in life, the more you practice, the better you'll get, until it "becomes natural." Like tying your shoe, or riding a bike, you'll find that one day you'll realize that you no longer struggle to figure it out, and you can just enjoy the experience.

And then there are ailments...

Thrush is one common setback: it is a yeast and presents as painful, bright pink spots/blotches on and around the nipple. Sometimes, the nipple turns white/translucent after nursing, as a sign of distress. It is painful especially when baby is latching on, and I've often literally cringed when the baby is crying and ready to nurse. It can also be painful for the baby if it spreads to his mouth, so both mom and baby are at risk of nursing less often than is necessary for baby's healthy growth. There are some over-the-counter herbal remedies, but the doctors often prescribe diflucan for the mother and an oral anti-fungal for the baby. As with most nursing complications, it is important to involve both mother's and baby's doctors, since it affects both. Important note about thrush: if you have antibiotics, which many moms do during/after labor, then it greatly increases risk of yeast-overgrowth (just like a vaginal yeast infection). In order to help prevent this, it's a good idea to eat a lot of yogurt and possibly take additional healthy digestive bacteria in pill form, during/after labor and in the first few weeks of nursing.

Another upsetting possibility is mastitis. This is when a milk-duct gets clogged and infected. It comes on VERY strong and fast, and knocks out the mother with a high fever. It demands immediate and drastic attention. First sign is probably an itchy, red hot-spot on the mother's breast. Massaging that area can help open the clogged duct, but once the fever is on, you'll need/want antibiotics right away. Mastitis can hit at any time, but it is most likely to happen in the first few days or weeks, when the ducts are still figuring out how much milk to produce and often over-produce in the process. Which leads us to...

Engorgement - it hits almost all of us. It can be very painful and often presents problems for the newborn to latch-on... which creates a vicious cycle: baby can't latch on, so mom gives up and offers a bottle, meanwhile producing even MORE milk, so that it's yet again difficult for baby to latch on, etc. The breasts and nipple can feel like boulders, literally hard-as-a-rock. I've heard 2 pieces of advice on this: one is to take a warm shower and massage out milk, and the other is to place raw cabbage on the breast and just leave it there - it magically softens and relaxes the breast (just be careful to cut out a hole for the nipple, so it won't smell/taste like cabbage to the newborn!) For myself, I usually just pump extra milk (deflating the breast) and freeze it for later. I find that after the engorgement has passed, the supply/demand cycle of mom and baby naturally develops more easily.

Breastfeeding is a wonderful experience for both mom and baby, but don't believe anybody who tells you it's easy and painless. The reality is: it's difficult and can be quite painful, especially in the beginning. But with the right coaching from a lactation consultant (not to mention supportive friends), it will become both easy and painless... and incredibly rewarding.


  1. So true! It can be so hard in the beginning but it is the most amazing experience when it all settles down.

    Although I have to disagree with one point - you don't have to take antibiotics if you have mastitis. I had it with my second and I followed my midwife's advice: nurse, nurse, nurse - do whatever you can to keep the infected breast(s) empty. Pump if you need to. Drink plenty of water and don't get out of bed. Let the fever run it's course and do not take anything to lower the fever. My fever was gone within 36 hours and I was back to myself within 48. I have friends who take the antibiotics, and then have to deal with thrush. Try to avoid antibiotics if you can!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Hedva! Great advice!

  3. i had issues with my 5th child: i was so engorged that he couldnt get milk out and was screaming every hour. i didnt think it was due to engorgement and so never thought to pump out some milk till he could get a good latch. it was my husband who finally said maybe this was the situation. i went into a hot shower and expressed milk til i wasnt so engorged and then miraculously the baby nursed like he was starving (which he was) and slept for 4 hours straight! so i expressed milk for 3 or 4 more days and then the engorgement went away. you would think by the 5th child i would know it all, but trust me, you never know it all!