Breastfeeding has many benefits for both mother and baby and helps with mother-baby bonding.
Australia’s infant feeding guidelines recommend that infants are exclusively breastfed until around six months of age when solid foods are introduced and that breastfeeding is continued until the age of 12 months and beyond. Yet, the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey found that while most babies (96%) were initially breastfed, only 39% were exclusively breastfed (meaning that breastmilk was their only source of fluid) for up to 4 months and only 15% for up to 6 months.
While there are many reasons an infant may not be exclusively breastfed, it is often due to common breastfeeding problems. The good news is that, with the right help and support, many of these problems can be prevented or overcome.
- Breast engorgement. When breast milk first comes in, it can cause the breasts to feel hot, swollen and heavy. It is less likely to happen and can be managed by frequent feeding, throughout the day and night.
- Sore nipples. This is usually a sign that your baby isn’t attached properly to the breast. Improper attachment can lead to sore, grazed or cracked nipples and also prevents your baby from taking enough milk, which can lead to blocked ducts or mastitis. Many breastfeeding problems can be prevented by ensuring your baby is well attached to the breast.
- Blocked milk ducts. Ducts carry milk from within the breast to the nipple opening. If they become blocked, milk builds up behind the blockage, forming a lump and causing your breast to become sore. You can reduce the risk by feeding your baby often, avoiding tight bras or clothing which puts pressure on the breasts and keeping well rested. Treatment includes frequent feeding, feeding from the affected side first, gentle massage of the lump towards the nipple during feeding, applying warmth for a few minutes before a feed to help milk flow and resting as much as possible. This is an inflammation of the breast that can be caused by blocked milk ducts or a bacterial infection. Symptoms include tender or painful breasts, hot, hard or swollen breasts and flu-like symptoms such as fever, aches and pains. Treatment includes continuing to breastfeed or express milk, which helps to clear the blocked ducts, taking antibiotics if there is a bacterial infection and using anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Low milk supply. Many women worry about whether they are producing enough milk for their baby. You can increase your milk production by feeding baby more frequently (breast milk production is based on supply and demand), ensuring that your baby is well positioned on the breast and allowing your baby to decide the length of the feed.
For tips on attachment to the breast, and dealing with other breastfeeding problems speak to a lactation consultant or visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare: The 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey
- Australian Breastfeeding Association: Breastfeeding Information
- Health Direct: Breastfeeding Problems
- Jean Hailes: Breastfeeding