Now you know why Victorian wet nurses were so highly prized. For many new
mothers, it’s a shock to discover that this most basic of all bonding experiences is
not necessarily a breeze. You’ll probably learn a thing or two from a hospital nurse
or friends, but every newborn gives birth to an all-new nursing experience. When
your breasts start producing their regular milk supply a few days after your baby’s
birth, they may feel painfully tight, and your baby may have trouble latching on.
Many other factors affect your baby’s refuelings—and your own comfort. When
problems arise, like nipple soreness or a clogged duct, it helps to know a few tricks
of the trade.
A number of problems can arise during breast-feeding that leave the mother
sore and the baby fussy. Common issues include cracked or sore nipples,
blocked milk ducts, and breasts that are painfully engorged with milk (or,
conversely, don’t seem to be providing enough milk). Also, especially in the first
few weeks, breast-feeding can be a physically tiring process, and it may take a
while for the mother and child to learn how to work smoothly together.
Take the Pressure Off
- Before nursing, release a bit of milk by hand. This will take away some of
the pressure and allow your baby to attach more easily. To do it, press repeatedly
with your fingers above and below the areola (the dark area around the nipple).
- • If your breasts are so full that no milk comes out, apply a hot compress for
several minutes. A wet washcloth will work, or try a sopping-wet diaper, which
holds a lot of water and retains heat. Just soak a diaper in hot water and apply it
when you’re in the tub or shower.
- Use a breast pump to get the milk flowing, or to finish the feeding. With a
breast pump you can apply steady, constant suction. This encourages the milk to
“let down” and makes suckling easier for the baby. Also, if your baby is full or
falls asleep before you finish nursing, use the breast pump to finish.
- Nurse frequently, day and night. In fact, you should nurse about 8 to 12
times during every 24-hour period. This will keep your breasts from filling up
with too much milk. Feed the baby every time he seems interested in eating.
Position Yourself (and Your Baby) for Success
- Use a nursing pillow, a horseshoe-shaped cushion specially designed for
nursing mothers. It fits around your midriff, providing a convenient armrest when
you’re cradling your baby. Two popular brands are the Boppy and My Brest
- Make sure your baby is not too warm. If an infant is all wrapped up while
nursing, she’s more likely to drowse off in the middle of feeding.
- Feed your baby in a quiet, dimly lit environment. Relaxation makes the
process easier for everyone.
- When you feed the baby, make sure her entire body is facing yours. Hold
her buttocks in one hand, supporting her head in the crook of that elbow. Slide
your other hand under your breast, fully supporting it. Tickle your baby’s lower
lip. This will prompt her to open her mouth. Pull her straight in, quickly, so her
mouth attaches to your areola. Be sure she takes the whole areola into her
mouth, or as much of it as possible.
- When the baby is full, gently insert your pinkie between the corner of her
mouth and the skin of your nipple to break the suction. Babies have a natural
survival reflex: They hold on tighter if they’re suddenly interrupted while
sucking. If you can gradually break the seal between your nipple and her mouth
before you pull her away, you’ll reduce needless tugging
Should I call the doctor?
If you’re concerned that your baby isn’t getting enough milk, immediately talk to
your doctor or lactation educator. Definitely contact the doctor if your baby
hasn’t eaten in 24 hours. You also need to consult with your doctor if you have
a red, tender area on a breast, as well as flulike symptoms and a fever. These
are symptoms of a breast infection known as mastitis, which is caused by
bacteria slipping into your breast through cracks in the nipple. It’s treatable with
antibiotics, and you can continue breast-feeding your baby while you’re being
Left, Right, Left
To make sure each breast is doing its share, start each feeding with the breast
you ended with at the previous feeding. Too tired to remember which breast that
was? Fasten a safety pin to your bra on the side where you should begin next
time. By switching the breast you offer first, you give each one a chance to get
Become More Productive
- If you feel you aren’t producing enough milk, drink one glass of
nonalcoholic beer a day. There’s a yeast derivative in the beer that increases
levels of prolactin, a hormone that influences milk production. Just make sure it’s
nonalcoholic, and drink the beer thirty minutes before a feeding.
- Apply pressure to your chest to stimulate milk flow. According to doctors
who specialize in acupressure techniques, the best pressure points are directly
above your breasts. Place your thumbs between the third and fourth ribs directly
down from your collarbone and in line with your nipples. Press steadily for a
minute or so. If this helps, you can repeat as often as you like.
- Drink fennel tea each morning. Herbalists have long recommended fennel
to first-time mothers to help increase milk production. No one is certain why—
or even if—it works, but some research indicates that fennel may have a mild
estrogen-like effect, which could encourage the production of breast milk. Or
perhaps babies just like fennel’s licorice-like taste. Simmer one teaspoon of fennel
seeds in one cup of hot water for about five minutes, strain out the seeds, and
drink the tea
- Another herb said to promote lactation is chaste tree, also known as
chasteberry. It’s been shown to affect hormone production (it’s also used to help
regulate a woman’s menstrual cycle). Drink a cup or two each day, or take 225
milligrams of a chasteberry supplement.
- Try a daily dose of fenugreek. In the past, nursing mothers used to eat a
teaspoon or so of fenugreek seeds every day. Now you can purchase fenugreek in
capsule form. The recommended dose is 600 to 700 milligrams.
Latch Onto La Leche League
For nursing mothers, one of the most helpful organizations—especially in
times of breast-feeding trouble—is La Leche League International, an
advocacy organization that strongly endorses breast-feeding. Practical advice
for nursing mothers is available on their Web site at www.lalecheleague.org.
The league also runs support groups.
Munch Some Strong Encouragement
Eat garlicky foods. Apparently garlic affects the flavor of mother’s milk in a
way that’s appealing to babies. A study at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in
Philadelphia showed that babies suckled more milk, and stayed at the breast
longer, if their mothers ate some garlic a few hours before breast-feeding.
Nip Soreness in the Bud
- If one nipple is particularly sore, offer the other one first to your baby.
Even if that’s the same nipple you offered first during the previous feeding, you’ll
want to favor the “good” nipple until the painful one feels better.
- Between feedings, place a cold washcloth on each breast to relieve soreness.
- If your nipples are cracked or tender, try vitamin-E oil. Pierce a vitamin E
capsule, squeeze out some of the liquid, and rub it in. Be sure to clean off any
remaining liquid before the next feeding. No vitamin E capsules on hand? Try
olive oil, sweet almond oil, lanolin cream, or a product called Bag Balm.
Conduct Some Duct Maintenance
- For a clogged milk duct (which may present itself as a red, tender lump in
your breast), soap the affected area while you’re in the bath or shower and then
gently run a wide-toothed comb over it to stimulate milk flow and help clear
the blockage. (In general, however, avoid using soap on your nipples, as it can
dry them out.)
- Empty your breasts as completely as possible during each feeding. Offer
your baby the affected breast first.
- Try to gently press the lump toward your nipple during feeding.
- Increase blood flow to the area by placing a warm washcloth on your
breast, then gently massaging the breast.
- Make sure your bra is loose enough that it’s not pressing into the breast and
causing the blockage.
Old wives’ tale
For a long time, it was believed to be “common knowledge” that a mother’s
breasts would become too full of milk if she fed her baby very frequently.
Actually, frequent nursing keeps them better drained.