The real reason you’re struggling to breastfeed

Breastfeeding comes naturally, right? Well, not always...

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Mastitis
Mastitis is a painful swelling of the breast, which, if left untreated, can become infected. It’s usually caused by milk ducts becoming blocked because the breasts aren’t being emptied properly, either because your baby isn’t latching on, or you’re going too long between feeds.

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Keep trying to empty your breast, either by continuing to breastfeed or expressing. Massaging any hard lumpy areas on your breast in a warm shower can also keep milk flowing freely. If your breasts feel hot or painful, or you have flu-like symptoms, you may have developed mastitis. Although it’s painful, it’s fine to keep breastfeeding your baby to empty your breasts, but if your symptoms do not improve within 24 hours, see your GP who may prescribe antibiotics. While you’re feeling unwell, try to get as much rest as possible and keep hydrated. Taking ibuprofen also helps reduce inflammation.

Thrush
Thursh is a fungal infection, which can affect both your breasts and your baby’s mouth while you’re breastfeeding. It is caused by a type of yeast which lives on your skin and in various parts of your body all the time. As a new mum, though, your immune system is often weakened which means the yeast can thrive and turn into an infection. As you breastfeed, thrush can be passed easily between you and your baby, so you’ll both need to be treated if one of you develops it.

The signs of thrush include cracked or sore nipples, intense pain in the nipple or breasts, shooting pains during or after feeding and pink, shiny or itchy nipples. If your baby keeps pulling off your breast, has white spots in his mouth or a white coating on his tongue, he might have thrush.

If you’re worried, see your GP. For surface thrush, you’ll probably be given a cream for your nipples and a gel or drops, which you apply to your baby’s mouth after feeds. However, if you are experiencing shooting pains, the thrush may have entered the milk ducts, which will need treating with a course of oral antifungal medicine. As long as it’s not too painful, you can carry on breastfeeding while you are both being treated for thrush, while taking a painkiller like paracetamol to help ease any pain. To keep thrush away, make sure you are meticulous with hygiene. Sterilise any dummies or teats and throw away any milk that you expressed while you had thrush. Also, use a very hot wash for your bras.

Jaundice
If your baby is very sleepy and disinterested in feeding, he might be suffering from jaundice. It’s very common in newborns and caused by an excess of the yellow pigment bilirubin in your baby’s blood. This is a naturally occurring chemical which babies’ livers often struggle to process quickly enough.

The first signs of jaundice are yellowish skin and eyes, followed by lethargic and sleepy behaviour. It’s important to keep feeding your baby though, as if she gets too hungry you won’t be able to produce enough milk for her when she’s feeling better. You may have to wake your little one up to feed or try to keep her awake during the feed – try taking off a layer of clothing, blowing on her face or tickling her toes. You could also change her nappy halfway through a feed.

If you’re struggling to get your baby to breastfeed, try expressing your milk and bottlefeeding for a while. Often jaundice clears up on its own but, if it becomes more severe, the condition can be treated easily with a light treatment called phototherapy.

Tongue-tie
Tongue-tie is a condition that affects up to 10% of newborn babies. It can make breastfeeding difficult for you and frustrating for your baby.

With a tongue-tied baby, the piece of skin which joins your baby’s tongue to the floor of his mouth is too short and extends too far forwards under the tip of the tongue, so it’s effectively ‘tied’ to the bottom. Signs your baby may suffer from this include his tongue not being able to move from side to side, curling under rather than upwards when he cries, or a V-shaped indentation at the tip of his tongue. If you’re concerned, talk to your GP. It can be solved by a quick procedure called a division, A doctor will snip the skin to free up your baby’s tongue – it won’t hurt your baby at all and you should be able to feed him afterwards.

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