Despite being designed to breastfeed, nursing mothers everywhere run into similar obstacles — many of which can be overcome with simple, at home interventions (you can read more about these here).
Some breastfeeding problems, though, are more serious and require a visit to your doctor. These include:
Thrush is a fungal infection that can affect both you and your baby.
For you, symptoms of thrush include:
- Burning nipple pain
- Shiny or flaking skin on or around the nipple
- Stabbing pains in the breast behind the areola
For your baby, symptoms of thrush include:
- Creamy white spots or patches on the tongue or inside the mouth that you can’t easily wipe off
- A white film on the lips
- Being unsettled while nursing
Babies with thrush are treated with an oral anti-fungal gel or liquid. Mothers with thrush are treated with a medicated nipple cream and/or anti-fungal pills.
Mastitis is a bacterial infection in the breast. It can be caused by bacteria in your baby’s mouth entering your breast, or by a build-up of bacteria from breast engorgement or blocked milk ducts.
Symptoms of mastitis include:
- Breast swelling, pain, warmth, and redness
- Body aches
Mastitis often requires a course of oral antibiotics. At home, after seeing your doctor, continue to breastfeed. This may be painful, but it helps avoid complications like an abscess (more on this below). If it’s easier to pump the infected breast and nurse your baby on the other side, that’s okay. The important thing is to continually empty the affected breast. Your doctor can advise you about taking breastfeeding-safe medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the pain. Use hot or cold compresses – whichever helps (avoid cold compresses just before nursing, though, as they can slow down milk flow). Lastly, rest and drink plenty of water.
If you develop a breast abscess from mastitis (or, more rarely, from a recurrent blocked milk duct) you will feel a very painful, swollen, pus-filled lump. The skin over the lump may be red and warm. Doctors treat abscesses by draining them. There are few different ways to do it, depending on the size and severity of the abscess: Needle aspiration, catheter drainage, or surgical incision and drainage.
Experts recommend following the same at-home steps as you would for mastitis, including continuing to breastfeed or pump from the affected breast.
Some babies are born with a tongue-tie, which means their frenulum (the piece of tissue connecting the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is short, tight, or thick. A tongue-tie can restrict tongue movement, which in turn may interfere with breastfeeding. Your baby may have a tongue-tie if she:
- Has trouble latching on properly
- Isn’t getting enough milk (resulting in hunger, insufficient weight gain, and decreased milk supply)
- Appears frustrated while nursing
If a doctor determines that your baby has a tongue-tie, you may be able to continue nursing by making certain adjustments (such as using a nipple shield or pumping and bottle-feeding). Depending on severity, your doctor may recommend a minor procedure in which the frenulum is cut.
Breastfeeding experts say that if you encounter these issues and nursing is important to you, don’t give up! With guidance from your doctor (you may want to consult and a certified lactation consultant as well) you can nurse through them and get back on track.