Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding, or nursing, is the act of providing a mother’s breast milk to feed her baby. Babies receive breast milk either directly from the breast or via bottle-feeding. Breastfeeding and breast milk have many benefits for both mom and baby. Although extremely beneficial, it’s not always easy to breastfeed your infant. The staff at Banner Health is ready to answer any breastfeeding questions you may have.

What Is Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is the process of feeding a baby with milk from a mother’s breast. This can happen via latching onto the mother’s breast or bottle-feeding after a mother uses a breast pump to express the milk.

Banner Health recommends breastfeeding a newborn within the first hour after birth if possible. Breast milk is rich in nutrients and antibodies that can help protect your baby from infections. Breastfeeding can also provide a multitude of benefits for the mother.

What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding after birth can have many benefits for mom and baby. Breast milk has three stages with different benefits:

Colostrum

Colostrum is the first stage of breast milk. Colostrum is thick and yellowish in color and is produced during pregnancy and a few days after birth. This type of milk is full of vitamins, minerals, high in protein and immunoglobulins, which provide antibodies for the baby.

Transitional Milk

A few days after birth, colostrum is replaced by transitional milk. Transitional milk lasts two to four weeks. This type of milk contains more calories than colostrum and includes high levels of water-soluble vitamins, lactose and fat.

Mature Milk

Mature milk is the final stage of milk that is produced. This type of milk is mostly water to help keep an infant hydrated. It also contains proteins, fats and carbs to maintain a baby’s energy levels and help them grow. There are two different types of mature milk.

Fore-milk contains vitamins, protein and water. This type of milk is found at the beginning of feeding. Next, comes hind-milk. This type of mature milk contains higher levels of fat for the baby to gain weight. Both types of mature milk are necessary to ensure the baby is receiving the proper nutrition to grow and develop properly.

The other benefits of breastfeeding vary between mom and baby. The benefits of breastfeeding for a baby include:

  • Bonding between mom and baby
  • Protection against eczema and allergens
  • Lessens upset stomachs, constipation or diarrhea that could happen with formula
  • Reduces the risk of certain viruses and infections, including ear and respiratory infections, urinary tract infections and inflammatory bowel disease
  • Lessens the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

The benefits of breastfeeding for mom include:

  • Healing the body after delivery due to the release of oxytocin
  • Helps with shedding pregnancy weight
  • Lowers the risk for ovarian cancer
  • Helps shrink the uterus back down to its pre-pregnancy size
  • Lowers the risk of osteoporosis

What Are the Side Effects of Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding can also come with some side effects and challenges. There aren’t many side effects of breastfeeding for the baby. The challenges and side effects of breastfeeding mostly affect mothers during the first couple of weeks after giving birth.

The side effects of breastfeeding that might affect mothers include:

  • An adjustment period, especially during the early weeks of breastfeeding
  • Nipple pain and discomfort
  • Back pain
  • Bruising
  • Loss of freedom and body autonomy
  • Uneven distribution of work among parents
  • Lack of social support

Common Breastfeeding Challenges

There are plenty of ups and downs associated with breastfeeding, especially for the first few days and weeks after giving birth. These are some of the most common breastfeeding challenges:

Milk Supply

Many women worry that they might not be producing much milk when breastfeeding. Breastfeeding frequently, especially during the first weeks after birth, is the main way to increase your milk supply. Keep in mind the body naturally produces exactly what your baby needs. If you think you are not producing enough milk, pay attention to the number of wet and dirty diapers and how much weight your baby has gained.

Latching

Latching is the most important aspect of breastfeeding. If not done properly, your baby may not be getting the milk it needs. Some parents find it difficult to get their baby to latch, but proper latching takes time. A proper latch will encompass both the nipple and areola in the baby’s mouth. If you’re having trouble with latching, talk to your doctor.

Plugged Milk Ducts

A plugged milk duct is a very common problem during breastfeeding. Breast milk flows through ducts and then comes out through the nipple. If one of the ducts becomes plugged, milk can back up and cause a tender lump. A plugged duct could lead to a breast infection. There are several remedies to get your milk flowing again. These remedies include:

  • Emptying the breast by feeding the baby using the affected breast or pumping
  • Applying heat on the affected breast before each feeding
  • Wear looser clothing
  • Change breastfeeding positions to stimulate all ducts
  • Apply gentle pressure on the affected breast before and during feeding

If your plugged duct lasts more than a few days, gets bigger or you develop a fever, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Infections

Plugged milk ducts or bacteria can cause an infection in the fatty tissue of the breast. Inflammation of the breast tissue is called mastitis and results in breast swelling, pain, redness and a fever in some cases.

Symptoms of mastitis can appear suddenly and include:

  • Breast swelling, tenderness or warmth
  • Thickening of breast tissue
  • Skin redness
  • Yellow discharge from the nipple
  • Continuous pain or burning sensation while breast-feeding
  • Flu like symptoms, including body aches, chills, fever, nausea and fatigue

Mothers can also experience a fungal infection called thrush. This type of infection is often also referred to as a yeast infection. Signs of thrush include:

  • Pink, flaky, cracked or blistered nipples
  • Sore nipples that last more than a few days
  • Sore nipples after several weeks of breastfeeding with no pain
  • White spots inside the baby’s cheeks, tongue or gums
  • Breast aches or shooting pain deep in the breast during or after feeding

If you’re experiencing symptoms of mastitis, schedule an appointment with your doctor. If you’re experiencing symptoms of thrush, make sure you also call your baby’s doctor to receive treatment at the same time.

Inverted, Flat or Large Nipples

Nipples come in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you have inverted, flat or large nipples, you can still breastfeed. Breastfeeding with flat or inverted nipples may require more time and assistance with helping your baby latch on. Talk to your doctor, lactation consultant or breastfeeding specialist for tips on how to help your baby latch.

What If My Baby Is In NICU?

Keeping up your milk supply while your baby is in the NICU can be challenging. If your baby is in the NICU due to prematurity, breast milk is important to help build their immune system. However, mothers may have trouble producing breastmilk due to their baby being born pre-term and the number of stressors associated with a baby in the NICU.

In most cases, pre-term infants will be given breastmilk through a feeding tube at first as they learn to develop their feeding skills. Although your baby might not be ready to nurse, continue to hold your baby using skin-to-skin contact as much as possible.

Once your baby is ready to nurse, they may have difficulties with the nipple. Your NICU nurse may recommend a nipple shield to make nursing easier and moderate the flow of milk. To establish your milk supply, we recommend using a high-quality breast pump.

What if I Need Help Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding can be challenging. The staff at Banner Health is here to offer guidance and support for breastfeeding. We offer several breastfeeding resources, including a lactation support program, general lactation classes and support groups.

Banner’s expert staff is here to guide you through your breastfeeding journey. Never hesitate to ask us about any breastfeeding questions or concerns.