Dr. Phelan By General Practitioner Published:

World Breastfeeding Week (1 to 7 August) helps to highlight an issue that is never far from the headlines, with reports of shops asking nursing mums to leave and some people outraged that breastfeeding takes place in public.

Whatever your view, breastfeeding is perfectly natural and for those that can, it’s a great way to help their baby’s start in life.

Nearly two thirds of new UK mums breastfeed and it’s recommended to give nothing but breast milk for the first six months.

Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of infections in babies and potentially offers health benefits that last long into your child’s adulthood, including reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Breastfeeding is an excellent mother and baby bonding tool, and is good for mums too. It has been shown to lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.

Some mums find it harder to breastfeed than others. It shouldn’t hurt. If it does it could be because your baby isn’t positioned or attached properly.

Breastfeeding-related medical issues

The most common breastfeeding-related medical issues I see are sore or cracked nipples and an infection in the breast tissue called mastitis.

Sore or cracked nipples can be helped by trying to improve how the baby latches on to the breast or by protecting the nipple area when not feeding using nipple pads or soft cotton bras.

Vaseline can help soothe cracked nipples. If you’re struggling, speak to your GP or midwife.

Mastitis is a more significant problem. Women can feel unwell or feverish, with red, hard and often tender areas to the breast.

Usually this affects one breast.

The symptoms are similar to that of a blocked milk duct and it is worth trying to gently massage the sore area to see if this relieves the symptoms.

Mastitis should be treated by a GP using antibiotics.

Expressing breast milk can be helpful if you’re on the go or working. Expressed milk should be kept as cool as possible and can be kept for a few days in the fridge.

Breastfeeding and the law

The law in the UK is clear: you can breastfeed in public.

The Equality Act 2010 made it illegal for anyone to ask a breastfeeding woman to leave a public place, such as a cafe, shop or public transport. And don’t feel that you have to use the bathroom.

You can take some simple steps such as wearing layers so you remain covered when breastfeeding while you’re out, but that is all down to personal preference.

World Breastfeeding Week and other resources

Your health visitor, midwife or GP can answer any questions you may have. National resources such as the Breastfeeding Network or the National Breastfeeding Helpline can help. Visit the World Breastfeeding Week website for more information.