Your breasts need some extra care when you are breastfeeding especially in the early days and weeks when you’re still getting the hang of it.
Breastfeeding doesn’t always run smoothly in the early days – your breasts may leak between feeds, your nipples may get sore and cracked and there’s even a risk of developing a blocked milk duct or a painful infection.
Most of these problems are just temporary though, in case of concern please reach out to your nurse of doctor. Here are some handy tips and hints for dealing with some of the most common problems:
Getting through engorgement
Sounds scary but it’s just the medical name for your breasts becoming super size when your first milk comes in – usually a few days after the birth. It’s caused by an increase in blood flow to your breasts and can result in them becoming swollen, hard, and painful. It can also happen later if you miss some feeds and milk builds up.
The good news is that engorgement usually last only 1-2 days and can be relieved by:
- Giving your baby frequent feeds on demand: Make sure your baby is latched on correctly so that they can drain your breasts of milk.
- Massaging your breasts while your baby is feeding: This will encourage the milk to flow and relieve the swelling.
- Applying fresh raw cabbage leaves: This is a folk lore remedy and there isn’t much evidence to say it works, but applying cold raw cabbage leaves to your breasts might help draw out fluids and have a soothing effect.
- Using a breast pump: If your baby is not draining enough milk off to ease your discomfort you could try using a breast pump, available to buy from pharmacies or you could express by hand (ask your midwife to show you how).
- Pain relief: Ask your doctor or nurse about taking anti-inflammatory medication or pain relief if needed.
Dealing with leaky boobs
It’s can be embarrassing when you’re out in public and suddenly feel the ‘let down’ reflex tingling in your nipple and milk is soaking through your shirt – but you can learn to manage this.
- Wear breast pads inside your supportive feeding bra: These come as either washable or disposable pads and can absorb any milk that starts to leak from your nipples. Change them frequently though to avoid the risk of infection.
- Avoid wearing plain coloured close fitting t-shirt: These will show up milk leaks more than looser, patterned tops.
- Use breast shells: Relatively new to the market are breast shells, which are plastic shells that you can sterilise and use to collect milk leaking from one breast when you are feeding from the other. You can keep the milk you have collected in the fridge in a sterilised bottle or freeze in a sterilised ice cube tray to use at a later date.
- Get your baby to feed from each breast: Milk sometimes leaks from one breast between feeds if you’ve not emptied it during a breastfeed, so try to get into the habit of encouraging your baby to feed from both breasts.
My breasts became engorged four days after giving birth - they were huge, heavy and uncomfortable. I managed by encouraging my baby to feed frequently, although at one point my breast was so hard it was difficult to get her to latch on. I eased it by using a breast pump and used to hand express in a warm bath or shower.
Finding out the cause of your breast pain
Breastfeeding shouldn't normally be painful - if you are experiencing pain it’s usually a sign that your baby is either not in the correct feeding position, you have blocked milk ducts/ mastitis or developed a bacterial infection in the nipple. You should consult with your midwife, baby clinic or see your GP for more advice.