Many mothers experience pain while breastfeeding for one reason or another. For some, it can become so distressing that they decide to stop nursing all together. Experts recommend nursing your baby until they are at least one year old, so take some time to recognize the culprit of the discomfort and learn some of the tried-and-tested methods that can offer relief from breastfeeding pain.
The most common cause of pain while nursing is poor latching on.
When nursing, your baby should have the nipple and the entire areola in their mouth, with the nipple positioned deep towards the back of the palate, so that the nipple is not taking a lot of pressure while the baby is sucking. The baby’s lips need to be slightly curled to the outside, so that there is no air space in between the baby’s lips and the breast. The nose must stay free because your baby breathes through the nose during feeding. Position your baby for success by bringing them close to you, with their head slightly tilted backwards, to that their chin is very close to your breast. Squeeze your breast gently and direct the nipple towards the back of your baby’s mouth. Adjust the position until you reach a pain-free latch with your baby nursing in long, rhythmic gulps.
If you are having trouble achieving a good latch, talk to a lactation consultant and check whether your baby is tongue-tied, which is often a cause for latching issues.
If the baby has trouble latching on, they often end up sucking on the nipple itself, causing damage and making your nipples very sore. A good latch will help avoid this issue, but if the damage is already done, you can alleviate the pain by applying breast compresses that contain healing ingredients which will encourage recovery. Cold compresses can also help, at least temporarily, just remember not to put ice directly on your skin.
If your baby is hungry, they will suck more vigorously than usual, causing more damage to your already sore nipples. Watch for early signs of hunger and offer the less injured breast first – this way, by the time your baby is ready for the other breast, they won’t be sucking aggressively. Before nursing, express a few drops of milk to stimulate the letdown reflex and prevent your baby from chewing on the nipple in the attempt to get the milk.
If your nipples are too sore to nurse, express the milk to keep up your milk supply and prevent engorgement. Sometimes using a nipple shield may offer a solution to continue breastfeeding.
Sore nipples can also be caused by other factors, such as yeast or bacterial infection or skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis. In case of an infection, you should consult your physician who can prescribe you with appropriate medication. Skin on the nipples and breasts can also be irritated by aggressive ingredients in cosmetic and hygiene products, or as a result of allergies to a new product you’ve started using recently. Try to identify and avoid the culprit – the most common irritants include shower gels and bubble baths which can dry the skin of the nipple too much. Rinse your breasts with warm water and avoid using products like these on your breasts.
Take care of your nipples by expressing a few drops of milk after feeding and spreading it all over the nipples – milk has a soothing and protective effect on the skin. You can also try a nipple balm which will nourish the skin and protect the nipples from cracking.
Another common culprit of pain during nursing is engorgement or milk build-up in your breasts. Avoid skipping feeding sessions and if you must (i.e. If you are working or you’re away from home), express the milk following the usual feeding intervals. Warm compresses and massage can also help with milk flow and reduce some of the pressure.