Are you wondering why breastfeeding hurts? It’s a question I’ve asked myself before.
Before having a baby, nobody told me that I might sit in bed crying in the middle of the night because my nipples were bleeding, and my baby still needed to eat!
If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you can relate.
In the early weeks of having a baby I found myself wanting to give up on breastfeeding because the pain was so intense.
Luckily I found one simple breastfeeding tool that saved me (more on that below) and I muscled through until it got better.
If you’re experiencing painful breastfeeding, know that it DOES get better! Here are some things you can do to help.
*Just a note: I’m not a doctor and this post isn’t meant to be be medical advice. Please check with your physician before doing anything you read about in this blog post.
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IF BREASTFEEDING HURTS, CHECK FOR COMMON NURSING PROBLEMS
Before you do anything else, you can check with a doctor to make sure nursing isn’t painful because of the following common breastfeeding problems:
Mastitis is breast inflammation that often happens because there is an infection1.
Thrush happens when the nipples have a yeast infection2.
BLOCKED MILK DUCT
A blocked milk duct happens when one of the ducts in your breast isn’t emptying properly during breastfeeding 3.
A tongue tie happens when your baby’s membrane that attaches from the bottom of the mouth to the tongue is too short or tight 4.
A lip tie happens when the piece of tissue that attaches the upper lip to the upper gums is too tight 5.
All the nipple cream in the world won’t fix the problems listed above, but your doctor can help you with them. If you’re pretty sure you don’t have any of the problems we just talked about, then take a look at the suggestions below for how to cope with painful breastfeeding.
GET SOME NIPPLE CREAM
I know this may seem obvious, but If you’re finding that breastfeeding hurts, pick up some good nipple cream. It wasn’t until a few days after having baby that I bought nipple cream, but it made a huge difference for my bleeding nipples once I did!
Ideally you should start using the cream before your nipples are cracked and dry, but it can also help heal things if your breasts are already damaged.
I prefer a nice organic one, like the ones below, since the baby ends up eating whatever is in the cream.
Make sure and put your nipple cream on at least after every nursing session, but more if you’re in pain! And keep using it for a while after things stop hurting; if you stop too soon your nipples could dry out again.
MAKE SURE BABY IS LATCHING PROPERLY
One of the first things you should do if you’re having breast pain while nursing is check to see if the baby is latching the right way.
Some newborns have a hard time learning how to latch, and if they don’t do it right, it can feel like your nipple is being bitten off! Needless to say, latch is important. Here are some tips to help you get a good latch.
Getting a Good Latch
Getting a good latch is all about the set up. I’ve talked to more than one lactation consultant after having two babies, and these are the tips they’ve given me.
- Put the baby on a pillow so he is at the right level to feed
- Make sure baby’s tummy is facing your tummy
- Use your hand in a C shape to cup the middle of the breast (not touching the nipple) so you can help direct the breast into the baby’s mouth
- Rub the nipple on the baby’s upper lip and wait for baby to open his mouth wide. If he tries to do a shallow latch, don’t let him. Try again to get him to open his mouth.
- Point the nipple to the top of his mouth (not the middle) and let him latch
- Don’t push his head into your breast. Keep trying until he latches on by himself.
- Try to get the areola (the area surrounding the nipple) in his mouth, and not only the nipple. NIPPLE-ONLY LATCHES HURT!
- If you need to break a bad latch, gently wedge your finger between your breast and the baby’s mouth until the baby comes off the breast.
HOW A NIPPLE SHIELD SAVED BREASTFEEDING FOR ME
Oh Nipple shields, I could talk about how great these are all day. Nipple shields are THE REASON I was able to breastfeed both of my children.
If you’re dealing with sore nipples from bad latching or because your breasts aren’t used to feeding a tiny human, a nipple shield (Medela brand is my fave) could be good for you. For me, it was life changing!
(The shield won’t fix things like Mastitis or Thrush, so you need to see a doctor for that stuff).
Nipple shields are literally the ONLY reason that both of my children have been breastfed. Without the shield, I would have given up.
MY NURSING STORY
SIDE NOTE ABOUT NIPPLE SHIELDS
I’ve heard that nipple shields can be bad if you have poor milk supply, so they might not be great for you if you struggle with that.
Some people also say they have a hard time weaning their baby off the shield, though that wasn’t my experience either time.
It’s a good idea to talk to a lactation consultant or doctor before you use one.
HOW TO USE A NIPPLE SHIELD
If you decide to use a nipple shield, here are the basics:
- Find the right size for your nipple. You can check out sizing information here. They’re cheap enough that you can buy a couple sizes until you find the best fit.
- Before the first use, make sure the nipple shield is sterile (some nipple shields come that way).
- You should also wash the nipple shield with hot water and soap before using it each time, and then sterilize it in boiling water once a day.
- To attach the shield to your breast, turn the nipple part of the shield partly inside out, and center your nipple in the nipple portion of the shield.
- Next, turn the nipple shield right side out and flatten it out over your breast.
- After nursing, wash the nipple shield with hot water and soap.
TALK TO A LACTATION CONSULTANT ABOUT BREASTFEEDING PROBLEMS
Sometimes, no matter how many internet articles you read about what to do when breastfeeding hurts (ahem), you just need to talk to someone face-to-face who knows how to fix things!
Lactation consultants are amazing for that.
When it comes to breastfeeding problems, they’ve seen them all.
They’ll be able to help you figure out if breastfeeding is hurting because of a bad latch or something else, and then they’ll help you find a fix or send you to someone who can.
Finding a lactation consultant shouldn’t be too hard. Just do a bit of a Google search for one in your area.
There are lots of private lactation consultants, but you may also be able to access a free one through your local hospital or health unit.
WAIT IT OUT
Unfortunately, sometimes the only reason breastfeeding hurts is because your breasts need to toughen up. I know. Not great news.
If you’ve just started breastfeeding, it may take a few weeks for your breasts to get used to feeding a tiny human, and that might be the only thing that will make nursing stop hurting.
It’s unbelievably hard at first, but if you can manage to stick with breastfeeding it gets a lot better.
Just look at me: I started out crying about bleeding nipples, but it didn’t take long (1-2 weeks maybe) for nursing to become easy and painless.
If you do take the ‘wait it out’ approach, make sure you rule out other breastfeeding problems, and most importantly, get some emotional support.
A Note About Postpartum Depression
Postpartum depression is no joke and if nursing is going badly it can make things worse.
If your postpartum depression is getting dangerous and breastfeeding is making it worse, it’s more important that you stay safe than it is for you to breastfeed your baby.
I know tons of wonderful people who have lived great lives after being formula fed, so fed truly is best.
If you have to stop breastfeeding, there’s no shame in it.
STAY STRONG WHEN NURSING HURTS
I know first-hand how hard and painful breastfeeding can be, but it’s one of the most worthwhile things I’ve every done.
If breastfeeding hurts right now, just remember that it can get better. Like, WAY better! Heck, I’d even say I LIKE it most days.
So try out the tips above, get the additional help you need, and best of luck breastfeeding!
Let us know in the comments if you’ve struggle with breastfeeding and what has helped!