I don’t know if it’s about the baby’s instincts, the mother’s instincts, the type of nipple, milk flow, or something else entirely that determines whether breastfeeding your baby will be essentially second nature or, if like me, it will be an uphill battle filled with frustration and pain.
If, like me though, you and your baby are not blissfully breastfeeding after the first week, don’t despair and don’t give up! My first month of breastfeeding Caleb was anything but easy. As my nipples cracked and blistered I found myself endlessly searching the internet for some kind of answer to the problems we were having and found very little in the way of real, practical advice. After our fairly blind struggle, here’s six tips for breastfeeding pain that really helped change our nursing experience.
Six Tips for Breastfeeding Pain:
1. Is Your Baby Tongue Tied?
If your baby’s frenulum is too long and connects too far towards the tip of the tongue, they may be tongue-tied and it can interfere with your baby’s ability to breast feed…and cause you a lot of pain! The frenulum is the piece of tissue that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth.
This was Caleb’s first problem. Smart baby that he was though, he figured out how to get the milk he needed…it just resulted in severe pain for his mama!
Don’t assume your hospital has checked this. It seems like something the doctors or nurses would check on every baby, especially those being breastfed, but this wasn’t the case at my hospital. Even our lactation consultant who we met with twice didn’t check.
Your pediatrician, lactation consultant, or pediatric dentist should be able to recognize if an abnormality in your baby’s frenulum and determine if a frenectomy is needed. A frenectomy is the procedure to cut or laser the frenulum and free up the tongue. For Caleb, it took less than 30 min from the moment we entered the doctor’s office and he never appeared to be in pain afterwards.
2. Master the Latch
I didn’t think Caleb would ever latch correctly. Whether it was because he was initially tongue-tied or something else, I was completely convinced he just didn’t know how to latch wide like a normal baby.
As it turns out, it was actually ME that was preventing the proper latch. Here’s some do’s and dont’s we learned from the lactation consultant:
Latching Process 101:
- Buy a My Breast Friend pillow (or something similar) to help support your baby and ensure they can focus purely on latching.
- Support your baby’s head by holding at the base of his head and placing your thumb under one ear and your index and remaining fingers under the other ear. This allows you to support your baby’s head while still allowing him/her to tilt their head back and forth.
- DO NOT place your fingers on the back of their head or try to maneuver their head to your boob. The baby will adjust their head to position correctly for the latch.
- Position the baby slightly to the right of your left nipple or to the left of your right nipple so that they must tilt their head and tuck their chin into your boob in order to latch.
- Start by squeezing your boob into a more manageable shape for your baby to latch onto. Imagine how, when eating a really big sandwich, we use our hands to compress the sandwhich so it will fit into our mouths. Same concept applies… make a boob sandwich for your baby.
- Placing your nipple on the baby’s top lip right under their nose so they can smell the milk. When the baby tilts their head and opens their mouth wide, use the base of your hand or your wrist to press the baby into your body.
- DO NOT press on the baby’s head but instead use your lower hand and wrist to press into their back. Don’t be timid with the amount of force you use. I was seriously alarmed at how hard the lactation consultant pressed Caleb into me until I noticed that Caleb didn’t seem bothered at all and he had a perfect latch!
- Continue to keep pressure on their back for the duration of nursing.
Here’s another description of a very similar process.
3. Protect and Heal Damaged Nipples
Not much is going to help your pain if you can’t get your nipples healed and healthy! I recommend a trip to Target where they have a wide variety of nursing aids! I used a combo of nipple guards (with limited success as Caleb wasn’t a huge fan), Neosporin, Lanolin, and gel pads.
The Neosporin and gel pads were the life savers though. The Neosporin had my cracked nipples nearly 100% healed in just one day. You will need to clean it off though before you nurse. The gel pads are cool and soothing and also protect your nipples from rubbing against your clothing and which actually made a huge difference to me. I didn’t realize the rubbing against my clothing was causing such an irritation but the relief from the gel pads was obvious immediately.
Pumping has been a life saver for me. Though I’ve only pumped a few bottles, it was at those times that I might have just quit breastfeeding and gone to formula if pumping hadn’t been an option. If you are struggling with pain, invest in a good pump or see if your insurance covers the expense. I have the Spectra S2 breast pump and love it. It’s quiet, has several different levels of both suction and speed, and it was super easy to set-up. Take my opinion with a grain of salt though as I’ve never used any other breast pump so I don’t exactly have a good base for comparison!
5. Nurse One Side at a Time
Nursing just one side at a time was a huge “no no” among my mother and aunts who probably have a decade of breastfeeding experience among them. They told me to nurse both sides at each feeding and so that’s what I did at first.
Turns out though, my mom and aunts aren’t quite the breastfeeding gurus they think they are! If you are experiencing pain, nursing one side at a time can definitely provide some much needed relief. Instead of each nursing each side every three hours, you may end up nursing each side only once in six hours…albeit for a longer period of time. For me, it was the first few minutes of breastfeeding that were the worst to get through so only going through that once per feeding was very much preferable. Furthermore, I was able to use ice and heat alternatively to ease swelling and soreness in between feedings. This was much more effective on a six hour cycle then a three hour cycle.
Another advantage to nursing one side at a time is that it takes more effort from your baby to extract the hind milk rather than the just primarily the fore milk from both sides which flows fast and free! A baby that has worked hard to nurse is more likely to sleep after nursing…sleeping babies are happy babies and happy babies don’t need to nurse as often as fussy irritated babies!
6. Mastitis & Plugged Milk Ducts
If you are experiencing pain during nursing be very aware of the signs of Mastitis and plugged ducts. Cracked and bleeding nipples can actually increase your likelihood of developing mastitis as its easier to introduce germs.
Read more about Mastitis symptoms and treatment Here.
Read more about plugged milk ducts Here.