No matter how natural and normal breastfeeding may be – let’s be honest…. sometimes it HURTS! That pain, as biting and as quick as it can come, can leave you reeling – and ready to throw in the towel. But before you decide that it is too much, there are a few things you can try. Here’s what to do when breastfeeding hurts.
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When Breastfeeding Hurts, First adjust your latch
This is the first and foremost tip for ANY nursing mother of ANY stage. That precious latch can make or break your nursing relationship and it’s vital to get it right.
A poor latch can result in pain for you and poor milk flow for your baby. That reduced flow can even decrease your milk volume over time – as the milk making process is a supply and demand situation. The more milk that goes out, the more milk is made. When that demand reduces, your body compensates and makes less milk. It’s a horrible and diabolical cycle. First, your breasts hurt, second, your milk is decreasing and your baby is fussy and hungry. It’s a compounding issue that can lead you to cease nursing long before you wish too. Luckily, there IS a fix. Adjust your latch.
How to hold your breast:
Nursing is BREASTfeeding, not NIPPLE feeding. Your baby should take large amounts of breast tissue into their mouth – not just the nipple. For some babies, this comes easy. For others, it takes some work and help from you.
A good way to attain a proper latch is to start over and review the basics. Support your breast in a sandwich hold, also known as a ‘C-hold’. Thumb on the bottom, finger on top if using your left breast, thumb on the top and fingers on the bottom if using the right breast (or reverse it if more comfortable for you.) The point is to make the breast more manageable for your baby, just like you compress a sandwich for yourself when you are eating. If you are nursing from a different direction, like a football hold, then simply rotate your hand position and create a ‘U-hold’ – fingers to the side, thumb on opposite side.
If this visual is hard to picture, then another way to think of it is to imagine how your baby’s mouth looks. Wide at the sides with a narrow oval when open. If you keep your thumb near his or her nose and your fingers on the opposite side, then slight compression will naturally make the sandwich hold.
From there, remember to bring your baby to the breast, not your breast to the baby. When their mouth is open and ready (you can tickle their lips with your nipple for encouragement) it’s time to latch.
Remember this phrase:
Nose to chin, roll it in.
Nose to chin, roll it in. Imagine your nipple as the guide with the areola as the goal. Taking your nipple, start at their nose and then bring it down, encouraging a wide open mouth. Then roll your breast into their mouth. Nose to chin, roll it in. Their mouth will open wider, more naturally – pushed by the motion. Once more, for good measure – nose to chin, roll it in.
What to look for
A proper latch is a deep latch. You will see large amounts of your breast tissue in your baby’s mouth. Their lips should either be completely around your areola, or near enough – depending on the size of your areola’s. You also want to see flanged lips, or fish lips. If their bottom or top lip rolls in, you can help them adjust by using your finger to guide the lip out. The nipple should be far enough in their mouth that when they start suckling, the pressure compresses the milk ducts – NOT your nipple.
A few notes:
- Remember to bring the baby to you – do not lean over and thrust your breast into their mouth. This will cause strain on you and even back pain.
- Keep their hips, back and ears in alignment for easier swallowing.
- Their head should be tipped back – keeping their chin off their chest.
- If your baby does not open his mouth wide, do not force your nipple inside. Try again – tickle their lips with your nipple, nose to chin.
- When their mouth is open wide, their tongue needs to be down as well, otherwise it will block the latching motion.
- Try to get as much of the lower areola in her mouth as possible.
- Her chin should indent or be pressed into your lower breast.
- Stay aligned with your baby, tummy to tummy.
Here are a few great resources:
How to Breastfeed: Correct Latch – Video by Kimberly Durdin, IBCLC
Breastfeeding: Getting a Good latch – Video by Jennel B Stewart
Deep Latch Technique – Article from The Pump Station
Beyond the latch
Though adjusting your latch may stop FUTURE pain, it does little for the pain and damage of your nipples NOW. Luckily, there are products and solutions out there that can help ease this discomfort.
- Use your own breastmilk to heal your nipples. After feeding, express a few drops of milk and gently rub around your nipples. Let air dry.
- Use a lanolin ointment between feedings. Here is a good one – Lanisonoh Hpa Lanolin
- Hot or cold packs. You can make your own or choose premade ones like the Lansinoh Therapearl 3-in-1 Therapy Packs.
- Let nipple air dry when possible
- If your nipples are cracked or sore to the touch, you may consider using breast shells (Not shields!) to prevent them from rubbing against your clothing while they heal. Here is one option – Medela Soft Shells.
Other causes to consider when breastfeeding hurts
A lump, hard spot or red mark on your breast may indicate a clogged duct. Also known as a plugged or blocked duct, these stoppages can be quite painful, both to touch or to nurse with. These happen when milk flow is obstructed, leading to back ups and eventual clogs. They normally progress gradually and affect only one breast at a time.
Plugged ducts, like mentioned above, can be painful to nurse with, especially at letdown. Often, the clog or lump will feel smaller after a full feeding session – and might even hurt a little less. Yet until the clog is fully resolved, it will continue to feel sore.
To treat plugged ducts:
Even when breastfeeding hurts, keep nursing. This is hard to face, especially if it HURTS to nurse, but extracting adequate milk from the affected side is vital. The clog, where the thick, fatty parts of the milk are sticking to the duct walls, needs to be cleared. Flushing it out by draining the breast is one of the best ways to do that. You can also use warming compresses, cooling compresses, GENTLE massage and warm showers. Once resolved, the affected breast may stay reddened and possibly swollen for up to a week – though it should feel much better. If symptoms persist, see a Lactation Professional right away, as uncleared clogs can lead to mastitis.
Though similar in nature to a plugged duct, mastitis is holds a level all it’s own. This is inflammation of the breast caused by an obstruction, allergy or infection and is considered a medical emergency.
Mastitis presents with a red and swollen breast, often accompanied by red streaks. The breast HURTS and can feels warm or hot. Flu like symptoms are common as well as fevers in excess of 101º.
Mastitis is serious and requires medical treatment right away. If you feel you, or someone you love, is suffering from Mastitis, call your Doctor or head to the nearest Emergency Room.
Again – please, please, please – if you suspect mastitis, CALL YOUR DOCTOR! Your milk ducts are right next to your lymph-nodes and infections, by nature and design, spread. Get help. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be sent home with a plugged duct than ignore symptoms and suffer the dangerous consequences of untreated mastitis.
When to get help
When breastfeeding hurts, it can harm your nursing relationship. This is just a fact. No matter how good breastfeeding is for you or or baby, if it hurts – why are you going to suffer for it? If adjusting your latch, treating a plugged duct or seeking advice for mastitis does not resolve your issue, please see a breastfeeding professional. No one needs to suffer needlessly, especially when there is help out there that can help YOU.
There are other situations and conditions to consider when breastfeeding hurts – though this list consists of the most common issues. I will write another post that discusses pain which doesn’t fall into the above scenarios- so be sure to check back!!
If you liked this article, please be sure to check out some of my others:
- What NOT to eat when Breastfeeding
- 11 food that increase Breastmilk naturally
- The Ultimate Guide to Nursing in Public
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