For those of you fellow mothers who are breastfeeding and pumping, you are all too familiar with the subject of pain. Today we will discuss the various types of pain associated with breastfeeding and pumping, when it occurs, and options for relief.
Breastfeeding is a learning experience for both mother and child. It takes time to find a rhythm that works for both you and your little one. Most mothers are determined to make this work, especially after knowing all the breastfeeding benefits for mom and baby.
When learning to do anything new, there will be ups and downs and the same logic holds true for breastfeeding. The proverbial ‘downs’ associated with breastfeeding typically involve pain. Breastfeeding related pain can come from engorgement, latching of your baby to your nipple, blocked (or clogged) milk ducts, mastitis, sore or cracked nipples, and the occasional bite from your little one.
Breastfeeding Pain #1: Latch
Early in my breastfeeding adventure, I had no clue there was a right or wrong way to breastfeed. Here I am with a squirmy, hungry little bundle of joy and I’m trying to satisfy her needs. Breastfeeding looks so easy in the movies, right?
There were many days and nights I dreaded feedings because my nipples hurt tremendously. Unbeknownst to me, I improperly latched my daughter to the nipple rather than the areola. After correcting my technique, I noticed an immediate difference and the pain subsided.
Breastfeeding Pain #2: Lump
With me being the super busy, yet ultra organized mom of modern times, I sought to develop a feeding routine to help keep my sanity. Unfortunately, life rarely plays by our rules. There would be times where I would be out without my little one in tow and would miss feeding on schedule.
These moments, if done too frequently, lead to painfully clogged milk ducts. In one or both breasts, a tender lump would form and breastfeeding would be very painful. Most times, I would alleviate the pain by nursing or pumping the affected breast first while holding a warm compress on the lump. Gently massaging the area helped with the pain as well. The lump usually disappeared within a day or two, especially if I made sure not to miss any feedings.
Be advised that sometimes the milk output decreased in the breast with the blocked ducts so it is wise to always have a backup plan just in case your little one is not getting full. Also, be sure to empty the breasts during each breastfeeding session as a preventative measure.
Breastfeeding Pain #3: Sore or Cracked Nipple
Another source of breastfeeding pain can come from your nipples. Breastfeeding can cause dryness to the sensitive skin of the nipple. If not properly cared for, cracking and bleeding can be a result. Let’s be honest, breastfeeding painful nipples is not fun at all.
Most medical professionals will recommend applying a moisturizing salve to the skin before and after every feeding. There are a number of nipple creams and ointments available on the market that are safe for mother and baby, but I simply used organic coconut oil.
Breastfeeding Pain #4: Infection
A more extreme case of breastfeeding pain in breast can result from a condition called mastitis. Defined as breast inflammation usually caused by infection, mastitis mostly occurs when bacteria enter the breast through a cracked or sore nipple.1
Similar to the previous sources of pain that I discussed, if you go too long between feedings, not emptying the breast fully, or improper latch can contribute to contracting mastitis. It is almost like a snowball effect where you keep making small mistakes that lead to a larger, painful one. To distinguish mastitis from the less serious clogged milk ducts, check for these symptoms:
- A painful area in the breast that may be red and/or warm to the touch
- Flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, and body aches)
- Swollen, painful lymph nodes in the armpit closest to the infected breast
The onset of any of these afflictions should warrant a call to your physician just to be on the safe side. Luckily, mastitis has a simple cure of an antibiotic prescription. It is fine to breastfeed while you are on the antibiotics, even though you may not feel like doing so because of the pain.
It is a good idea to try and start on the affected breast, but if it is too painful to breastfeed there, hand expressing or pumping are also good options. Just remember to completely empty the breast so you do not worsen the condition.
How to relieve breastfeeding pain?
There are a many ways of stopping breastfeeding pain, some of which I have previously touched on. The methods that provide breastfeeding pain relief depend on what is causing the pain in the first place.
Nipple Pain Relief
To remedy sore or cracked nipples, I found it helpful to gently massage the skin with a nipple cream or coconut oil before and after nursing. Also, knowing proper latch techniques definitely helped.
Clogged Milk Duct Relief
To resolve my clogged milk duct problem, I used a multi-faceted approach. I would apply a warm compress to the affected breast and massage gently to help loosen the clog and get the milk flowing. Next, I started out nursing from the affected breast, ensuring that I emptied the breast as much as possible.
Also, I made sure I did not allow the breasts to get too engorged by waiting too long between feedings.
Mastitis Pain Relief
While I have not personally dealt with mastitis, I did speak to my lactation consultant about it. It is recommended that if you are diagnosed with mastitis to not wait too long to get it treated. Delayed treatment can lead to an abscess (a pocket of pus that forms at the site of infected tissue) which can be harder to treat.
It is super important to be sure to complete your prescribed dosage of antibiotics, if your doctor feels you should take them. Do not just stop because you feel better. Also, warm compresses and gentle breast massage therapy work well in this case, too. Just be sure to keep everything clean and well sanitized, which should be the case anyhow because you are a mom.
Cabbage as Pain Relief
Cabbage leaves have been used as a form of pain relief for more than a century. Studies showed that by putting cold cabbage leaves onto the skin surface of your breasts, it helps to sooth the pain and swelling that resulted from breast engorgement. However, this method can also cause reduced milk supply if used over a long period of time. So, only apply when necessary.
Pain Reliever Medications
Painkillers and breastfeeding should be a topic that is discussed with your physician. There are options on the market that are safe enough for your baby and you during breastfeeding, and there are options that are not. So, it is best that you ask your doctor what is the best course of action to take with painkillers.
Professional Help with Pain Relief
If you are having problems continuous breastfeeding pain from any of these conditions, I recommend you consider getting help from a lactation consultant. They can provide you with a wealth of knowledge on breastfeeding and how you can do it more effectively with less pain.1
Healthwise Staff. (2014). Mastitis While Breastfeeding. Retrieved from www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/tc/mastitis-while-breastfeeding