When breastfeeding works well, Mom and Baby are happy and thriving. But almost every new mother experiences some discomfort along the way. Check out our tips, techniques, and cool products to help ensure a smooth and comfortable nursing experience.
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Get-Ready Products that Help
Those first few days after birth are often a blur. Make sure you’re well-prepared for nursing before Baby arrives. Here are a few of the basics you’ll need:
- 3-4 nursing bras
- 2-3 sleep bras
- Nursing pads: 10-12 reusable pads or a box of disposables
- Nipple cream
- Pump (optional, but great for relieving the inevitable engorgement)
The Right Bra Is Key!
Most women’s breasts grow 1-2 sizes while nursing. A quality bra is essential for comfort and to minimize postpregnancy sag. Look for a wide band that fits snugly under your breasts and cups that are supportive but not tight. Avoid underwire bras that can constrict flow and might lead to clogged milk ducts. For a professional fitting visit a maternity, department, or health care store.
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Whether if it is day or night, your breasts will leak. Stay dry with a ready supply of absorbent nursing pads to tuck inside your bra.
- Disposable pads are convenient, and most do a great job of keeping you dry.
- Reusable cotton pads are a good choice if you’re looking to save money or want a greener solution to leaks.
- Silicone pads prevent milk from leaking by applying gentle pressure to your breast. To apply, simply press the tacky lining against your breast and dress as usual.
Whether disposable or reusable, change your pads whenever they get wet and avoid pads with a plastic liner, which can hold in moisture.
Latching On Isn’t Always Easy
Lactation consultants spend most of their time helping Mom and Baby establish a good latch. “If we can help Mom and Baby establish a good latch, we can avoid most of the other nursing problems,” says Connie Cox, RN, IBCLC.
La Leche League International says you’ll know Baby is latched properly if your nipple and at least half of your areola are completely sucked into Baby’s mouth. An incomplete latch means Mom is likely to feel a pinch and might end up with sore or cracked nipples.
If you’re still uncomfortable after 60 seconds of nursing, gently press your finger on your breast near Baby’s mouth to break the seal, then try again, making sure Baby’s mouth is open wide.
Early Letdowns Feel a Little Strange
Many moms feel a tingling sensation when their milk lets down. This is absolutely normal and generally happens during the first few moments Baby is nursing. It can also happen when you hear your baby crying or even when you’re at the grocery store and someone else’s baby is crying, which is still completely normal — just not very convenient!
Sometimes Nipples Are Flat or Inverted
Some women’s nipples are flat or inverted, which can make it tough for Baby to latch on. Breast shields can act as training wheels to help Baby get started, but Cox recommends moms use shields for a short time only. Long-term use can interfere with Baby’s sucking and reduce Mom’s milk supply. Pumping can keep your milk supply strong and help draw out your nipples.
Nursing Causes Cramps?
Nursing stimulates your body to produce oxytocin, a hormone that causes uterine cramps. These cramps typically last from a few days to two weeks. The good news: There’s no need to worry if Baby is getting enough milk. Cramping is a sure sign your milk has let down. Double bonus: Cramps help shrink your uterus, which means you’re that much closer to getting back into your old jeans. Try a heating pad or hot-water bottle for relief.
Everyone Experiences Engorgement
Most women experience very full breasts (engorgement) at least once while nursing — usually three to five days after birth when their milk comes in. While engorgement can be very uncomfortable, it generally corrects itself once Mom’s supply adapts to Baby’s demands.
To relieve the pressure:
- Take a warm bath or shower — heat can help stimulate the letdown reflex.
- Wake up Baby to nurse.
- If your breasts are too swollen for Baby’s mouth, use a breast pump or express a few ounces of milk by hand.
Prolonged engorgement can reduce your milk supply. To prevent engorgement:
- Switch the breast you offer first at each feeding session.
- Adjust the baby’s position to ensure all sections of the breast are drained.
- Nurse for at least 15-20 minutes on one side before switching.
A Breast Pump Might Be Your Best Friend
A breast pump is a great way to relieve engorgement and to store up milk for a night out or if you plan to nurse after you return to work. Here are some tips to consider when selecting a breast pump:
Manual vs. Battery or Electric
Manual pumps cost less and work well for occasional pumping. If you plan to pump regularly, you’ll want to invest in an electric or battery-operated pump. For traveling, pick up an adapter that fits into your car’s DC adapter or cigarette lighter.
Buy vs. Rent
Do the math — depending on how long you plan to pump, it might make more sense to rent rather than buy. Most hospitals rent by the week or month. Even if you plan to buy, renting is a great way to try a pump before purchasing.
You Can Manually Express Milk
Did you know that you don’t need a breastpump to express milk? Here’s how:
- Massage your breasts gently before starting (and occasionally during the process). A warm washcloth can also help start your flow.
- Cup your breast with your thumb on top of the areola and your forefinger on the bottom.
- Position a sterile container to catch the milk.
- Rhythmically compress your breast, mimicking Baby’s sucking motion.
- If you’ve hit the right spot, you’ll be rewarded with a stream of milk.
- Reposition your fingers every few moments to express milk from all sections of breast tissue.
Mastitis Is More Common Than You Think
Mastitis is caused by bacteria entering your breast through the nipple and might make your breasts appear red and feel tender. You might also run a fever and have other flulike symptoms.
In most cases, mastitis requires antibiotics. So, if you notice symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
Plugged Milk Ducts Can Be Painful
When milk isn’t completely drained from all parts of your breast, you might experience a plugged milk duct. A telltale symptoms is a small, tender area of the breast that feels like a hard knot.
If you experience a plugged duct, be sure to apply a moist, hot compress — and nurse on the affected breast first. To prevent future problems, gently massage your breasts before and during nursing.
Thrush Happens (To Both You & Baby!)
Thrush is a yeast infection on your nipples — which also usually occurs in your Baby’s mouth. If your nipples are pink or red and itchy, chances are you have thrush.
If you are feeling uncomfortable, be sure see your doctor — and bring Baby. You both will need to be treated with an antifungal medication.
To prevent thrush:
- Wash bottle nipples and pacifiers daily in the dishwasher or boil them for 20 minutes.
- Do not reuse a bottle unless it has been less than 1 hour since baby last drank from it.
- If Baby is taking an oral antibiotic, rinse his mouth with water after each dose.
At-Home Soothers That Help
Cox recommends a cold compress to relieve pain from sore nipples and engorged breasts — a bag of frozen peas or blueberries works well. And use moist heat if you have an infection such as mastitis or a plugged milk duct.
You Can Prevent Future Problems
Follow these six easy tips to prevent common nursing issues:
- Change Baby’s position to completely drain each breast.
- Nurse for 15-20 minutes on one breast before switching.
- Alternate the breast you offer first at each feeding.
- Feed frequently to prevent engorgement.
- Take steps to heal sore or cracked nipples.
- Make sure your bra is not too tight.
Should You Avoid Certain Foods While Breastfeeding?
For More Information
Check out our helpful and supportive resources for more breastfeeding information:
- Nutrition Tips for Nursing Moms
- Advice from a Lactation Consultant
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