If you've experienced difficulties while nursing, then pull up a chair and read on! I've nursed all six of my children, and plan to nurse my newborn due in January, and through the years I've experienced just about every hurdle that a breastfeeding mother can face. But I've been fortunate to experience all the rewards, too!
One of the most common problems is pain while nursing, but you have to be a bit of a detective to get to the bottom of it because the possible causes are so numerous. Here are some general things to look for:
Are you nursing a newborn or very young baby?
If you've just begun nursing and are experiencing pain, the most common cause is your sensitive skin adjusting to the vigorous sucking of a hungry new baby. I've found that if I apply pure lanolin faithful in the last weeks of pregnancy, I have very little soreness and pretty much no cracking/bleeding in the first weeks of feeding. So don't just use lanolin as a treatment; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Also remember that even if you're doing everything right, there might still be some soreness simply because some babies have tiny mouths and just can't get much in there. As they grow, the discomfort will go away. In the meantime, to treat the “superficial” nipple pain of your first few weeks, try touching an ice cube to your nipple to numb it just before putting baby on. Take a deep breath as baby latches on, and let it out slowly as discomfort lessens and milk starts flowing.
Did the pain seem to come out of nowhere?
If you've been breastfeeding for weeks or even months without discomfort, and suddenly your breasts and/or nipples begin to hurt, suspect these three possible causes:
1. Thrush/Yeast: Yeast most commonly occurs after a round of antibiotics and it can affect both mother and baby. Mom feels the symptoms on her nipples (burning, stinging) and sometimes even deep in the breast (sharp, shooting pains). Baby might have white patches in the mouth or a stubborn red yeast diaper rash. After dealing with yeast several times, I discovered an excellent resource called the “Candida Protocol” by Dr. Jack Newman. He gives you a step-by-step approach to knock out the infection for good, and he even includes an All Purpose Nipple Ointment recipe on his website that you can have mixed up for you by the pharmacist.
2. Hormones: If you are breastfeeding a baby AND your cycles have returned or are returning, then you might experience pain just before your period or even during ovulation. This happened to me several times and I assumed it was a plugged duct until I noticed a pattern. It was occurring about every 30 days. That was a tip-off that it was cycle related, and it helped to put my mind at ease. I knew it wasn't serious and would go away within 24/48 hours.
3. Latch/positioning: As they grow older, some babies will start getting a little sloppy and fall into the habit of an improper or weak latch. Things like teething, allergies and illness (especially when there is severe congestion) can cause baby to suck differently. When breastfeeding suddenly starts hurting, always go back to the basics first, and make sure baby is on correctly.
Is the pain accompanied by flu symptoms and/or red streaking on the breast?
These are classic symptoms of mastitis, a common breast infection. A simple plugged duct will cause pain and tenderness and sometimes even a slight temperature, but if you're feeling really ill, chances are it's progressed to mastitis and will need antibiotic treatment.
Does your nipple turn white or look pale when you experience the pain?
This is a phenomenon called vasospasm. The skin blanches or turns white because of compression temporarily cutting off blood flow. Mom will experience temporary burning or throbbing. Who's the culprit? Baby! He/she is clamping down for some reason, and you'll have to get to the bottom of it. Maybe it's teething or reaction to a fast letdown. Or it could be simply due to improper suck or latch. Try to get to the bottom of the clamping down and this type of pain will go away. In the meantime, one of the best ways to treat vasospasm is with heat pads because heat gets the blood flowing again.
You might be one of the lucky mothers who is fortunate never to experience any of these difficulties. But if you do hit a roadblock, I hope you'll find these suggestions helpful and encouraging. And before I wrap this up, I would encourage every new mother who plans to breastfeed for any length of time to keep three things in her bag of tricks – a tube of lanolin, a quality breast pump (you never know when you might need it, and when you do, it can make a huge difference) and the phone number of an experienced friend, consultant or health care provider!
Anne is a cloth diapering, home schooling, hobby farming and just all-around busy mother of six, with one on the way in January. She is the creator of the Zephyr Hill Blog and works from home as a professional naming consultant through her business Discovery Naming Service.