I had problems pretty much immediately with breastfeeding my eldest girl, and even in the hospital, I remember crying out in pain.
The lactation consultant took one look at the angry purple line on my right boob and tutted. She told me my baby wasn’t latching on properly and I just needed more practice.
But how could I practice when it hurt so much?
Three weeks later, the pain had not improved. It got to the point where I dreaded every feed and was biting a pillow in agony. I was sure we had the positioning correct, but something still wasn’t right. Unfortunately, I didn’t work it out and gave up shortly after.
Was breastfeeding meant to hurt? Definitely not! But here are some reasons why it can, and also what you can do about it.
1. INCORRECT LATCH
It’s true, an incorrect latch is the most common cause of pain when breastfeeding. You can tell it’s a bad latch when your nipple looks like a squashed marshmallow when it comes out of your baby’s mouth. The nipple skin may also become cracked or blistered. Ouchy!
To get a good latch, make sure baby gets a good mouthful and leads from her bottom lip. I was lucky enough to experience successful breastfeeding with my second daughter, and although it takes practice, I soon got the hang of it.
2. YEAST INFECTION (THRUSH)
Yes, it seems that pesky fungi can grow on your nipples too. Described as a stabbing or burning feeling, the pain is also present when you’re not feeding. Nipples become red and shiny and the baby can have symptoms too. It’s easily fixed with an over-the-counter medication, but it’s best to act earlier rather than later. No-one wants shiny itchy nipples now do they?
3. TONGUE TIE
Ah, the old tongue tie. Unbeknownst to me, my eldest daughter had a tongue tie. When the flap of skin (the frenulum) under a baby’s tongue is tight or short, the mother’s nipples get pinched in a vice-like grip and pillow-biting ensues. Doctors can actually snip away the offending flap, or you can otherwise wait for the tongue tie to stretch out. When it comes to breastfeeding with a tongue tie, trust your instinct and get a referral to see a specialist. Snipping the tie takes two seconds and the relief to a breastfeeding mum in agony is instant!
4. BLOCKED MILK DUCT
A blocked milk duct can become infected if you don’t sort it out straight away. So, as soon as you feel a tender area in your booby, it’s time for a hot shower and a breast massage. And no, your husband’s not invited. Also feeding bub will help to unblock the duct, and expressing can also be of assistance.
Mastitis is what can happen when you don’t squeeze out that blocked milk duct. It can also develop of its own accord. Your breast becomes red and hardened in one spot and you may have an accompanying fever. If a bra of cold cabbage leaves and another breast massage doesn’t fix it, then get onto some antibiotics. You really don’t want it to turn into number 6.
6. BREAST ABSCESS
Let’s be honest here. You’re going to know it if you have a breast abscess. It’s a painful collection of pus that needs to be drained under local anaesthetic. An abscess doesn’t necessarily mean the end of breastfeeding, but it can be extremely unpleasant. Milk, blood and pus leak out of the drainage holes and you might even end up in surgery. But take comfort knowing it’s very rare.
7. USING YOUR BREAST PUMP INCORRECTLY
You should never feel pain when using your breast pump, and if you do, stop immediately! You don’t want to damage your sensitive mammary support tissue, neither do we want infection. Ensure that you follow the instructions, get the right sized flange, and for goodness sake, centre that nipple! Believe me, when the pumping starts, you don’t want to be sucked sideways!
8. LACK OF WINE
Although not strictly painful, wine withdrawal can be troublesome. Of course, the warmth of your baby in the night, her gentle sighs as she latches on, and the closeness you feel to your newborn, more than make up for the sacrifice. The safest option for baby when breastfeeding is not to drink at all. But as a general rule, it takes two hours for an average woman to get rid of the alcohol from one standard alcoholic drink. So plan ahead if you want to drink.
I do feel sad that I couldn’t experience the wonders of breastfeeding with my eldest girl, but looking back, there is no blame.
Maybe if I’d persevered, read up more, gotten professional help, I might have been more successful, but I can’t change what happened and nor will I feel guilty. What I can do, however, is impart some final wisdom to those who might be suffering from the breastfeeding blues.
Want more on breastfeeding? Check out Did that just happen: Breastfeeding Bloopers