If you’ve always heard that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt if you’re doing everything right, I’m here to tell you from personal experience that it just isn’t true. Putting aside the typical causes of pain which DO indicate something is being done wrong (bad latch, poor positioning, tongue tie, etc.), let’s look at some of the other reasons even the most experienced nursing mother may suffer from pain.
Letdown: It can hurt when your milk lets down. For me, it hurts for the first two or three months and then changes from pain to mild discomfort which lasts for the duration of the nursing relationship. This is something I know is normal (for me) and I’ve just gotten used to it. I’m not doing anything incorrectly. It’s just the way I am. Why is the milk ejection reflex painful for some women? It can be caused by overactive or forceful letdown which swells the tissue and causes temporary pain. It might just have to do with your physiology and how you respond to the initial surge of milk.
Toughening Up: Some women have to go through a gradual process of becoming accustomed to the sensation of nursing, and it can be painful. I’m not talking about a few days of soreness at the beginning. I’m talking weeks of pain as your body adjusts and the baby’s breastfeeding skills improve. Again, nobody is doing anything wrong; it’s just a process. If you tend to have very sensitive skin, then the toughening up phase might take longer than usual.
My tips for comfort measures: Try numbing yourself with an ice cube before letting your hungry newborn latch on. Take a deep breath and hold it in when they first start feeding; release your breathe slowly as everything softens and letdown begins. Try alternating ibuprofen and acetaminophen on really hard days. Drag out your breast pump if you just cannot face another nursing session without crying. Pure lanolin ointment can help.
Growing Up. Some newborns start life with a very small mouth. And some mothers have large “parts.” What that means is even a baby with a good latch can cause his mother pain simply because it’s hard to get everything in his mouth. Be patient because as your baby grows; things will get more comfortable. In the meantime, you can help yourself and baby out a little by making a “breast sandwich,” as our family doctor humorously calls it. Elongate and narrow the areaola by grasping the breast between your thumb and fingers and pull back towards your chest wall. This will help baby get more in his/her mouth during latch-on.
And after latching on, do the Dr. Sears lower lip flip, multiple times if you need to, for a more comfortable feeding.
Teething: My babies teeth miserably. It’s hard for them and painful for me. Gumming, bearing down, biting and pulling on and off really take their toll on the nursing mother, and yet teething is perfectly normal and natural. Since teething goes on for quite a while, you can’t rely on 24/7 pain medication for you OR your child. And what baby will happy with a teether or cold rag throughout the day and the night? After 10 children, I haven’t found much at all in the way of relief; early teething is a phase that I just try to grin and bear.
Hormones. Despite nursing, your cycles may return or “try” to return. And hormones can cause pain in the pre-menstrual phase and during ovulation. It hurts, but it’s normal. The pain might be localized, and just on one side, leading you to mistake it for a plugged duct. Or you may have all over tenderness on both sides. Thankfully, it subsides without any treatment within a day or so, and will likely return again with the next cycle. Moist heat and mild pain relievers can be helpful.
Thrush: This is a painful condition that has nothing to do with your nursing technique or baby’s latch. Thrush, also called candida or yeast, usually appears on the surface, but can settle deep inside if not treated (ouch!). Signs of thrush include: burning or stinging pain, a pinkish or red appearance, itching, throbbing or stabbing pains inside (especially between feeds), and a case of thrush in your baby’s mouth or diaper. Thrush can be tough to beat, but I’ve always had success with Dr. Newman’s protocol. You’ll need a compounding pharmacy to make up the ointment for you.
I wrote this post because so many women give up on nursing because of unexplained pain. If you’ve tried all the usual tips and techniques, and everything looks good, then you might be very discouraged by continued discomfort. Hopefully, my post will help you to see that some pain can be normal, and in many cases, time will alleviate it. So hang in there, if you can, and nurse as long as you can. It’s so good for your baby!
Are you experiencing pain while nursing even though you and baby are doing everything by the book? Do you have any tips or encouragement to share?