There are a lot of positive stories about breastfeeding. The vision of a smiling woman latching her sweet babe at the breast is the model picture and the hope of many new and even second time mothers.
But why shouldn’t breastfeeding be painful? Isn’t that the normal expectation when there’s a human mouth chomping at your nipples or when your boobs are almost bursting with milk?
The candid answer is: yes, breastfeeding can be a painful experience, even if that overall experience is good. Mums may experience cracked and bleeding nipples, swollen milk ducts, infection and discharge, backaches and more. The emotional distress brought about by poor supply or other breastfeeding issues also exacerbate the pain.
So if you’re preparing to breastfeed as a new Mum, or getting reacquainted with it the second time round, do take note that there may be pain and discomfort before, during or after nursing.
But just because you may experience pain doesn’t mean that you can’t manage it to have a great experience all-in all. Here are some ways to soothe pains or ease discomfort with a few a simple tips and tools.
For engorgement or inflammation of milk ducts
Sometimes you may feel painful lumps in your breasts, which often happens when your breasts are overly full with milk or if there’s an inflammation due to an illness.
For the former case usually, latching on your baby or pumping out the milk helps to immediately alleviate the discomfort. Sometimes it takes awhile for the stiffness to subside so monitor the duration. If your symptoms persevere beyond a day, seek medical help. But usually, mothers can DIY their own pain relief effectively.
Cabbage leaves have been found to be very helpful for persistent engorgement and mastitis. Simple place one or two leaves in your bra; pick the soft part of the cabbage, removing the stems. Make sure the leaves are large enough to cover your nipple area. After wearing them for awhile, they will begin to feel warm and you can remove them. Check if the inflammation has gone down; if not, apply fresh leaves and monitor your situation.
You can also try to prevent inflammation by applying a warm compress before every feed or pumping session. The warm compress helps helps with the let-down reflex and to alleviate inflammation and soften milk ducts. To make this a routine that is easy to remember, set up a breastfeeding/pumping station. This could be at your bedside table or on a small trolley that you can wheel about the house. In addition to your breastpump, bottles, clean tissues and wipes, also have a flask of hot water, cool water and a small towel to make the warm compress. Mix the water in a container until you get a comfortable temperature, soak the towel and then apply to your breasts, focusing on the areas that are inflamed or engorged.
Mastitis or bacterial infection
If you find yourself feverish and there is a spreading redness surrounding your nipples and breasts, you could have mastitis due to a blocked milk duct or an infection due to bacteria entering the breast. This could have developed due to a variety of factors from smoking or wearing a too-tight bra to poor nutrition, stress or an improper feeding technique. If you’re ill and suspect mastitis, seek a doctor’s help immediately. You will be prescribed an antibiotic and may still be able to continue feeding baby.
To prevent the possibility of mastitis, make sure that you receive proper guidance on feeding techniques and positioning from your lactation specialist so that you’ll know the right way to latch on baby. Remember to let baby drain one breast completely before switching to the other side; otherwise, empty your ducts by pumping out the rest.
Cracked or sore nipples
There can be many reasons for nipple pain but the common ones are from baby not latching properly and lack of care and attention to nipple well-being as you nurse and pump. Pump shields that are not of the right size can cause nipples to become irritated. Hegen shields are designed to fit most nipple shapes comfortably.
To prevent or treat nipple pain, make sure to check baby’s latch and your breast pumping equipment. Apply lanolin or a natural nipple cream to keep the skin around your nipples well-moisturised.
Continuing to breastfeed with sore nipples might be a challenge. In addition to doing the pain-relieving measures above, learn to adjust your feeding position to seek comfort. There are a few to try, in addition to the normal cradle hold. If baby’s latch is incorrect, gently insert a finger into their mouth to release and try again in a different position.