Breast Problems After Weaning
The process of weaning a child after breastfeeding can be emotionally and physically difficult. After weaning their babies, many women find they experience pain and other issues with their breasts. Here are some common side effects of weaning as well as insight into how serious the issues are and when a trip to the doctor is warranted.
The breastfeeding site Kellymom.com suggests that the most common side effect of weaning, especially if it happens abruptly, is engorgement of the breasts. This is when breasts feel uncomfortably full of milk, and it can be a painful condition. In order to alleviate the pain of engorgement, you can hand express just enough milk to help you feel more comfortable. Remember, you do not want to completely drain your breasts since this will indicate to your body the need to make more milk.
Plugged Ducts and Mastitis
Engorgement can lead to serious side effects such as plugged ducts, mastitis and occasionally even breast abscesses. Women usually first notice a plugged duct as a small lump that is painful to touch and might appear red or swollen. A plugged duct generally will clear up on its own, but it can lead to mastitis.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast and its initial symptoms are similar to those of a plugged duct, but women often also develop a fever and might see red streaks throughout the infected area. You must seek a doctor’s advice for mastitis since it sometimes requires antibiotics to treat the infection.
A rare but serious complication for women would be the development of a breast abscess. Abscesses are not common but can occur after a bout with mastitis. Women develop a large pus-filled area in their breast that must be either aspirated or surgically drained.
Continued Milk Production
It is not uncommon for women to continue to produce small quantities of milk after weaning their babies. According to Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, “Small amounts of milk or serous fluid are commonly expressed for weeks, months or years from women who have previously been pregnant or lactating.”
You should schedule an appointment with your doctor if you are still producing milk six months after weaning just to ensure it is normal or if you have discharge that doesn’t appear to be milk.
Binding your breasts will not help your milk supply decrease and instead can cause plugged ducts, mastitis and abscesses. According to lactation consultant Becky Flora, this is an outdated practice that is quite painful for the nursing mother with no real benefits.
There are very few reasons for weaning to take place abruptly. Even if the mother has to have some type of surgery or hospital admittance, there usually are medications she can be given that can safely allow her to continue breastfeeding. Many doctors might not know which medications are safe, so if you are in this position, make sure you check with a lactation consultant or your local La Leche League leader for advice. They can often offer you some helpful advice on medications compatible with nursing that you can share with your doctor.
By weaning your baby gradually over a span of several weeks or months, you can eliminate many potential problems. La Leche league recommends dropping one feeding every three to four days and slowing down even further if the process seems extremely upsetting or uncomfortable for either mom or baby.