As natural as breast-feeding is, a large percentage of women have some kind of difficulty, ranging from stress and frustration to pain and infection.
Most of the time, though, the difficulties are usually the result of not having been given proper instruction on how to breast-feed. But whether it’s genetic or operator error, the fact remains that women who have problems are far more likely to give up breast-feeding than those who don’t.
Because breast-feeding is so important to both your baby and your partner, it’s important that you learn about the potential problems and ways of dealing with them. Here are the possibilities:
- Leaky breasts. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Some women’s breasts never leak; others’ do during every feeding or every time they hear their baby cry. It’s usually most common in the morning when the breasts are at their fullest. Breast leaking peaks during the first few weeks and tapers off over the next few months.
- Sore nipples. Breast-feeding usually takes some getting used to—for the mom and the baby—and a little discomfort is normal. Sore nipples aren’t the result of frequent nursing; instead they’re usually caused when the baby doesn’t latch on to the breast properly. Untreated, the nipples can go from simply being sore to cracking and bleeding, which can make the entire experience miserable for your partner.
- Engorged breasts. Within a week after giving birth, your partner’s milk will “come in,” and her breasts may become painfully full, swollen, enormous, or hard. She may also develop a low fever. Oddly, this is actually a good thing, because it means that she’s producing milk. Although engorgement is most common during the first few days of breast-feeding, it can happen any time. Painful engorgement can, for example, wake up your partner in the middle of the night. The easy solution to the problem is to empty the breast, either by having the baby eat or by pumping. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes hard for babies to latch on to an engorged breast.
- Clogged ducts. This happens when milk flow within the breast is interrupted and backs up. It can cause uncomfortable lumps inside the breast and hardness, redness, and heat on the skin above the blocked duct. Clogged ducts can be caused by wearing tight bras or from not fully emptying the breast at each feeding. They usually clear up by themselves within a day or two.
- Mastitis. Mastitis is a bacterial infection. It can feel a lot like a clogged duct but is more painful and is often accompanied by fever and/or other flulike symptoms. It can be caused by not completely emptying the breast, but the number-one reason is lowered resistance to illness, which is the result of exhaustion, stress, and poor diet. Mastitis can develop any time, but is most common during the first month of breast-feeding. Diagnosed early, it’s easy to treat, usually with antibiotics. Untreated, though, it can become an abscess which has to be drained surgically.
If your partner experiences these or any other problems breast-feeding, she’s going to need as much support from you as possible. here’s how you can help:
- Make sure she’s comfortable. A lot of women love breast-feeding pillows, which keep the baby high enough so they don’t have to lean over, and free up their arms.
- Encourage her to nurse the baby frequently. She should also change the baby’s position every feeding and have the baby empty the breast.
- Cover the breasts with warm, wet compresses for a few minutes before every feeding. If the breasts are engorged, she should try to express some milk out before letting the baby latch on. After feedings, try cool compresses. Some women swear that putting cabbage leaves on their breasts after feeding works wonders. Hey, it’s worth a try.
- Buy Lansinoh cream. It helps soothe sore, cracked, and bloody nipples and doesn’t contain any ingredients that could be harmful to the baby.
- Have her check her bras. Underwire or poor fit (especially too tight) can sometimes cause or aggravate problems.
- Help the baby latch on. The baby should have a great big mouthful of breast, including as much of the areola (the dark part around the nipple) as will fit. Sucking on just the tip of the nipple will hurt.
- To unclog ducts during feedings, massage the area of the clog gently and toward the nipple.
- Call her doctor if she has a fever of 100 degrees or more. She should check with her doctor if she has pain or other symptoms that persist for more than 24 hours. She may need antibiotics.
- Encourage her to continue. The pain can be intense, and she may be tempted to quit, but in many cases, nursing through the problem can help resolve it, while stopping can make things worse.