What do you do when breastfeeding hurts, even with a good latch? Learn how to overcome this common breastfeeding challenge with these tips.
I knew I had a good latch—I’d followed all the best practices and made sure I was doing everything right. Nurses and lactation consultants at the hospital even confirmed that my baby’s latch was fine.
This only made me wonder then why breastfeeding was still hurting. It was so intense that I had to motivate myself to keep going every day. I dreaded each latch, bracing myself for the pain I’d feel. I shot dagger eyes at my husband and mom when they suggested I feed the baby.
It didn’t help that I was sore with blisters and bleeding cuts. I hadn’t anticipated having any breastfeeding problems, but there I was, in pain even with a good latch.
What do you do when you follow all the right steps, and breastfeeding still hurts?
When breastfeeding hurts, even with a good latch
For many of us, the initial sore nipples and discomfort of breastfeeding are normal. Sometimes we go into breastfeeding with no knowledge that it could hurt, leaving us shocked and confused (or was that just me?).
Our breasts also need to “toughen up,” especially for first-time moms who’ve never breastfed. This may be why, after a while, the nipple pain and tenderness go away over the next several weeks. Plugging through can be the best option, especially if the initial pain happens only for a few seconds before mellowing out.
But other times, the symptoms don’t go away.
Maybe you’ve been struggling since the beginning, even having seen a lactation consultant with no luck. The experience has led you to only breastfeed two or three times a day, using the bottle the rest of the time.
It doesn’t help when the sharp pain gets worse with each session—you can’t breastfeed through it the way others seem to. And unfortunately, pumping isn’t enough to keep up with your baby’s demands.
What do you do then?
1. Rule out bacterial growth
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While most breastfeeding pain goes away on its own, some happen because of bacterial growth, like thrush.
Thrush is a yeast infection that can happen on your breast, in the baby’s mouth, or both. Because it’s bacteria-based, you’ll likely need antibiotics to make it go away, so a call to the doctor would be wise to do.
At first, I brushed the pain aside, thinking I could push on through. But when I found myself curled on my bed crying because of the pain, I knew this was different. A quick call to the doctor confirmed that I had thrush, which finally went away once I followed her steps.
Even if it’s not thrush, your doctor can guide you through the next best steps for you and your baby. She can recommend a lactation consultant or advise you about expectations. Hearing from her can set your mind at ease and address your specific breastfeeding pain.
Tip: One quick way to prevent bacterial growth is to change your breastfeeding pads often. Once they’re damp, swap them out with a clean, dry pair so that bacteria have less chance to flourish.
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2. Allow your breasts to heal
It doesn’t matter how well your baby latches—if your nipples have cracks or cuts or are bleeding or bruised, breastfeeding can hurt. That’s why it’s important to give them as many opportunities to heal as possible. For instance:
- Spend 15 minutes after feedings without a nursing bra. Maybe you can use the time you burp to air out your breasts and prevent them from chafing on your shirt.
- Apply lanolin cream or breast milk on your nipples before and after feedings. This can help heal existing cuts and blisters while preventing new ones from forming. Popular brands include Lansinoh, Earth Mama, and Mother’s Love.
- Wear breast shells. These became a lifesaver when wearing nursing pads was even too painful. Breast shells add a space between your breasts and clothes, giving them more chances to heal.
- Apply warm compresses to treat engorgement. Ten minutes before nursing can help ease the discomfort.
3. Pump while your breasts heal
Pumping can be a lifesaver if you find yourself with cuts and complications. You might use it to clear a clogged milk duct or as you heal from mastitis. When I had thrush, I relied on pumping to keep my milk supply up while also providing the twins with breast milk.
That said, a breast pump isn’t as efficient as a baby, so you run the risk of a reduced milk supply. To prevent a decline, try pumping after every feeding, or do so more often instead of only when your baby normally nurses. (If she nurses every three hours, you could pump every two.)
4. Double-check your latch
It’s always a good idea to make sure your baby is latching correctly, even if it feels like he is. Don’t let him keep nursing with a bad latch, as this enables bad habits to keep going. Instead, unlatch and try again. After all, a shallow latch or baby clamping down can cause pain.
A few tips that helped me:
- Flatten your breast as if you’re feeding your baby a hamburger. This squeeze allows him to take in more of the breast. Your baby’s lips should surround the areola, not just the nipples.
- Hold your breast (not the areola!) with your thumb on top and the other fingers underneath. This can help you better grasp the breast as you put as much of it in his mouth.
- Point the nipple toward his nose, not his mouth. That way, he can tip his head back and reach higher.
- Change your nursing position. A new position can be all it takes to encourage him to nurse differently. If you’ve been nursing with a cross-cradle hold, you might switch to the football hold.
I spent the first several weeks with my eldest ready to quit breastfeeding every day. I was so over it that, to stay motivated, I’d log onto the computer each night to read the benefits of breastfeeding. Just one more day, I’d push myself. If it’s really bad, then I’ll quit.
And after that day was done, I’d aim for another, until it got easier that I’d aim for two. Eventually, my goals extended to a week, then to a month, and finally, I’d forgotten that breastfeeding had hurt at all.
Breastfeeding can still hurt, especially in the initial days, and for first-time moms. But now you have a few tips to prevent and handle the pain.
Rule out and prevent bacterial growth (and seek your doctor’s help should you have complications). Allow your breasts to heal as much as possible, and pump to give them a break. And for good measure, double-check your latch to see how you can improve it.
Breastfeeding can hurt, coming as a shocking surprise to many moms. But with the right approach, you can push on through and breastfeed—all without the pain.
Get more tips:
- When Does Breastfeeding Get Easier? Top Tips to Ease the Pain
- 5 Tips to Stop the Pain After Breastfeeding
- Breastfeeding Secrets Every Mom Should Know
- 9 Tips on Staying Motivated to Breastfeed
- When Does Breastfeeding Finally Stop Hurting?
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