Care of your breasts

As you start to breast-feed, you may experience a few problems with your breasts, such as:


A few days after your baby is born, your breasts may become full, firm and tender, making it challenging for your baby to grasp your nipple. This swelling, called engorgement, also causes congestion within your breasts, which makes your milk flow slower. So even if your baby can latch on, he or she may be less than satisfied with the results.

To manage engorgement, express some milk by hand before trying to breast-feed. Support with one hand the breast you intend to express. With your other hand, gently stroke your breast inward toward your areola. Then place your thumb and forefinger at the top and bottom of the breast just behind the areola. As you gently compress the breast between your fingers, milk should flow or squirt out the nipple. You can also use a breast pump to express some milk.

As you release your milk, you'll begin to feel your areola and nipple soften. Once enough milk is released, your baby can comfortably latch on and nurse. As you nurse your baby, gently massage your breast to further relieve the fullness and promote milk flow.

Frequent, lengthy nursing sessions are the best means to avoid engorgement. Nurse your baby regularly and try not to a miss a feeding. Wearing a nursing bra both day and night will help support engorged breasts and may make you feel more comfortable.

If your breasts are sore after nursing, apply an ice pack to reduce swelling. Some women find that a warm shower relieves breast tenderness. Fortunately, the period of engorgement is usually brief, lasting no more than a few days following delivery.

Sore nipples

Sore, tender or cracked nipples can make breast-feeding painful and, frankly, frustrating. Fortunately, most women don't get sore nipples, and if they do, the soreness doesn't last for long. Sore nipples are usually caused by incorrect positioning. At each feeding, you want to make sure that the baby has the areola and not just the nipple in his or her mouth. You also want to be certain that the baby's head isn't turned to the side, out of line with his or her body. This position causes pulling at the nipple.

To care for your nipples, let them air-dry after each feeding. Some women wave a blow-dryer, on a cool setting, across their nipples for a few minutes to dry them.

You don't need to wash your nipples after nursing. There are built-in lubricants around the areola that provide a natural salve. Soap removes these protective substances and promotes dryness, which may cause or aggravate sore nipples. When you bathe, simply splash water on your breasts. Afterward, let your nipples air-dry once again. Don't dry them with a towel.

Some mothers place regular tea bags soaked in cool water on sore nipples to soothe them. Some women find that expressing a little milk after each feeding keeps their nipples supple. You can purchase and apply 100 percent pure lanolin to your nipples after feedings, as long as you're not allergic to wool.

Do your best to relax while breast-feeding, which will enhance the letdown of milk and in turn help prevent your baby from vigorous sucking as he or she waits for the flow of milk.

Blocked milk ducts

Sometimes, milk ducts in the breast become clogged, causing milk to back up. Blocked ducts can be felt through the skin as small, tender lumps or larger areas of hardness. Because blocked ducts can lead to an infection, you should treat the problem right away. The best way to open up blocked ducts is to let your baby empty the affected breast, offering that breast first at each feeding. If your baby doesn't empty the affected breast, express milk from it by hand or by breast pump. It may also help to apply a warm compress before nursing and to massage the affected breast. If the problem doesn't go away with self-treatment, call your lactation consultant or health care provider for advice.

Breast infection (mastitis)

This is a more serious complication of breast-feeding. Infection can be caused by a failure to empty your breasts at feedings. Germs may gain entry into your milk ducts from cracked nipples and from your baby's mouth. These germs are not harmful to your baby; everyone has them. They just don't belong in your breast tissues.

Mastitis causes swelling, burning, redness and pain in one or both breasts, along with flu-like signs such as a fever and chills. If you develop such signs and symptoms, call your health care provider. You may need antibiotics, in addition to rest and more fluids. If you develop mastitis, keep nursing. Mastitis typically doesn't affect your baby. Emptying your breasts during feedings will help to prevent clogged milk ducts, another possible source of the condition. If your breasts are really painful, hand express some milk from them as you soak your breasts in a bath of warm water. (See "Mastitis," page 581.)

Inverted nipples

Although inverted nipples aren't very common, a few women do have them. It's a condition in which the nipples are drawn inward. A baby has a harder time latching onto a nipple that's not pointing outward.

The problem may clear up on its own, as your breasts get larger when your milk comes in. If this doesn't happen, you can wear breast shells between feedings to help your nipples protrude. You can also try a breast pump to draw out your nipples and start the milk flowing. If your nipples are severely inverted or flat, talk with your lactation consultant or health care provider.

New Mothers Guide to Breast Feeding

New Mothers Guide to Breast Feeding

For many years, scientists have been playing out the ingredients that make breast milk the perfect food for babies. They've discovered to day over 200 close compounds to fight infection, help the immune system mature, aid in digestion, and support brain growth - nature made properties that science simply cannot copy. The important long term benefits of breast feeding include reduced risk of asthma, allergies, obesity, and some forms of childhood cancer. The more that scientists continue to learn, the better breast milk looks.

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