Natural Solutions to Common Nursing Problems

Some common nursing problems that crop up in the first six weeks include sore nipples, low supply, engorgement, plugged ducts, and infections. There are some easy and natural ways to deal with these problems to ensure they don’t get in the way of your supply or your nursing relationship.

Before we start, just assume the number one solution to every problem here is NURSE. Every time baby cries, nurse first. Most of the time, nursing is the answer.

  1. Sore nipples. Your nipples will be sore when you first start nursing. Once you get used to it, the soreness may return with increased nursing frequency, such as during wonder weeks or growth spurts, during teething, or when your period returns. Ice packs and soothies can help.
  2. Low supply. Sometime between weeks 2 and 8, your breasts will start to loose that balloon-about-to-pop feeling. This is actually a good thing, but many first time moms mistake it for low supply since baby is still nursing frequently at this age. Growth spurts also cause changes is nursing patterns, which may also lead you to think baby is not getting enough. Rely on wet diapers, not feeding frequency or helpful comments from mothers-in-law (Is he hungry again? You just fed him!) to determine if baby is getting enough to eat.
  3. Engorgement. Most moms never forget the feeling when their milk came in. The pain is excruciating, and sometimes your breasts can get so hard that baby can’t even latch. But more than just discomfort, engorgement can lead to low supply, clogged ducts or mastitis if not resolved. To avoid these problems, feed baby from both sides frequently. In the first weeks before your supply has regulated, wake baby to eat if she sleeps more than four hours between feedings. You can hand express or pump excess off if baby can’t latch at first. A cold compress can also help relieve pain.
  4. Plugged ducts.If engorgement goes unchecked, you can end up with plugged ducts. Plugged ducts can be identified by searing or throbbing pain in one localized part of your breast. Often, red streaks will appear on the outside of the breast near the clog. You can massage with a wet washcloth in the shower under hot water, or rub the clog toward the nipple while nursing to break this up.

    This is the face of mastitis. No lie.

  5. Infections. It’s important to deal with clogs before they get infected, a condition called mastitis. Mastitis is when the clog gets infected. If you have noticed a plugged duct, and then start feeling like you have the flu, it’s no coincidence. You need to call your health provider and let them know immediately. Often, your doctor or midwife will even call in a prescription for you. Unchecked mastitis does not resolve itself. The infection can turn into an abscess, or even sepsis if not treated. Another common nursing ailment is a fungal infection called thrush. Thrush is caused by overgrowth of Candida yeast. Signs of thrush include pain, cracked nipples, soreness, and white sores in baby’s mouth. Yeast thrives in a moist environment, so change      nursing pads often and change nursing bras or tank tops every day. Antibiotics can kill off good gut bacteria and make you susceptible to thrush, so after being treated for an infection like mastitis or strep, be sure to take probiotics to rebuild your immunity. When treating thrush, you need to wash everything that has come in contact with the affected areas (baby’s mouth or your nipples) in very hot water. There are prescription treatments for thrush, but many moms find that homeopathic remedies like Gentian violet work just as well.
Erin Burt is a breastfeeding mother of three who had mastitis twice, and has been lucky enough never to get thrush. She lives and writes in Fort Worth, Texas.

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