Ouch. Those first few days of breast feeding. Whether it’s a poor latch, sensitive nipples, or breast engorgement, nursing your newborn can bring tremendous and unexpected pain. The discomfort felt in those first two weeks is the most common reason that women give up early on breast feeding.
I was almost one of those moms. I nearly quit before my baby was a week old. From hours after birth, I experienced excruciating nipple pain and as soon as we got home came the breast engorgement pain.
I remember grimacing in tears every time she would latch. I was anxious for each feeding, but just grit my teeth through the pain, hoping that the next time it would be easier.
Friends and professionals would say it shouldn’t hurt if they’re latching properly and it may just hurt for the first 30 seconds. However, the lactation consultants say the latch looked perfect and there were no other signs that anything was wrong.
How I Experienced Relief
It was frustrating to not have an answer for why I was experiencing such an immense amount of pain during the entire feeding session. I just hoped each day would get better, and even though it seemed to be never ending, it eventually eased up.
I had some relief after about day 6, but then it came back. The second week was almost just as bad, but continued to get better. It still hurt, but much less.
I seem to have tried every trick in the book, but the one thing that worked the best was time. I was determined to make it through because I wanted to breastfeed my child. I kept telling myself not to quit so I could experience the joy of this beautiful part of motherhood.
Here are some of my favorite products and techniques for sore nipples and engorgement that I couldn’t have made it through my breastfeeding journey without. While I can’t say that any of these things fully healed me, they did provide relief from the discomfort for the time being.
A lot of these items I added in my Postpartum Recovery Survival Kit. You should be prepared with these items before you give birth because the pain will come on suddenly.
If you’re in your third trimester or have just given birth, also check out my posts on How to Best Prepare for Breastfeeding Your Newborn and The First Necessary Steps for Successful Breastfeeding
For cracked, chapped, or sore nipples:
These were the ultimate life saver for me. They were the only reason I was able to keep going through the pain. I recommend these to everyone! They are silicone jelly-like pads that you can place in between your breast and bra. You can put them in the refrigerator to make them cold and they cool/numb your nipple in between feedings. So while nothing really helps soothe the nipples while the baby is feeding, they make the time in between much more bearable.
Put this lanolin cream on after you finish a feeding and make sure you wipe it off your nipple before you feed your baby the next time. It’s safe to ingest, but I just felt more comfortable removing as much of it as possible before the baby would start suckling. You can put this in the refrigerator for a cooling feeling, as well.
Originally, I tried to use more natural and organic products for myself and baby so I also bought Earth Mama’s Organic Nipple Butter. I could really tell the difference between the two and did not think the nipple butter provided much relief. However, other people swear by it, so you could give it a try. In my opinion, Lansinoh Lanolin cream is the way to go.
Air them out
When possible, just walk around topless so you can expose your nipples to air. Any fabric rubbing against them can cause a lot of irritation. This helps decrease any friction on them.
For those times when you can’t just let your breasts hang out, like when you have visitors, use these Medela SoftShells. These helped me so much! You just place them between your breast and bra and they should stay in place between feedings. They help prevent anything from rubbing against your nipples that would cause more irritation. There’s also little air holes that let air pass through, helping to heal them.
If you’re going to wear a bra and aren’t using the soft shells, make sure you’re wearing a comfortable nursing bra with soft fabric and optimal support. This French Terry Racerback Nursing & Sleep Bra is the BEST everyday and sleep bra. At night time, it keeps me in without causing my breasts to spill out and it’s so light that it barely feels like I’m wearing a bra. The Kindred Bravely line is exceptional quality.
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Fix their latch
It’s common to blame it on the baby’s latch and often times, that is the problem. Make sure your baby is opening up REALLY wide when he latches on and is grasping most of your areola in his mouth and not just the tip of your nipple.
You may have to keep repositioning him several times to get it right. Don’t be afraid to unlatch him once he starts eating and make him latch again. Some babies really need to be taught how to latch on properly. They could be latching incorrectly due to a tongue or lip tie, but a medical professional would have to be the one to address that. Here is a great video to watch on how to get baby to latch properly.
In my case, my sore, cracked nipples weren’t because of any health concern so time was my biggest help. After about 2-3 weeks I noticed a big difference in the pain during nursing. I just got through it day by day, being hopeful that it would get better soon. I used these products for relief and My nipples became callused enough to not be as sensitive and from there on out, I barely felt when my baby was even sucking.
Consult a professional
There are several different medical reasons why you could be having nipple pain that would only be addressed by a health professional. Make sure you get it checked out by a physician or lactation consultant to rule out any serious issues. Here is a great resource that shows you the many causes of nipple pain while nursing so you know whether it’s a good idea to call a doctor.
Most insurances cover a meeting with a lactation consultant so you should use that to your advantage and set up a call or appointment. They will be able to advise you best if there’s a medical concern for the pain.
I have personally not used a nipple shield, but many women swear by it. It provides a buffer between your nipple and the baby’s mouth so when they suck, they are not damaging your nipple. They learn a different way to get the milk out, almost like they are drinking from a bottle nipple. The only negative I see with them is that the baby may never get used to latching on your actual nipple again.
For Breast Engorgement:
Two to three days after delivery, your milk will come in. This means that once your baby is finished eating the colostrum, your breasts begin to produce the real milk.
At this point, your body doesn’t know how much milk it needs to produce to keep your baby healthy. Therefore, it produces a quantity triple what you may actually need.
This tends to lead to breast enlargement which can be very uncomfortable for some. Your breasts fill up with milk and end up feeling like rocks and painful to the touch.
Here are some ways to relieve this pain:
This was the BEST relief for breast engorgement during those first few days of milk coming in. No joke, I must have taken 5 or 6 showers a day because that’s the only place that I didn’t feel the throbbing pain. I would manually express a little bit of milk in the shower, but not too much that my body would continue to produce that much milk.
You’ll start to feel lumpy areas in your breasts when milk comes in and your breasts start to engorge. They’re just overfilled pockets of milk and you can work those out with gentle massage while your baby is feeding and during manual expression. It will probably cause more milk to squirt out so be prepared for that. The safest place to do it would be in the shower.
These breast therapy packs can rest on your breasts while you’re feeling the milk pressure. Cold therapy helps relieve engorgement while hot therapy assists with mastitis and plugged ducts. You can also use it with a breast pump to cut down pumping time and encourage flow.
To relieve pressure and pain form engorgement when your milk comes in, you may want to manually express a little milk out to give yourself some relief. Just gently massage and squeeze your breast and your milk should shoot right out.
The best place to do this is in the shower so you don’t make a mess, unless you want to save it in a storage bag or bottle. Be careful not to squeeze out too much because the more milk that comes out, the more your body will think it has to produce this much and you will continue to suffer the pain of engorgement.
This is a last resort because you don’t want your body to think it needs to keep producing this much milk. However, if you need quick relief, just pump until you’re not uncomfortable anymore, not until your breast is empty.
This isn’t to help relieve pain necessarily, but when your breasts are engorged you will leak A LOT of milk. You don’t want it ruining your bras and clothes so make sure you’re using well constructed nursing pads. Kindred Bravely nursing pads are super soft (helpful for sore nipples) and extra absorbent.
I was really nervous that the same thing would happen the second time around, but it didn’t at all. I guess my nipples were already used to it!
Don’t get disheartened by the pain you have to endure during those first couple weeks. It does get easier and it will all work out the way it is intended to in the end. As long as your baby is fed, he will be as healthy as can be!
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