Breast milk is one of the most alkaline foods on the planet; it’s perfect nourishment for your growing baby, protecting baby against illness such as ear infections and the flu, and lowers the risk for asthma, diabetes, obesity, and leukemia later in life.
Breastfeeding gives you and your baby a special connection. Babies become calmer, satiated, and seemingly intoxicated from their milk. Moms tend to find it very relaxing and special bonding time too.
The world average for breastfeeding is 4.2 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that babies breastfeed for at least two years. Two years may sound like a long time to share your breasts, but think about the developmental and emotional benefits your child will experience from connecting to the breast.
Besides the wonderful connection you establish with your baby, breastfeeding also encourages the uterus to contract back to its normal size and enables you to drop that baby weight almost effortlessly because you’re producing so much milk and breastfeeding uses up lots of calories.
Many women give up breastfeeding after the first few weeks postpartum due to discomfort. Once you’re over the initial hump, the experience becomes comfortable and pleasurable. So what exactly causes the painful breasts- engorgement and improper latching.
Engorgement is a sensation of fullness in the breasts from an over-production of milk. Within seventy-two hours after you give birth, a rush of breast milk becomes available to your baby. More blood flows to your breasts and some of the surrounding tissue swells, including the underarm region.
The result is full, swollen, tender, engorged breasts. Although it’s painful, engorgement is a good sign, since it means you’re producing abundantly.
The pain usually lasts up to forty-eight hours. It takes the body a few days to adjust to producing the right amount for your baby’s needs since it doesn’t know whether you just birthed one baby or multiples, your breasts produce lots of milk until the body gets a sense of how much is needed based on the feedings.
Here are some tips on managing the pain of engorged breasts.
- Use Cabbage leaves. This is an old kitchen remedy. You peel back a layer or two of green cabbage and place inside your nursing bra to cover your breast completely. You can leave them in for a minimum of twenty minutes, or you can leave them in until the cabbage completely wilts. The coolness and the sulfur in the amino acid methionine act as an antibiotic and anti-irritant. This in turn draws an extra flow of blood to the area. The dilation of the capillaries as a result acts as a counter-irritant, thus relieving the engorgement and inflammation, allowing milk to flow freely, and giving you great relief.
- Take a warm shower or bath and allow the water to gently pour directly over your breasts. The heat will cause vaso-dilation: your milk will begin to leak in the shower, causing the breasts to deflate enough so you feel comfortable. Since the breasts aren’t being stimulated, your body won’t consider the leaking a feeding and you won’t have to worry about producing more milk to account for the leaked milk.
- Wear comfortable clothing that doesn’t cling too tightly around the chest area or cause any rubbing.
- Use a cold compress up to twenty minutes before a feeding.
- Nurse frequently, every two to three hours at least, even if it means waking your baby. This is crucial, because unrelieved engorgement can cause a permanent drop in your milk production. Try to get the first breast you use as soft and deflated as possible. If your baby is satisfied with just one breast, you can offer the other breast at the next feeding.
- Massage the breast while nursing, to get blood flowing. This will help decrease some of the inflammation.
- Contact a lactation consultant who can show you some tips. Check with your birth service-provider to see if they have any partnerships with lactation consultants.
- Use Fenugreek seeds. Fenugreek seed compress is a traditional remedy used in India to relieve engorgement and mastitis. Steep several ounces of fenugreek seeds in a cup or so of water. Let seeds cool and then mash them. Place on a clean wet cloth, while warm, and use as a poultice or plaster on engorged or mastitic breasts to help with let-down and sore spots.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. Initially many women experience pain in the first days after birth. If you’re experiencing exceptional pain while nursing there could be an issue with the way your baby is latching at the breast.
Improper latching results in a myriad of problems to the new mother including sore, cracked and bleeding nipples, and Thrush. If you are too sore to nurse, your milk supply will suffer and your baby won’t get enough to eat.
Ensuring that your baby is probably latched from day one or correcting the problem soon thereafter will prevent having to continually treat symptoms. Here are some tips on getting your baby properly latched on, as well as treatment measures for sore, cracked nipples:
- Get started ASAP: The sooner you start breastfeeding your baby postpartum, the less likely you will experience latching challenges.
- Tease your baby: To get your baby to grasp the entire nipple surrounding the areola, you need her to open her mouth wide. You can do this by stimulating her rooting reflex. Choose from the following ways: “tease” your baby’s lips with your nipple or finger and she should respond by opening up. You can also softly stroke your baby’s cheek and she should automatically turn her face toward you and open wide in anticipation of feeding.
- Open wide: Once your baby has her mouth open wide as if she were yawning, gently and swiftly move her head toward the breast and allow her to latch on, grasping as much of your breast into her mouth as possible. Her lips should be turned inside out and should completely bypass the nipple.
- Position your Baby: Your baby’s gums should be positioned on the areola, not on the nipple itself. The areola is the dark circular area surrounding the nipple. Most of the areola should be covered by the baby’s mouth. When properly latched, the baby initiates sucking; the milk ducts are compressed and the milk is released. If your baby is instead latched on to the nipple, she is going to have a harder time drawing out the milk, which will frustrate her. In turn she will suck harder, which will be more painful for you.
- Malfunction? Break Suction: If the baby is latched on properly you should not feel any pain. If you experience pain or the baby is not sucking correctly, break the suction by placing your finger inside the corner of the baby’s mouth near the gum line and the baby will release the breast. Reposition yourself, take a deep breath, tease the baby to open wide and start over.
- Take Your Time: What we eat goes directly into the milk; so do our thoughts and feelings. If we’re stressed out or upset, we send hormones into the bloodstream and subsequently the milk. This can upset the baby. We must take the time to make ourselves comfortable and relax into feeding time. Try to set aside a space for your feeding ritual; this is your precious bonding time with your baby. When baby is resting make sure you get your rest, stay well hydrated, and eat foods that fortify your milk.