Help for Breastfeeding Moms With Fibromyalgia

Support, Relaxation May Make Breastfeeding Easier, Study Suggests

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 23, 2004 -- Breastfeeding may sound like the most natural thing in the world, but many women find it harder than expected. Mothers with fibromyalgia often have an especially tough time with breastfeeding, according to a new study.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain and fatigue. Its cause is not known, and it affects more women than men.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. Patients often try physical therapy, counseling, and medication (including antidepressants, ibuprofen, and in some cases, morphine) for symptom relief.

Karen Schaefer, DNSc, RN, assistant professor of nursing at Temple University's College of Health Professions, studied nine mothers aged 26-36 with fibromyalgia.

All of the women wanted to breastfeed and had birthed at least one baby before being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Most had taken medication for their fibromyalgia before pregnancy.

Problems Reported

Breastfeeding was not easy for any of the mothers in the study.

"All nine women felt that they were not successful in their attempts to breastfeed, and felt frustrated," Schaefer writes.

Difficulties included muscle soreness, pain, and stiffness; fatigue; a perceived shortage of breast milk; and sore nipples.

Those problems are not uncommon among breastfeeding women. However, mothers with fibromyalgia may be particularly affected since they already face pain and fatigue.

The problems were bad enough that some participants felt they needed to resume medication, which meant giving up breastfeeding to avoid passing the drugs to the babies through breast milk.

Others stopped breastfeeding after being diagnosed with other health problems, such as hypothyroidism or hepatitis B.

Feeling "forced" to wean their babies earlier than planned, the mothers were sad and depressed, Schaefer writes.

Supportive Strategies

Mothers with fibromyalgia may want to try breastfeeding tips noted in the study:

  • Enlist support. Ask friends and family members for encouragement and assistance.
  • Seek expert help. Ask lactation consultants or nurses for advice. Pregnant women with fibromyalgia may want to start preparing before delivery.
  • Delegate other tasks. Save as much energy as possible for infant care and breastfeeding.
  • Pay attention to proper nutrition.
  • Try relaxation techniques and music therapy to promote relaxation and reduce discomfort during breastfeeding.
  • Find a support group for breastfeeding mothers with chronic illnesses.
  • When breastfeeding, lie on one side with a pillow supporting the woman's head.
  • Change positions while breastfeeding.
  • Use a sling or some type of support, such as a pillow, under the baby.
  • Find a quiet, restful place to feed the baby to reduce distractions for yourself and your baby.

Schaefer also encourages health-care providers to proactively support moms with fibromyalgia who want to breastfeed.

Her study appears in the July/August issue of The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Schaefer, K. The American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, July/August 2004; vol 29: pp 248-253. News release, Temple University.
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