The answer to that question is YES. That’s why it bothers me when I hear or read in books that when a nursing mother is in pain then she, or the baby, is doing something wrong. Let’s put aside the usual causes of pain which DO indicate something is not right: bad latch, poor positioning, tongue tie or infections.
I have nursed eight babies and can attest to the fact that for some of us women, it can hurt to nurse even when you are doing everything right. I’ll give you a few examples.
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.
Hormones. Despite nursing, your cycles may return or “try” to return. Hormones can cause pain in the pre-menstrual phase and possibly even during ovulation. It’s uncomfortable, but perfectly normal. The pain might be localized, leading you to mistake it for a plugged duct. It may only affect one side. 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.
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?