Monday, January 16, 2012

Sometimes Breastfeeding Hurts

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Yes, there it is. I said it. I don't know how many times, including in On Becoming Babywise, I have read that if baby is latched correctly and everything is right then breastfeeding will not hurt.


You know what actual, real live women say about breastfeeding? It hurts! Not always, not forever, but initially it will not necessarily feel good.

There are so many reasons it can and will hurt.

Reason #1: Nipples
If this is your first time breastfeeding, your nipples will not be used to this. If you have dry skin or live in a dry climate, it might be even harder on your nipples. Your nipples will need to toughen up. With Brayden, I had to build some callouses. With my girls, there was a tiny bit of soreness, but they each started less than a year since I had stopped nursing the last baby, so I think I had some residual toughness going on. 

I did something else with my girls. I spent at least the last trimester putting Lansinoh on my nipples every single day. This helped them to not be so dry. 

Reason #2: Milk Ducts
When my milk came in with Brayden, it was painful. I mean, really, really painful. Way more painful than dealing with the over 50 stitches he had caused me down there. It came all in and seemed to try to explode through the ducts and out my breast tissue. It just hurt. This is known as engorgement. The good news is that when my milk came in with my girls, it did not hurt. 

You can't (and don't want to) prevent the milk from coming in. You can help with engorgement by massaging the breast, cool compresses, and expressing some milk. Just don't express so much that your body continues to make the ridiculous large amount of milk.

Reason #3: Baby Issues
Sometimes your baby will latch, stop, latch, stop, etc, which starts to take a toll on the nipples. Sometimes you can be doing everything right, but maybe baby is tongue-tied or a chewer when sucking. In instances like these, it is good to be aware of the idea that "breastfeeding shouldn't hurt." If baby is sucking inappropriately for some reason, you will want to take measures to correct it.

Those are some reasons it might hurt. There are warning signs to watch for when it hurts--in these cases, something is wrong.

Sudden Pain
When Kaitlyn was four weeks old, I suddenly started having lots of pain breastfeeding. I started cracking and bleeding. I talked to a lactation consultant and she assured me it was normal with a newborn. Well, I knew that was true because I experienced it with Brayden. However, I found it odd that we had gone four weeks with no issues only to suddenly creep up.

In the end, there was an issue (a yeast infection in my breasts--more on that below). So if things have been going well and you suddenly develop pain, definitely look into it.

If when  your baby starts to breastfeed it feels like she is stabbing you in the breasts or like your breasts are on fire, there is an excellent chance you have a yeast infection. See yeast  for more.

If you have a tender spot (clogged duct), redness on your breast, or a fever, this is most likely mastitis and you will need to see a doctor. Mastitis will likely start with just a clogged duct, so if that is what you have, watch it and try to drain it. I got mastitis with every child. With Brayden, I didn't realize what was going on until I was pretty bad. With the girls, I knew what was coming and had it taken care of before it could really hit me.

This was something I considered with a lactation consultant when I had yeast. This is when your nipple turns white. It can be due to baby having a poor latch or due to some medical condition with the mother. If this happens to you, seek medical advice.

Sometimes breastfeeding just hurts even if you are doing everything right. Sometimes breastfeeding hurts because something is wrong. It is good to familiarize yourself with all reasons so you can better know what to do when you start to feel pain.

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The Troutman's said...

I had the WORST pain while nursing for almost 10 weeks! It was horrible! I kept going to the lactation consultant and the doctor, and it was never a yeast/thrush issue. The lactation consultant said my son latched on perfectly, but that he had a very shallow suck, so it was him that made it painful and there wasn't much I could do about it. Once we hit around 12 weeks, it didn't really hurt at all, and finally felt natural. What I think made it so painful was my breast size. I was a 36 DDD (yes, 3 of them!) and he was was a tiny 6 lb baby. To properly nurse, the areola needs to make its way in the mouth, and there was no way his itty bitty mouth was able to do that for a long time! No one ever confirmed it to me, but I honestly think that was the issue. It didn't help that I had one hand hold his head and the other holding the boob. Thank you for letting new mothers know that it's not always like what you see in the pictures!

Katy said...

THANK YOU! I just about was ready to kill my husband every time he echoed the breastfeeding class early on saying "It shouldn't hurt." Well, you know what? That's just not true. And no real woman I have ever known thought that. Just the classes. Now? 8 months later? I STILL will occasionally get the clogged duct, engorged pain, or bleeding thanks to someone biting with his mouth full of teeth, even though breastfeeding has been a highly successful experience for us. I do not think that perpetrating this "It shouldn't hurt if it's done right" myth does anyone any favors. So, thank you.

Katie {My Paisley Apron} said...

SO SO true!!

A good friend of mine, who was super committed to breastfeeding all through her pregnancy, nearly gave up before her baby was 3 weeks old. I was kind of shocked that she was planning to stop so soon, and told her that, for me, I found breastfeeding to be more unpleasant than pleasant for the first 12 weeks. At 12 weeks, I finally felt like the unpleasant/pain equaled the enjoyment and benefits for me.

I encouraged her to try it for 12 weeks if she still felt like breastfeeding could be the right choice for them. Her baby is now close to that and they are still doing mostly breastfeeding, I believe.

I think the "breastfeeding doesn't hurt" myth sets women up for unreasonable expectations. It's good to find out WHY it's hurting and fix what you can, but those first few weeks especially can be way more painful than you expect!!

D & H said...

I think anytime a nursing mom is hurting or cracked and bleeding she should talk with a good lactation consultant. Sometimes, it does hurt just because, but other times there's a reason. I found out that I wasn't getting enough of my breast in my baby's mouth. For a baby that's a chewer when sucking, a tip I learned is to dip a clean finger in water and put touch it to the roof of baby's mouth (fingerpad up; next to tongue) for baby to suck on just long enough to get sucking correctly. Then latch on.

Michael and Natalie said...

You know what's insane? I had ZERO pain when nursing my first baby. I thought it was because I was religious about using Lansinoh after every.single.feeding. Yeah, i was wrong. Come baby number two, and breastfeeding was excruciating. And I think I went through 4 tubes of Lansinoh in just the first 4 weeks. Obviously that wasn't helping. I had to shower with a bra and breast pads on through week 6 because I could not bear the sensation of water on my breasts. Honestly, nursing with my son was by far the most incredibly painful experience of my life. But, I was determined to stick with it. I figured he didn't have a latch problem, not tongue-tied. Eventually, between weeks 8-10 the pain finally subsided, but it was terrible. I wonder now had I used nipple shields if that would've helped.

ME said...

So true :D After four, each one different, I'd experienced most issues, including yeast infection (owie) remedied with a vinegar and water rinse, mastitis, engorgement, etc. and knew by then, the books are going off the ideal, at best. Maybe they just don't want to scare us out of breastfeeding :D Anyway, I stuck it out because it was so important to me that my kids got breastmilk. It ain't easy, but I feel that it truly is worth it!! I also found with my last baby, on the midwife's advice, that letting her feed on demand (I know this goes against babywise) for just the first couple weeks, prevented all my engorgement, and to my surprise it was't at all hard to get her on a schedule thereafter. Wish I'd known this with the other three. And did you know to relieve engorgement, it is safe to completely empty your breastmilk using a pump once every 24 hours? Tried this, and it worked, and brought much relief, and no effect on my milk supply. I'd just do it after that 11 oclock feeding, and I'd get relief and be back at 3 with that needed supply, no prob. Why did I only find this out on baby number 3? :D Oh well!

meg said...

Yes! Thank you! It drives me insane that doctors, lactation consultants, midwives, authors, etc tell us it should not hurt! It does so much damage and sets us up for failure. Breastfeeding just plain hurt until 9 weeks for me, I agonized over it day after day, feeling like there must be something wrong-but in the end it just can take time for you and baby to adjust and get accustomed to. I hope more women start to hear this!

The Holstien's said...

Amen!!! It can hurt even when you're doing everything right. I'm unsure why women are afraid to admit that. Thank you for this post and I hope it helps other moms out there wondering "what's wrong with me?"

Kate Craig said...

WHY does no one talk about this? I found out after I had been in horrible pain for weeks that most of my friends cried through the first few weeks of nursing. I really wish I had been more mentally prepared

April C Hurdle Photography said...

This is so true. I had red blood blisters on my nipples for the first week and it was very painful. I mainly only experienced pain right when baby latched on, not during the entire feeding. The lactation consultant gave me a nipple shield to use and that helped some but it was still painful. I used the nipple shield for about a week to get me through that time then stopped using it when my daughter and I both figured out what we were doing. Yes, breastfeeding is a "natural" process but that doesn't mean you will get it right from the start. Yes, newborns have a suckling reflex but that doesn't mean they know how to breastfeed. It takes practice and dedication from both mommy and baby. With time, the pain should go away unless you are having one of the problems mentioned in the post (yeast infection, mastitis, etc).

happyl8d said...

Question!! I'm nursing my 4th child. He's now almost 8 months old, and everything's been going pretty well, up to this point (aside from the usual pain the first couple weeks and until after my milk comes in). This last month I've had 3 occurrences of plugged milk ducts that I've been able to thankfully work out, but now, my one side (nipple) is very sore (same side that had the plugged ducts). It has been hurting when he nurses and hurts to the touch. He doesn't seem to be getting his teeth yet (thank goodness!) . . . anyone else have this experience? I've got the Lansinoh back out and it doesn't seem to be helping much. This is my 4th go around and I STILL have questions that come up! Definitely every child is different!!

ME said...

to happyl8d....i struggled with plugged ducts too, especially when the kid's intake would change. And on time had a nipple that was cracked around the base almost clear around, that was sore for such a long time!!! I would guess that something about your baby's positioning is causing him to rub on you or overstretch, worst case you might have slight yeast irritating it?? My midwife would always tell me "change the baby's nursing position, it takes the stress off your nipple in that spot, and point the baby's chin toward the plugged duct, this put the majority of his/her suction toward the affected area and helps clear it. it's awkward to say the least, but does help :D I also quit using lansinoh, too sticky, found a product I LOVE by Earth Mama Angel Baby, called Nipple Butter. It's so nice, not sticky, perfectly safe for baby so you don't have to wash it off, you can get it on Amazon, or at health food store!! I doubt it's yeast, but in case, you could also try making a solution of half a cup of water, and one tablespoon white vinegar, and swab off your nipple with that after you nurse, then put on the nipple butter. Also just remembered, sometimes the Lansinoh can irritate people who are sensitive to wool...that could be your problem too. Hope one of those things helps!! Good luck!

happyl8d said...

Thank you for your reply, ME! He has gotten into a bad habit of pulling and tugging at me while nursing. (I think I have a slooooow let down.) I try to hold him close and tightly and sometimes he fights me with that. I didn't really think anything of it since just the one side is bothering me. I'm going to try a different nursing position to see if that helps. I just pulled out the Lansinoh (hadn't used it for probably 6 months), so I don't think the Lansinoh is the problem. And OUCH! I can't imagine the problem you had to deal with. Many of the women on this post are such troopers!! I'm so tempted to wean my son off of me just for some relief. It may come down to that if we can't get this problem taken care of. If it was a yeast infection, would he have thrush? I checked his tongue to make sure it was clear and it was fine. I don't see anything visually that would indicate a yeast infection. At any rate, seems to me that my letdown is most of the problem (combined with his impatience). I do my best to relax and let things just happen naturally . . . anyone got any other ideas how to speed things up a little?

About The Griffin Chronicles said...

Oh yes! It absolutely hurts. For the first week after my first child was born, I had to bite down on a rag every time he latched on. I wanted to scream it hurt so bad. My nipples had scabs on them. With the 2nd & 3rd, I had a couple of painful weeks too, but not as bad. But then I got mastitis with the 2nd one, which was a new experience. Breastfeeding is no picnic!

Plowmanators said...

Thank you to everyone for sharing your stories! I am sure they will help future moms.

Troutmans, that is huge! I can imagine your theory would be correct.

Katy--I hate the teeth.

Natalie, that is very weird that it hurt with number two and not one. I used a nipple shield with Brayden and that helped with tenderness, but in general you don't want to use it too long or baby won't really nurse without it.

ME, I think if that is the goal of books (to not scare us off) they are seriously doubting the will of women. I think most women are willing to push through the pain ESPECIALLY if they know it is normal. When they read there should be no pain, they think they are doing something wrong and therefore some sort of failure as a mother because they can't even do this "natural" thing right. Just like Meg said.

Kate that is so true. I hoped Brayden would give up, but I was too stubborn to do it myself :)

April, your comment made me think about other things that are natural. Eating real food? Natural for a human, but takes practice to get good at it. Walking? Also natural, but again, not a pro immediately. I think that is an important thing to remember--natural is not the same as "easy" or "effortless"

Plowmanators said...


I would look into yeast. When I had it with McKenna, she did not have any signs that I could see, and I knew what to look for. Look at my post on yeast for help with seeing if that is it. If it is, it will be a lot worse by now.

As for let down, have you tried pumping for a minute before he starts to see if you can get the let-down going faster?


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