There is no doubt that breastfeeding is the most natural and beneficial way to feed your baby and it can be a rewarding experience for both mother and baby. However, it helps to keep in mind that the early days are a learning period for both mother and baby, but with the right support and information at this time, most women breastfeed successfully.
According to the NHS, breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months or more helps protect your baby against:
Breastfeeding has benefits for mothers too. For more on the benefits of breastfeeding, please see the longer list below.
Problems that can make it difficult for women to breastfeed successfully include: milk supply issues, depression or 'the baby blues' that often comes on with the milk 'let down', painful cracked nipples, engorgement (very full breasts), blocked milk ducts and mastitis. Almost all breastfeeding problems can be addressed simply by ensuring a good latch and feeding position (more on this below). But if after getting advice and making adjustments, you are still having trouble, here are some practical suggestions and some remedies you can try. If the problem persists,however, you should seek proffessional help as soon as possible. Please contact me, your midwife and/or breastfeeding counsellor if you want to breastfeed but find it difficult or painful (for a list of where to get support, including helplines and Camden & Islington drop-ins, see below).
If you would like to try any of the remedies listed below, take them in a 30c potency and don't repeat them more than 3 times (three times a day for an intense acute attack, or once a day for three days for a less intense problem). If there is no improvement after three doses, try another indicated remedy or contact me.
Depression or the 'Baby blues'
A certain amount of depression is common after birth, hence the term 'baby blues'. This can range widely from being temporarily emotionally overwealmed and a bit weepy, to post-natal-depression, to (in very rare cases) an extremely psychotic and deluded state. Often it is due to how we feel about the birth itself, the new responsibilities we feel for the baby, and of course the adjustment our body is going through after the release of so many hormones in quick succession, not least the hormones required for milk production or 'let down'. Homeopathy, as a holistic form of medicine, can help the whole family with the emotional roller coaster that the post-natal period can be, and has been found to be at least as effective as anti-depressants, if not more so, but without the side effects or any dangers to your baby. For more information about how to recover emotionally after the birth, see Miranda Castro's article here. And you may also like to read Miranda's excellent article for relationship survival after birth here. You may like to try one of the remedies listed below, but if your depression is severe or lasting, do see a practitioner as soon as possible. There are many more remedies that could be better suited to you.
Sore and Cracked Nipples
Most mothers find that sore nipples respond quickly to treatment after establishing and correcting the cause, the most common (and easily corrected) being incorrect attachment. The video on the left illustrates the correct latch that keeps the nipple on the soft part of the palate of your baby's mouth rather than the hard part that can cause friction (if you want to know the difference, just run your tongue along the roof of your mouth until you find the soft part at the back). Careful detachment is also important (you should gently insert a finger into your baby's mouth to break the suction before detaching).
One useful remedy for sore, cracked nipples, which hurt when the baby nurses is Phytolacca. It is also useful for breast infections (mastitits) where there are painful lumps in the breast (see more on this below).
If nipple soreness persists, it would be a good idea to consider if soap or detergents are drying and irritating. Avoid plastic-backed nursing pads and consider using washable cotton styles if disposable pads chafe sensitive nipple skin.
Diets that contain a lot of sugars and yeasts can often aggravate nipple soreness, so if nipple soreness persists beyond a few weeks it may be advisable to go on an anti-candida (no sugar and no yeast) diet and seek constitutional homeopathic help. Good tissue integrity is promoted when the diet contains adequate fatty acids and zinc. Oily fish and a variety of nuts and seeds are good sources of these nutrients.
Engorgement most commonly occurs in the early days after the milk comes in. Following delivery of the baby and placenta, the extra blood that has developed in your system to nourish your baby in the uterus now re-routes itself to the breasts to help build up the hormone levels needed to initiate lactation. Gradually, the body reabsorbs the extra blood and the breasts settle. However, discomfort can be eased by having a warm shower or bath and allowing the milk to flow. Sometimes, just a warm face towel placed on the breast will do.
Again, one of the most common causes of engorgment however is also a bad latch or positioning of the baby, that does not allow the breasts to drain fully but still stimulates them to produce more milk. First of all therefore, check that you have a good latch and get help if needed. If the breasts are very hard and distended, it will be difficult for your baby to even get the nipple in their mouth. If this is the case, try soaking the breasts in a solution of a heaped teaspoon of Epsom salts in a dish of warm water. This should help the milk to flow freely from the ducts, and once they are softer you can try to reposition your baby to get a good latch. It’s a good idea to try and not handle the nipple by expressing, as this will ultimately result in even more milk being made (the more babies suckle, the more milk is produced). Cold compresses, such as gel packs or cold cabbage leaves, provide pain relief after feeds and help to reduce the swelling.
Blocked Milk Ducts
Blocked milk ducts may occur when pressure is placed on breast tissue. Unusual causes may include sleeping soundly too long in the one position or taking an extended car trip with the seat belt lying against the breast. However, the most common causes are due to ill-fitting bras or other clothing, or by placing a finger against the breast during feeds to make an airway for baby’s nose. A well-attached baby should be able to breathe while feeding. It is important to continue breastfeeding at this time, as the milk is not harmful to the baby. A baby’s suck is very strong so frequent feeding (try a variety of positions) is often the best way of clearing a duct, especially if you can massage the area gently during feeds.
Mastitis & abcesses
Mastitis is an inflammation or infection of the tissue surrounding the milk ducts. It can follow missed or interrupted breastfeeds, which cause the breast to become overfull. It may also occur as the result of not being able to clear a blocked duct. Incorrect attachment, which results in poor drainage of the breast, may also be a cause. Frequent feeds and/or expressing will help; weaning is NOT recommended at this time. Warmth (hot washer, shower, bath or soak of breast in warm water) applied before feeds will encourage milk flow. Cold compresses (gel packs, cold cabbage leaves) following feeds may ease the pain. If inflammation does not ease within 6-12 hours you may begin to show signs of infection. These include: fever, aches and pains and a flu-like feeling. If you are breastfeeding and have a fever, please see my guidelines on if, when and how to treat fevers. They apply to breastfeeding mums just the same.
For more information about homeopathy for breastfeeding problems, please contact me.
The following organisations can also be of great help regarding breastfeeding problems:
Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding
From leading midwife and the author of "Ina May's Guide to Childbirth" comes this deeply compassionate and comprehensive guide to making breastfeeding a joyful experience for both mother and child. Drawing on her decades of experience in caring for pregnant women, mothers, and babies, Ina May Gaskin explores the health and psychological benefits of breastfeeding.
Inspiring as well as informative, "Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding" is a powerful and practical guide filled with helpful advice, medical facts and real-life stories that will help mothers understand how and why breastfeeding works and how they can use it to more deeply connect with their children and their own bodies without fear, inhibition, or embarrassment.
"Ina May Gaskin is an international treasure. Her new guide to breastfeeding is the best thing ever written on the subject. A must-have for all pregnant women interested in the best start for their babies." Christiane Northrup, M.D., Author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom.