I know breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt, but in the beginning with all three of my children it hurt so much I was ready to quit. As a nurse who teaches moms how to latch on at the hospital, I felt like it should have came easy to me, but it didn’t. It didn’t matter that I knew all of the positions, what a perfect latch looks like, and how to tell if a newborn is getting enough to eat. While it is awesome to have experience with breastfeeding and research breastfeeding techniques, the first week is a time of trial and error for you and your newborn. While many moms experience mild pain at worst, some of us have a hard time transitioning to breastfeeding, no matter how much we know or how great our technique is.
So give yourself a break.
If your nipples are sore, cracked, bleeding or blisters.
If you have severe breast engorgement or mastitis.
If you are having so much pain that it rivals labour & delivery when you newborn latches onto your breast.
If your baby won’t latch on, or you are worried they aren’t getting enough milk.
If you are close to giving up, completely beaten up and exhausted, and having that guilty feeling at the pit of your stomach, worried that you won’t be able to do it.
Please don’t give up just yet. I know you can get through this, and trust me: It’s worth it. Here are some ways to get some relief:
If Breastfeeding is Too Painful, Take a Break… No Formula Required
Just because you take a break from breastfeeding for a day or two to let your nipples heal, it doesn’t mean that you are quitting or that you cannot feed your baby breast milk. This is exactly what got me through day three postpartum. Somehow in the haze of being up for a solid 48 hours when my third child was born, my baby didn’t latch right and I ended up with blistered sores around my nipples.
It was the worst pain that I have ever had.
To find relief before my milk came in, I alternated breastfeeding with manually expressing breast milk and feeding my newborn with a spoon to give my breasts a break and to ensure my milk would still come in.
When the engorgement kicked in, I was ready to throw in the towel. Pain medications, ice packs and ointments were used to no avail. Honestly, if I didn’t have the Medela Freestyle breast pump given to me to review, I would have went to the pharmacy to pick one up in the middle of the night.
Pumping was not near as painful with my nipple trauma as was breastfeeding. I pumped every two hours, and fed our baby with a bottle using a paced bottle feeding technique so that she didn’t get used to the ease of getting milk from a bottle. Many experts recommend not giving a baby a bottle at all until you milk supply is well established (around the six week mark), but if you need a break and are close to quitting nursing altogether, this is the best technique you can use.
That little break was all I needed to help me get through, and it may help you too.
*If you choose to formula feed in the early postpartum days and would like to continue breastfeeding, you will want to replace that breastfeed with a pumping or manual expression session. This will ensure that your milk will come in adequately, as breast milk is produced on demand to suit your baby’s needs. Also, emptying your breasts will prevent painful engorgement, plugged ducts and mastitis. If you want to use a bottle to feed your baby, you will also want to use the paced bottle feeding method.*
Get a Prescription For All Purpose Nipple Ointment
A great way to treat nipple abrasions is to express some colostrum (and later on, breast milk) to the nipple and let it air dry, or to apply a small amount of lanolin cream to your nipple (no need to remove – it is safe for infants to ingest). However, if that doesn’t cut it as your wounds are quite severe, you may want to ask you health care provider about a prescription for an all purpose nipple ointment, as recommended by breastfeeding guru Jack Newman. This ointment includes an antibiotic, corticosteroid, and an antifungal. Just apply a small amount to your nipples after each feeding, as needed. No need to wipe off.
Make or Buy Some Boob Ice Packs
Whether you are dealing with severe engorgement or nipple trauma, applying ice to your breasts will feel heavenly AND help reduce inflammation. You can buy cute doughnut-shaped boob ice packs at your local pharmacy, or you can do what I did and soak a few of those super absorbent newborn diapers you have on hand and stick them in your freezer. They work like a dream!
Also, applying ice to your nipples right before latching your baby on will help decrease your pain during the initial latch-on process, as long as your baby doesn’t mind the cold too much.
Try A Warm Compress Too
Although typically heat is contraindicated for engorged breasts as it can increase swelling, many women find that warm moist compresses to their wounded nipples can provide some much needed relief. Do what works best for you.
Try Some Different Positions
If you had been using the cross-cradle hold when your nipples became uncomfortable, trying another position like the football hold may give you some relief as your infant’s mouth then won’t be latching on in the same way to your especially painful spots.
Most Importantly, Get Some Help!
If you and your baby are continuing to work on latching issues, you think you are making progress, you know that your baby is getting enough and you think your nipples are slowly but surely healing, then time and the tips above should be all you need to get through this snag in your breastfeeding journey.
Here are some signs that you may need some added breastfeeding support:
- You can’t hear your baby swallow
- You can hear smacking sounds when feeding
- Your baby falls asleep at the breast shortly after latching
- Your baby isn’t gaining weight
- Your baby isn’t feeding at least 8 times in 24 hours
- Your baby is not having the recommended amount of wet and dirty diapers
- Your baby doesn’t settle after feeds (clusterfeeding is normal behaviour, but babies should have a shortly period of contentment after a feed)
- Your nipples hurt the entire breastfeeding session, not just the initial latch-on
- Your nipples hurt in between feeds
- Your nipples appear pinched or blanched at the end of a feeding session
- You have a tender reddened area on your breast, with or without a fever
- You notice white patches inside your baby’s mouth and tongue
- The pain continues past the first couple of weeks
- You have cracks, blisters or bleeding
Here’s another great article on KellyMom.
If you have any of these, you will want to find someone near you who is experienced with breastfeeding, such as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) or LaLeche League (LLL) leader. Having extreme nipple pain is not normal, and there are many reasons why it could possibly be happening. Getting a second opinion and having my worries eased by a lactation consultant made all the experience in my breastfeeding journey this time around.
Did you experience pain at the beginning of your breastfeeding journey? Did you find anything that helped? Please share in the comment section below!
Tori Hamilton, RN