Babies suck. And sometimes breastfeeding hurts. We all know that “breast is best.” In fact, most new and expectant moms in the US choose to breastfeed.
But the simple fact that it is healthy and natural doesn’t mean that breastfeeding is easy—or painless! Managing nipple pain and difficulty of those early days is essential to meeting your breastfeeding goals. I’d like to start by dispelling a few well-meaning but sometimes damaging comments that I’ve heard during my career as a nurse and a lactation consultant.
#1. “If you’re doing it right it shouldn’t hurt.”
This is a classic example of blaming the victim. True, when breastfeeding is going well, it’s comfortable for both mom and baby. In fact, it can even feel good! However, there are at least 2 people in this breastfeeding relationship: Mom and baby. Just because mom is doing it right, doesn’t mean baby is. Don’t blame yourselves if breastfeeding hurts. Blame the baby, and get some help!
#2. “That latch looks good to me. Are you sure it hurts?”
Gah! Nobody can see what’s going on inside the baby’s mouth while they’re nursing. The baby’s lips might be flanged and the mouth might be wide, but if the tongue isn’t positioned correctly or if they are using their gums to stay latched, it can still hurt and exacerbate nipple pain. Speak up for yourself! If it hurts, say so!
#3. “Breastfeeding is just painful.”
The truth is, breastfeeding can be painful for the first few weeks until you and your baby both get good at it. There is definitely a learning curve here, and the faster you and your baby master this new skill set, the faster the 2 of you can get on to enjoying your nursing relationship. And getting you started and continuing right with nursing that is exactly what your nurses and lactation consultants are there for!
#4. “It’s going to hurt until your nipples toughen up.”
Nipples do not “toughen up.” They get longer. Sometimes there can be a latching pain that lasts about 10-20 seconds as babies stretch the nipple deeply into their mouths. In these cases, breastfeeding is only uncomfortable for those initial seconds, but then the rest of the nursing session feels fine. That “latching pain” doesn’t typically last for more than 2-3 weeks. Once your nipples permanently lengthen (or evert, in the case of flat and inverted nipples), the stretching sensation will become a thing of the past.