Breastfeeding pain is a common concern for new parents and there is so much information out there that can be overwhelming and hard to digest. Two weeks ago we welcomed guest writer, Lindsey Cure, to the Phoenix Family Birth blog. She gave us feisty insight on the mom things nobody talks about but should.
With great reader response, we asked Lindsey to give us her in-your-face insight on what it’s like to breastfeed as a millennial mom. This is the first of 3 posts where Lindsey will break down common breastfeeding challenges and her experience on how to handle it.
Breastfeeding Pain: Breastfeeding for Millennial Moms, Part 1 of 3
Welcome to my mini-series of blogs for breastfeeding as a millennial mom. If you’ve made it this far into adulthood, are suddenly being thrown into parenthood, and have considered breastfeeding but the idea terrifies you, buckle up because this one’s for you.
My mom breastfed my brothers and I into toddlerhood, read tons of books, had nursing friends, and was completely unashamed about breastfeeding. Obviously this makes me a natural, right? Nah, not really.
I spent the entire pregnancy excited to breastfeed, without any actual knowledge of how it works. I went into it blindly and faced quite a few different issues, like pumping, thrush, and latching problems. “How wrong can breastfeeding go? It’s gotta be pretty self-explanatory.” Yeah, for some, but UC Davis Medical Center surveyed 418 first-time mothers about breastfeeding and found that just 3 days after birth, 92% of them were having difficulty breastfeeding. Ninety-fucking-two percent. If that doesn’t make you feel less alone, hopefully my story and this blog will change that.
Does breastfeeding hurt?
This question is tricky, because the answer is both yes and no. For the first few days, your nipples are probably gonna flip their shit. You may experience latching issues, clogged ducts, engorgement, or just sore nipples in general. I remember my mom, and several other moms from my parents’ generation, telling me to rub a rough washcloth on my nipples before the baby was born to “prepare” for the pain. After looking into this before trying it out (because it sounded sketchy af), it turns out that this does literally nothing except hurt and cause soreness and rawness. If you love and care for your nipples, please don’t do this.
Another thing I did not count on was latch issues. I assumed latching would be the easiest part. Latching is something that we will come back to in this series, so for now let’s just focus on why latching might hurt, and how to relieve different kinds of booby pain.
Here’s a few things to help with pain associated with breastfeeding:
Keep in mind your areola and nipple are separate parts, so make sure you know what part of your breast is hurting before you head to Google. Your nipple is the pointy part, and the areola is the dark circle surrounding it. Often you will just have pain in your nipples, but areola pain can come with it as well.
If your nipples are:
- Dry, cracked, and bleeding: use moisturizing products like lanolin, coconut oil, or cocoa butter, or even talk with a breastfeeding professional to see if they recommend a nursing shield when the pain is really bad. Check the labels on “nipple balms” or other nipple relief products to make sure they’re safe for baby to ingest, because some products need to be washed off first (which is why natural products like coconut oil is your bff). Your nipples are probably dry and cracked because they aren’t used to nursing, and they’re being stretched and stressed out throughout the day. If moisturizing doesn’t help, your issue may lie somewhere else.
- Dry, cracked, white “flakes” or peeling at the tip (sometimes more visible when your nipples are wet), and shooting pains in your nipple like shards of glass are coming out during nursing: Congratulations! You may have thrush! Thrush is a yeast infection that starts in your baby’s mouth and is passed back to you. Lovely, right? I got mine because I was nursing my son through the night every night in order to avoid dealing with an actual bedtime routine. It also wasn’t treated properly, so mine lasted four goddamn months. I was treating my son’s thrush with nystatin prescribed by his doctor, but due to poor communication I didn’t know I was supposed to be treating myself as well. Long story short, if your nipples are burning and you have shooting pains in your breast towards the end of a nursing session, or right after, you may have thrush. Talk to your OB and your child’s pediatrician to get nystatin, or talk to your postpartum doula about other possible remedies.
- Inverted or “flat” nipples: you may not realize that not everyone’s nipples pop out from their areola, and on the flip side, you may not realize that not everyone has flat nipples. Does having inverted nipples mean that nursing isn’t for you? No, not necessarily. There are some cases where there isn’t “enough” for baby to latch onto; however, for the most part with enough determination and research and communication with your postpartum doula/OB/lactation consultant, you can make breastfeeding work for you. Learning techniques to draw the nipple out before latching your baby on is really important. Using a nipple shield in the early days can help, too, and over time your baby’s mouth will get bigger, your nipples may adjust and stretch out from the areola, and/or your baby’s latch will get stronger (if you’re here to learn more about latching problems, stay tuned, it’s coming!). Don’t let having inverted nipples discourage you, but make sure you communicate this to whoever you’re getting breastfeeding support from.
If your breasts are:
- Engorged: Massage your breast (the reverse pressure softening technique can be really helpful here), pump a little before trying to feed your baby to soften your breast and ease the latch. Hot showers or Epsom salt soaks are your best friend when you’re engorged. There’s no easy way of saying it, but them boobies are going to feel like giant fucking rocks sometimes, especially in the early days when you’re still getting used to having literal jugs of milk on your chest and your body is adjusting.
- Clogged: Okay, a few things, but my personal favorite is dangle feeding. Place your baby on the ground on their back and get on all fours above them; this is where it gets a little tricky. Usually it’s fairly easy to tell where the clog is, so if you already know, you can point your baby’s nose at the duct and let gravity do the rest. By letting your breast hang (or “dangle”) in front of you/over your baby and nursing in that direction in general, you should start to feel some relief from the clog. If you’re still hurting, it’s time to hop in the shower and hand express, aka milk squirting target practice. Massage the clog with your thumb moving towards your nipple and hand express. If you don’t know how to hand express your milk, a quick YouTube or Google search or chat with your postpartum doula should help with that. Bonus tip: now that you have the skill of hand expressing, you can squirt milk at people when if they complain about you feeding your baby in public!
- Red, hot, and sore: If your breasts feel clogged, you aren’t feeling relief from the previous instructions, and they are HOT to the touch or you have a fever, STOP WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND CALL YOUR OB. You may have mastitis, an inflammation of the mammary glands usually caused by viral infection! If treated quickly, you’ll be back to normal in no time.