Breastfeeding pain is one of the “horror” stories that a well-meaning friend or relative probably told you about while you were pregnant or soon after you had your baby. Tales of pain can make new moms think that breastfeeding should (and will be) a painful experience, discouraging moms from nursing. Learning what feelings are normal during breastfeeding can help you adjust your little one’s latch and prevent problems from occurring.
Normal Discomfort During Breastfeeding
After Giving Birth
Immediately after birth, it’s normal to feel cramping or abdominal pain while you nurse. This is due to your uterus shrinking back to its normal size. This discomfort can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks after giving birth.
As Your Baby Latches
Your breasts will soon “toughen up” a bit and get used to your baby nursing. Until then, it’s normal to feel a small amount of discomfort while your baby latches on and pulls your nipple and areola into his or her mouth. This discomfort should only last for approximately 30 to 45 seconds after latching.
During Milk Letdown
As your baby initially sucks after latching on, he or she will trigger your body to “let down” the milk. Many moms experience several seconds of tingling pain during letdown in their upper breasts. This pain typically goes away as breastfeeding progresses.
After your milk comes in, your breasts may become rock hard and engorged with milk. This can be uncomfortable. As your baby nurses and your body figures out how much milk your baby needs, the uncomfortable engorgement will go away. Warm washcloths can help in the meantime.
Abnormal Pain During Breastfeeding
While it can be normal to feel a small amount of discomfort during breastfeeding, it shouldn’t be painful. Abnormal pain includes:
- Nipple pain that lasts longer than a minute after latching
- Cracked and/or bleeding nipples
- Small, tender lumps in the breast (blocked milk duct)
- Hard, red lump in the breast accompanied by a fever (mastitis)
How to Prevent Painful Breastfeeding Problems
When your baby is latched on properly, your nipple should be in the back of his or her mouth. If your baby is latched onto your nipple, however, he or she will be sucking directly on your nipple, causing pain. If this happens, put your finger inside of your baby’s cheek and gently break the latch. Try again by aiming your nipple toward the top of his or her mouth to encourage your little one to take your nipple and the surrounding areola in their mouth.
If your baby continues to nurse without a proper latch, your nipples may soon become so sore and tender that they crack and bleed. Apply warm washcloths or tea bags after nursing, allow your nipples to air dry and apply a hospital-grade lanolin cream. If the pain is too intense, consider pumping to keep up your milk supply while your nipples heal and you seek breastfeeding help from a nurse or lactation consultant. Most insurance companies will provide a breast pump at no cost to you.
Blocked Milk Ducts
If one (or more) of the milk ducts in your breast aren’t completely emptied, they may become blocked. This blocked duct will result in a small, tender lump. Try massaging the area, nursing more frequently on that side and applying warm compresses to free the block and relieve the pain.
Mastitis is a breast infection that most often develops during the first six weeks of nursing. Mastitis occurs when germs enter a crack in your nipple or through one of your milk ducts. These germs then multiply and cause a painful infection. If you have a fever or chills with a red, hard lump in your breast, it’s important to contact your doctor immediately. Your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic that is safe to take while nursing. Mild pain relievers and warm compresses can also be used to help with the pain.
Don’t let the fear of pain discourage you from nursing. With the right care and preparation, you will soon learn what feelings are normal and will be able to prevent painful problems before they occur. Whether you’re looking for assistance from a lactation specialist or for breast pumping accessories that can help to provide relief from sore and sensitive nipples, Ameda offers a wealth of resources for new moms who may be experiencing painful breastfeeding in our Breastfeeding Educational Library.