Breast Health Is a Crucial Part of Postpartum Care That Is so Often Overlooked

Photo: Stocksy/Mihajo Ckovric
When it comes to feeding their newborn baby, the majority of new moms in the United States—a full 84 percent—will at least try breastfeeding. Whether a person chooses to (or is able to) breastfeed for a few weeks or a few years, it's a pretty common part of the postpartum experience. Yet the hurdles of breastfeeding—and postpartum breast health in general—are rarely talked about in the open.

Sure, there's a lot of talk about the birth itself, but as soon as the baby is born, the vast majority of attention—and conversation—centers around the newborn. Exhausted new moms struggling to feed their babies while battling nipple or breast pain are often left searching random Internet forums trying to figure out what is happening to their (still) changing bodies.

One new company, Bodily, is trying to change that by providing approachable, researched-backed information to educate new parents along with clinically-backed postpartum care products. (It's joining other players in this burgeoning space, including Frida Mom.) Founder Tovah Haim started the brand after becoming a new mom and feeling shocked and overwhelmed by what was happening to her body. It's not that the things she went through—including postpartum bleeding and breast milk leakage—were abnormal. It's that she had no idea at all that they would happen. "I had friends who were already moms, a doula, all these people around me telling me about the birthing process, yet nobody told me what to expect in the recovery process from pregnancy and birth," she says.

For breastfeeding, Haim says all anyone told her was that it was "complicated," but no one prepared her for the specifics. So it should come as no surprise that Bodily offers extensive educational resources and products to help support breast health—setting them apart from other competitors. But what are the complications that come up with breastfeeding and postpartum breast health? Here's what Haim and board-certified lactation consultant Andrea Syms-Brown say everyone should know.

1. Breast skin stretching

As a lactation consultant, Syms-Brown (who works with Bodily) helps women with their breastfeeding challenges and provides solutions on how to deal with everything from nipple pain to avoiding breast milk leakage. "Something many women don't know is that a couple days after giving birth, your breast size will increase exponentially. Most mothers are not aware how much growth can occur and how quickly it happens," Syms-Brown says. "Literally overnight you can wake up with breasts several cup sizes bigger."

The growth stretches the skin and can be painful. Simply moisturizing can help reduce the pain, Syms-Brown says, but just that basic knowledge is something many new moms don't know. She says it's also important to find a nursing bra that supports the breasts while not being too restrictive. "Many nursing bras on the market have tight fabrics and they don't give much stretch across the chest," Syms-Brown says. "Sometimes the band is really narrow and when moms take off that bra when I do a breast exam, I'm seeing all these marks from the seams." Too-tight bras aren't just uncomfortable—she says they can cause blockages, too (more on that in a sec).

2. Nipple pain

Besides painful breast skin, Syms-Brown says new moms often experience nipple pain as they get used to breastfeeding. Nipples can get dry and chapped, which makes breastfeeding painful and difficult. "A lot of women, including me, actually stuff cabbage in their bras to ease nipple pain because it's a common home remedy you come across when researching for a solution—despite not having any clinical evidence to support it," Haim says. (For the record, this is not a good use of your time, or cabbage.) Instead, Bodily offers up a cabbage-less duo of moisturizing nipple products: Nip Nourish and Nip Protect. "The first step is to moisturize, which helps make the [nipple] skin more elastic and helps prevent cracked skin. Then the Protect product keeps it from drying out."

Both Syms-Brown and Haim say the only nipple cream widely available to women is lanolin, which is made from the skin glands of sheep; there wasn't a vegan alternative on the market until Haim set out to create one. (In contrast to lanolin, Nip Nourish is coconut oil based—a remedy Syms-Brown has long advised women to use—and Nip Protect is shea butter-based.)

3. Milk blockages

Fun fact: milk ducts can get clogged and infected, which can make it that much harder for people to breastfeed. To help with milk flow, Syms-Brown recommends massaging the breasts by using the fingertips and making small circles from the chest to the nipple. She also reiterates the importance of having a nursing bra that's supportive yet loose enough where it doesn't prohibit milk flow.

Obstacles related to postpartum breast health and breast feeding vary greatly. Besides the common hurdles highlighted here, Syms-Brown also helps women with infant latching (aka how the baby attaches to the breast to feed), helping moms use breast pumps, and a range of other issues. The point is, she says, whatever you are experiencing, you aren't alone and there should be information available to you that you can trust.

"It blew my mind that this type of information wasn't really out there for women," Haim says. "How do we not have basic information and products we can feel good about?" With this launch, at least, that's starting to change.

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