What to do if Breastfeeding Hurts: Tips from a Lactation Consultant

The number one reason I hear from parents on why they may not want to breastfeed has almost always been: I’m afraid it will hurt. Over the decades that has been the message around nursing a baby and why so many parents never start or give up on breastfeeding. So when I hear that concern I really like to ask this clarifying question: are you afraid it will hurt or are you afraid you won’t know what to do if it does? Most people say it’s the latter.
So if you’re afraid of starting or continuing to nurse your baby because of pain, I’m here to tell you that A) You are not alone in your fears and B) There are PLENTY of options that can help you if you are experiencing pain while breastfeeding. So here are my suggestions on what to do if breastfeeding hurts:

Understand the difference between discomfort and pain. When you are first breastfeeding there is some discomfort with nursing as your breasts are sensitive from hormones and your body is getting used to your baby’s suck. This discomfort, however, shouldn’t feel sharp, pinching, or any sensation that would make you go “ouch!” and should go away within 30 seconds of starting the nursing session.

Don’t push through the pain. If you are experiencing pain while latching your baby, do not push through it. So many times I hear from clients who have raw, bleeding, or cracked nipples because they thought that was what comes with nursing a baby. I am here to tell you that it does not! So please save your nipples and your sanity and never continue a nursing session if the pain is not going away.

Un-latch as soon as it’s painful. The most common cause of painful breastfeeding is a latch that isn’t deep enough. In order to get a deeper latch with your baby you need un-latch them and try again. To do this, hook your finger into your baby’s cheek and break the seal. Then carefully remove your breast from your baby’s mouth.

Don’t panic. If you unlatch a hungry baby, chances are they will not be happy about it. And it’s really tempting to throw in the towel. So at this moment, take a deep breath, and think: can you express a little milk on your breast for your baby to lick? Do you need to give your baby a little milk in a spoon, syringe, cup, or bottle? Focus on calming yourself and your baby.

Ready to try again? This can happen moments right after you un-latch your baby or at the next feeding session. But when you try again, be sure it’s at a time when your baby is in an awake but quiet state (for newborns this is usually right after they wake up) and start with some skin-to-skin to ease into things. If you need help with visualizing what breastfeeding should look and feel like, here is a great video to watch.

Consider calling a lactation consultant. If you are still experiencing pain at every feeding or still feel uncomfortable with nursing, reach out to a lactation consultant. Lactation Consultants are able to give you the specific guidance and feeding support that you and your baby may need to be successful.

Remember, pain during breastfeeding is common, but it is not normal. There are plenty of options that can help alleviate your pain, so try not to let a painful start discourage you from feeling like you are doing a great job as a lactating parent!

Disclaimer: Although I am a lactation consultant by profession, I am not your lactation consultant. This article is for informational and educational purposes only, does not constitute healthcare advice and does not establish any kind of client relationship with me. I am not liable or responsible for any damages resulting from or related to your use of this information. Please consult your healthcare provider before attempting to use any of this information.

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