Breastfeeding Problems

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Dad,
My wife gave birth two weeks ago and been trying to nurse our son ever since. We always thought that breastfeeding was going to be so easy and so natural but every feeding seems to cause my wife more pain. We've read a lot about the benefits of breastfeeding and both agree that it would be the best thing for our baby, but my wife is about to give up altogether. Is there anything I can do to help?

ANSWER:

When my oldest was born, my wife had a terrible time getting the hang of it so the nursing staff sent in a lactation consultant to help her. The consultant turned out to be a man, which I thought was incredibly funny. It also illustrated a very important point: Despite everything we hear about how natural and easy breastfeeding is, it's actually a learned skill -- for both baby and mother.

The first few weeks of breastfeeding can be stressful and frustrating for the new mom, so much so that she may be tempted to throw in the towel. This is where you come in. If she's having problems, she's going to need as much support from you as possible. In fact, the more supportive and encouraging you are, the more she'll enjoy her breastfeeding experience and the longer she'll do it. Here are some ways to stay involved:

  • Make sure she's comfortable. A lot of women love breastfeeding pillows, which keep the baby high enough so they don't have to lean over, and free up their arms.
  • Bring her some water. Breastfeeding can be extremely dehydrating. Having something to drink (and maybe even something light to snack on) can really help.
  • Encourage her to nurse the baby frequently and to change the baby's position every feeding.
  • Praise, praise, praise. Tell her what a great job she's doing, how wonderfully the baby's doing, how much he's grown thanks to her feeding, and that you're going to support her every step of the way.
  • Buy Lansinoh cream. It helps soothe sore, cracked, and bloody nipples and doesn't contain any ingredients that could be harmful to the baby.
  • 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.
  • Call her doctor if she has a fever of 100 degrees or more, or if she has pain or other symptoms that persist for more than 24 hours. She may need antibiotics
  • Don't let her give up. 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.
  • Call in the pros. If none of these steps helps your partner's pain or discomfort within a few days, make contact with La Leche League (www.lalecheleague.org) or the International Lactation Consultant Association (www.ilca.org).
  • Make a change. If you and your wife have exhausted all the options mentioned above and she's still miserable, switch to formula. Chances are that you and your wife were both raised on formula and you're both productive members of society. There's absolutely no question that breast milk is best, but for a small minority of women, it simply doesn't work out. Plus, if nursing problems continue, your wife could end up resenting the baby for "causing" them and that could end up hurting their ability to bond.

-- "Mr. Dad"

Armin Brott

A nationally recognized parenting expert, Armin Brott is the bestselling author of The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips and Advice for Dads-To-Be, The New Father: A Dad's Guide to the First Year, Fathering Your Toddler, The Military Father: A Hands-on Guide for Deployed Dads, and four other books on fatherhood. He has written on parenting, fatherhood, and health for the New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, Newsweek, and dozens of other periodicals. He also hosts "Positive Parenting," which airs on a dozen stations in the US and worldwide on the American Forces Network. Armin lives with his family in Oakland, California. You may visit his website at mrdad.com to learn more.