Supporting a Friend with Breastfeeding Difficulties

Having a baby is one of the most joyous, soul-stirring events in a woman’s life. And breastfeeding is something that’s anticipated with a sense of eager wonderment; an opportunity to forge a deeply intimate bond with a tiny being that seems to possess almost magical qualities. But what happens when a friend has breastfeeding difficulties, and the magic turns to frustration, self-doubt and bewilderment? You can help her navigate some of the following frightening and unfamiliar issues with compassion and loving guidance, back to the closeness and contentment of breastfeeding.

Over-production of milk

If your friend has engorgement, she is producing more milk than her baby can handle. It’s difficult for her child to latch onto a breast because it feels hard and uncomfortable to his or her soft mouth. The infant will give her clues that this is happening by gagging or pushing away from her breast after only feeding for a minute or two. When the baby matures, he or she will be able to handle a heavy flow, but until then, or until the milk flow slows, your friend may want to consider discontinuing breastfeeding. She could also try positioning her infant’s throat so that it’s higher than the nipple, forcing the milk to flow upward, and at a slower pace. She might also want to try using only one breast per feeding.

Low milk production

This is a rare occurrence, and your friend could be experiencing it due to anything from stress to thyroid conditions to ingestion of certain herbs. If she’s recently had a baby, tell her to keep in mind that low milk production often happens for one to two weeks after giving birth. You might encourage your friend to see a doctor if she’s producing less than 16 ounces of milk seven to ten days after her baby’s birth. If she produces less and less milk each day, for three or four days in a row, a doctor’s visit may be necessary. She may also need to see a physician if the daily total of milk she produces is less than 12 or 13 ounces for two or three consecutive days. Most of all, give her encouragement that the condition is reversible and that the infant is getting some life-giving liquid, despite the low flow.

Sore nipples

Reassure your friend that this is a very typical condition among women who breastfeed. Slight tenderness that mimics the sensitivity of breasts during menstruation is common during the first few weeks of breastfeeding, and usually abates on its own. Suspect improper latching or sucking by the baby if your friend experiences extremely sore, raw, cracked or red nipples. Some creams can alleviate her pain, while others can actually foster more damage, so encourage your friend to call a doctor or pharmacist for recommendations of the most effective treatments. If your friend’s nipples have been pain-free while breastfeeding for weeks or months, only to suddenly become sore, red and burn, the culprit may be a yeast infection such as thrush that her baby has contracted and has passed along to your friend. Suggest that she call a doctor or pediatrician regarding how to treat her child’s condition. Aside from a bit of initial tenderness, breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.

Poor sucking or latch-on

When the baby ingests an adequate amount of milk, he or she gains weight, and your friend’s breasts will be triggered to increase or maintain their milk manufacturing. But if her baby’s sucking is inadequate, he or she won’t gain much weight, and your friend’s breasts will produce less milk. There are numerous behaviors attributable to poor sucking, which include, but are not limited to, repeatedly latching onto and off of her breast, pushing away or fighting latching on, needing to feed 14 or more times in 24 hours and feeding for more than 45 minutes without appearing full or sated afterwards. Your friend can try a thin silicone or latex nipple shield to foster improved latching and sucking. Again, urge her to call her pediatrician to determine a solution to this issue.

Clogged ducts

If your friend’s milk ducts are clogged, it’s due to incomplete draining. This may manifest in a dense lump in your friend’s breast, reddening, or soreness to the touch. If she feels achy and feverish, a bacterial infection of the breasts, called mastitis, could be resulting from a clog. Breast milk needs to be expressed frequently, so suggest that your friend have shorter gaps between feedings. Clogged milk ducts could also be attributed to a nursing bra that’s too tight. And the stress of being a new mommy may also be the culprit. Whatever the cause, encourage your friend to get sufficient rest, as well as placing warm compresses on her breasts and massaging them to promote milk flow.

To most first-time mothers, breastfeeding can seem deeply mystifying, especially if it’s accompanied by challenges to surmount. But armed with a little knowledge and a lot of support from a caring friend, mother and baby can continue a time-honored tradition that forges one of the strongest and most intimate bonds in all of creation.