If you’re planning to breastfeed for the first time, this may be the million dollar question! No, really, isn’t there a lot of confusion about this issue? Some credible sources will tell you that breastfeeding, if done properly, won’t hurt at all. I think they should qualify that with: eventually. I’m a committed nursing mom and I come in contact with so many nursing moms as owner of a maternity/nursing boutique. My experience has shown that at least half of new moms experience some pain with nursing a newborn, from “ouch” to “I’m going to die!” Even after seeing a lactation consultant, excruciating pain can continue for days and discomfort for 6-8 weeks. I’m not telling you this to scare you, or to discourage you. Breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby: financially, emotionally, medically, and practically (convenience food anyone?). However, I had a LOT of pain with my first baby, and I really, really wished that I had read a book that cautioned me to expect it! I think it would have been much easier to deal with the pain and frustration of those initial six weeks if I had been aware that so many other women who are breastfeeding properly also experience initial pain. So why do some of us suffer and others breeze through? Here are some thoughts that might help you.
Nipples are small and/or don’t protrude: Women with larger nipples or “protruding” nipples tend to have an easier time breastfeeding. I suppose it’s easier for baby to latch on properly this way. If you’re nipples are flat (they don’t stick out unless you’re cold or arroused) or inverted, do take steps to prepare for breastfeeding. Use breast shells designed to make your nipples protrude around the house and/or while you’re sleeping. The change may be permanent, but it’s not unattractive.
Baby has a small mouth: A proper latch involves the baby getting a large amount of the aerola (the darker skin around your nipple) into his or her mouth. If your baby’s mouth is small, this will make a proper latch more difficult, resulting in pain. Of course, if your baby is premature or small for birth age, breastfeeding means so much to her health. Don’t give up on a small mouth! Try to have patience to wait until your baby’s mouth really opens up as large as possible. Only then should you pop your “nipple sandwich” in as far and as quickly as possible. You’ll be relieved to know that just a few pounds of growth is likely to resolve this problem!
You have no help: Ideally, someone you are close to and comfortable with is an experienced breastfeeding mom and will give you tricks and tips as you and baby are learning this skill. However, if you’re the first one of your friends to breastfeed or if you don’t have a mom or sister with experience, you really are at a disadvantage when it comes to learning to nurse. It is worth it to hire a lactation consultant if you’re experiencing pain, no matter how many books you’ve read on how to get a proper latch. There’s simply no substitute for help from a human who is present! Just remember, any time and money you spend with that expert will be paid back many times if you succeed in breastfeeding, instead of bottlefeeding!
So, my advice… expect some initial pain, prepare your nipples (if necessary), and don’t skimp on a lactation expert. Even if you have to suffer through a few weeks of pain, you will come out the other side and you’ll be so glad you stuck it out!
P.S. If you’re trying to stick it out as we speak, try Soothies gel pads and nipple shields – they saved me!