It happens to the breast of us
Sore breasts caused by a sudden increase in milk flow and/or barriers to breastfeeding are absolutely normal and dreadfully unavoidable. There are, however, ways to ease the pain and assist mom in enjoying the art of breastfeeding.
Whether pain and discomfort is from engorgement, cracking and drying, or mechanical issues (i.e. improper latching), mom does not have to suffer in silence. Breastfeeding is an amazing achievement and experience, and should not be discontinued or dreaded because of soreness!
Awful, unbearable pain is not exactly normal. Yes, it does happen, and there are reasons for it, but pain should not last more than 24-36 hours. Consult a physician, doula, or lactation consultant in the case of extreme pain, fever, or excessive cracking or bleeding, as there is a possibility of an infection or underlying issue.
Soreness due to engorgement
When milk is being produced in abundance without a release, breasts can become hard, swollen, and tender. Here are a few ways to help make it easier to tolerate:
- Use a hot pack on the top of the breasts shortly before feeding.
Use cold packs on the top of the breasts shortly after feeding.
- One AWESOME trick (image seen above) is to fill 2 diapers with water and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, remove from the freezer and break up the ice a bit. The diapers turn into wonderful ice packs that fit the breasts well; they cup the breast better than the average ice pack.
- Wear a sturdy, supportive bra that is not too snug. Avoid underwire.
- A warm shower. Letting warm water run on the breasts works wonders.
- Gently massage the tops of the breasts - from right above the nipple up towards the chest, and from the side of nipple towards the armpit.
- Pump. This is not ideal during the first few weeks of breastfeeding as the baby is going through such tremendous growth spurts that it may confuse the body's natural response to produce (more) milk. However, if needed, pump a little from both breasts prior to breastfeeding, or pump one breast while the baby feeds from the other. Doing the second is less likely to trigger the body to produce more milk than necessary, and will help to ensure even flow. Pump on a low setting (if doing so electronically) and only for a few minutes, unless pumping one side while feeding with the other.
Soreness due to cracking, drying, and/or mechanical issues
Having cracked and dried nipples can make breastfeeding extremely painful. Allowing them to heal is vital for the success of breastfeeding. Below are a few suggestions for how to soothe sore nipples due to cracking, drying, and more:
- Allow the nipples to "breathe". Let the nipples relax and air out for about ten minutes after feeding, and after applying any sort of moisturizer, as moisture can increase the likelihood of cracking and other issues. Additonally, sticking to fabrics may be an issue if nipples are moist.
- Use cold/ice packs between feedings for comfort.
- Make sure that the baby is properly latching onto the nipple. Consult a lactation specialist or your doctor if questioning the latch.
- Use colostrum/breast milk. Rub a bit onto and around the nipple after feeding.
- Rub a bit of coconut oil (cold pressed and organic) onto the nipple after each feeding.
- Feed evenly. Start with the least sore breast. Try not to feed for more than 20-25 minutes on one side at one time (when baby is young). Switch as needed. [Note: Do not take the baby off of one breast to switch after only a few minutes. This can cause gas, as the first bits that come out of the breast are less caloric and higher in sugar content, and that can build up in the baby's system.]
- Change positions. Think of the nipple as a clock. Have the baby's mouth stretch across 12 & 6, and then across 3 & 9. This can be done by alternating between a cradle and a football position (or other positions).
- Relax. Do not tense up when the baby is latching on. Try to breathe, and focus on dropping your shoulder blades towards your rear.
- Use breast pads when not feeding. Make sure that pads are changed often and remain dry (do not allow the pad to become soaked with milk). Organic cotton washable pads work well, and are less harsh as far as friction.
- Soothies are gel pads made by Lansinoh that last for a few days and are disposable, Soothies help soothe the nipples with a cooling effect and protect against friction. They are reusable (usually for a few days) and absorbent. This brand also makes a hot/cold pack for breasts.
- Speak with a lactation consultant about trying a nipple shield. Consult them with any questions and for a proper fitting. Nipple shields are also helpful for moms with inverted or small nipples, for a baby with a shallow latch, and for hurt or sore nipples. They are not, however, meant to be used long term, and can end up being a barrier to breastfeeding later on if not used appropriately. Wean baby from the nipple shield once the breasts have healed.
- Natural cream, such as Nipple Butter from Earth Mama Angel Baby, Organic Nipple Balm from the Honest Company, or Nipple Cream from Mababa. These products have ingredients to help not only soothe but heal the area, and can be purchased from the local health food store, or online.
- Olive Oil. Dab just a bit on the nipple. There's no need to remove prior to nursing, but you certainly can if you would prefer to.
- Clean, cold, organic cabbage leaves. They, like the diaper ice packs, cup the breast.
If all else fails, consult your doctor to see if medication may ease the discomfort and help with swelling.
Do not suffer in silence
If symptoms persist for more than a few days (after beginning treatment), a clogged duct or infection is suspected, or there is a noticeable amount of blood excreting from the nipple, contact your physician, doula, or lactation consultant.
Lactation consultants and doulas are well-educated and very resourceful. Contact one at a local hospital, try La Leche League, or ask around. There are many forums and websites devoted to helping make mom and baby's lives easier, breast feeding included. Speak with someone about any questions or concerns, and meet in person to review positions, latching, and more, as this will help significantly improve the quality of feedings.
Make sure to stay hydrated, of course, when breast feeding. Adding natural anti-inflammatory and pain relieving ingredients - such as garlic, turmeric, and ginger - to the diet may help as well.
Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing, and so beneficial for both mom and baby! This is just a tiny pebble in the road to bonding, nutrition, and pure blissful love. Do not suffer in silence, mama!