Breastfeeding is supposed to be a special time between you and your baby. So why does it hurt so much? If you find yourself thinking that more often than not, then something is wrong. Breastfeeding isn’t the easiest thing to do, but it should not leave you feeling horrible either.
If you are noticing signs that something is not right with nursing, such as pain or your baby’s slow weight gain, then keep reading. We’re going to discuss the potential issues with breastfeeding, so you can figure out why it hurts and how to stop it.
Is Breastfeeding Supposed To Hurt?
First off, no one will tell you this—but breastfeeding isn’t supposed to hurt. Breastfeeding should be pain-free. When you feel pain, it is a sign that something isn’t right and you need to figure out how to fix it. New mothers should expect some pain during the first couple of days since you are starting to produce milk and aren’t used to breastfeeding. That said, if feeding is painful, even on the first day, it can result in decreased lactation and nipple damage.
So, you need to know what could be wrong, identify the problem, and work on a solution. Do not just deal with the pain.
What To Consider If You Have Pain
By asking yourself the following questions, you can start to figure out the cause behind what makes breastfeeding hurt.
- Does breastfeeding get more painful when you produce a lot of milk? It could be engorgement, or overfilled breasts, making it difficult for your baby to get a secure latch.
- Are you using a breast pump? Check to make sure the flanges are properly sized, that the suction isn’t set too high and that the cycling settings are not set too low.
- Are you experiencing pain between feedings? Consider things like nipple blanching, vasospasm, and thrush as the cause.
- When the baby unlatches, does your nipple look creased, flattened, or pinched? Do you see a white line across the nipple? This could be a sign of shallow latching.
- Do you have any bruising, cracking, bleeding, or blistering on the nipples?
- Do you have any rashes around the nipple or areola? Contact dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, and similar rashes can cause pain and irritation.
- Is your let down reflex considered forceful? Could it be overwhelming your baby? Sometimes, a baby will bite down on the nipple to slow milk flow.
- Are you breastfeeding while pregnant?
Problems With Your Baby’s Latch
The main reason mothers experience pain during nursing would be from an improper latch. The symptoms include pain in the nipples, uncomfortable breastfeeding, and after the baby lets go, the nipples look crinkled or squashed. You may even have cracking and blistering on the nipple.
Other issues that arise from an improper latch include a fussy baby who isn’t gaining weight. Watch how your baby also approaches the nipple. If they are chomping down on it, they could have a shallow latch.
How do you know when your baby has a proper latch? If your baby latches well, the nipple will go easily into their mouth, right to the back of the throat. The baby’s tongue will work against the nipple to draw out milk. However, if the nipple doesn’t go far enough, the tongue rubs and pushes against the nipple, causing pain.
Breast engorgement may also make latching difficult. Also, babies who are feed with a bottle might have difficulties with securing a proper latch.
The solution is to improve the latch. Here are a couple of ways to do that:
- Check the latch. If your baby isn’t latching properly, you will see it. Your baby should have most of the lower half of the areola in their mouth, and your nipple should be positioned against the roof of their mouth and cupped by the tongue.
- Consult with a lactation consultant. These professionals are well-versed in methods for lessening pain from breastfeeding, fixing tongue-ties, and can even help your baby get a cleaner latch.
- Try various positions. There are different ways to feed your baby that might help them get a better latch, such as cross-cradle, underarm, lying down and laid-back positions.
- Air dry your nipples. Since infections flourish in moist conditions, always wipe or air dry your nipples after breastfeeding.
- Wipe and soothe nipples. Use some lanolin and aloe to help soothe your sore nipples. Hydrogel pads can also help lessen pain. Also, make sure you are wiping your nipples after feeding to prevent infection.
- Be patient. Soreness will lessen after a few days of suckling. If it doesn’t dissipate, you should then consult with a breastfeeding specialist or medical professional.
- Make tiny adjustments during feeding. Instead of removing your baby from the breast, try making micro-adjustments while they are feeding, such as moving your wrist under their head or shifting how they lay in your arms.
- Draw out inverted or flattened nipples. Use a nipple former to apply pressure, drawing out the nipple to support pain-free breastfeeding.
- Use nipple shields. If your baby has a bad latch or cannot latch on, you can use nipple shields to create a better target for your baby.
Now, while an improper latch is the main reason mothers experience pain during breastfeeding, there are other issues that we are going to investigate in the next section.
Other Issues That Make Breastfeeding Painful
If you try to fix the latch and you still get pain, or it was decided that your baby’s latch is not the problem, then you have other things to consider.
Yeast Infection (Thrush)
Sometimes the yeast in your system is going to go wild. Usually, this happens when your iron levels drop or you have been on antibiotics. Yeast infection can make your nipples sore between feedings and even as your baby nurses. The pain will feel like a sharp stabbing in the nipple. A rash may develop that causes the nipple to look red, smooth, and shiny.
Your baby might also develop white spots on the inside of their mouth and act very fussy.
Thrush can be treated with OTC acidophilus supplements and dietary changes. Even if only one of you is experiencing symptoms, both mom and baby should be treated for a yeast infection.
A tongue-tie is the result of a short or tight frenulum—the string of skin beneath the tongue—inside your baby’s mouth. When the frenulum is taut, your baby can’t stick out their tongue or even move it properly. This also means that the tongue won’t be able to suckle the nipple correctly, so your baby will have to rub the nipple, which causes pain.
If you suspect your baby has a tongue-tie, take a look at your nipples. Do they hurt? Is the tip damaged? During breastfeeding, does it feel like the nipple is being pinched? If you answered yes to any of those questions, it could be a tongue-tie.
The good news is that this problem can be corrected quickly. A doctor can usually snip the frenulum and free the tongue. While the strip of the skin may stretch over time, this can take months. Since you probably don’t want to endure months of pain while waiting, the procedure is a wise choice and won’t hurt your baby.
A vasospasm is when the nipple gets squeezed so tightly because of a shallow latch that there is a decreased flow of blood and oxygen to the nipple. Once the baby releases the nipple, it might look white where blood was squeezed from the nipple and may be misshapen. As blood starts returning to the nipple, there will be a painful throbbing and burning.
Sometimes babies that are fed with a bottle between nursing will try to get milk from a breast the same way they get it from the bottle. However, sucking on a bottle is different from suckling a breast. Overusing pacifiers can cause the same reaction. If you think this is the issue, it is best to avoid pacifiers and bottles for the time being and try alternatives, like a supplemental nursing system or cup feeding instead.
Plugged ducts are a common occurrence during breastfeeding. The symptoms include tender areas of the affected breast, red skin, and maybe a lump beneath the surface. Plugged ducts are caused by ducts getting congested with milk. Since milk cannot flow through the blocked duct, the pressure will build. Sometimes, when the openings in the nipple get blocked, you will see white dots on the tip.
Fixing a plugged duct will take a little time, but it’s, fortunately, nothing too serious. Simply use some moist heat, such as a warm compress or hot showers, to loosen the lump. Then massage the breast to work the plug towards the nipple. Afterward, let your baby drink. If the plug is near the nipple, then the suckling might work it out. You can also massage the breast during breastfeeding to squeeze it free.
If the plugged duct doesn’t clear up after 2-3 times of heat, massage, and nursing, or if you start feeling ill, contact a medical professional as soon as you can.
When a plugged duct gets infected, your symptoms will grow rapidly worse and more painful. You will get a fever, feel sick, and your affected breast will be hot and tender to the touch. The skin may appear red and swollen, as well. This condition is called mastitis, and it is the inflammation of breast tissue due to an infection.
Plugged ducts are often the main cause, but mastitis can also begin if bacteria finds its way into the tissues through dry, cracked nipples. If mastitis goes untreated, it can develop into a breast abscess.
Initially, you deal with mastitis as you would a plugged duct. However, if the situation doesn’t improve within 24 hours, you need to see a health care professional to receive antibiotics.
Full, Hard, and Leaking Breasts
When your milk begins to come in, your breasts will start to get heavier, firmer, and, for some women, hard. Rock hard. The milk can make your breasts very uncomfortable. This condition is called “breast engorgement.” Although engorgement usually only lasts 24-48 hours, the whole period might be very painful and can make latching difficult for your baby.
Sometimes, your breasts might leak, too. Leaking usually takes about 6 weeks to stop. Though leaking is not painful on its own, it can be a sign that you are overflowing with milk and need to feed your baby soon to relieve some of the pressure.
Engorgement and leaking can be mitigated by feeding your baby as often as you can. Aim for 8-12 feedings every 24 hours.
Is it normal for breastfeeding to hurt? No. While the first couple of days may be breastfeeding, pain is not normal and should be thought of as an alarm. Usually, your breasts will feel heavier and uncomfortable when milk comes in 2-5 days after birth, but if you notice that your nipples are cracking or if nursing is very unpleasant, something is wrong. Hopefully, this article will have provided you with some insight as to what could be the issue so you can find a solution!
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