Breastfeeding pain is generally under the category of ‘Why didn’t anyone ever tell be about this before I had a baby?!’ Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a brand new mom, chances are you’ll experience breastfeeding pain at some point. Now don’t get scared off! The goal of this article is to arm you with information so that you’re prepared when/if any of the following issues occur.
According to the Surgeon General, many women stop breastfeeding when faced with the problems discussed here, and many also choose not to breastfeed future children fearing they’ll come up against the same issue again. It doesn’t have to be this way. Stopping breastfeeding too soon can have negative consequences on the health of both mother and baby. With the right information, you’ll know how to quickly find treatment and relief so that you can get back to sweet and happy breastfeeding bonding time with your little one.
Fortunately most problems that cause breastfeeding pain are relatively simple to treat and resolve quickly.
What it is: Engorgement is when the whole breast is swollen due to milk building up in the milk ducts. It happens for a lot of reasons, including when a woman just starts breastfeeding until her body gets used to her baby’s feeding habits, as well as when a woman or baby choose to stop breastfeeding and milk is not expressed as often as usual. It can even happen if feedings get thrown off by an hour or two, especially when your baby starts (gloriously) sleeping through the night and therefore skips the nighttime feed. Another time women commonly experience engorgement is when they head back to work and start pumping more often.
What to do: Engorged breasts can become very large and very tender. If not treated properly, engorgement can lead to the problems listed below, including clogged ducts and mastitis - prevention is key here. If you’ve never experienced the unique pain of giant breasts feeling like they might explode with breastmilk, trust us on this! The solution most commonly recommended by doctors and lactation consultants is a moist heat compress before nursing and then a cold compress after nursing. A cold compress also helps relieve pain in between nursing sessions.
What it is: Simply a milk duct that gets clogged, causing milk to back-up into the duct. Unlike mastitis, this is not an infection and the dominant symptom is pain in the affected duct. BUT (and this is a big one), if left untreated, a clogged duct can become infected and turn into mastitis.
What to do: Keep breastfeeding! Start on the infected side first to ensure you’re getting as much milk out of the infected side as possible. If your baby won’t nurse, use a pump. Try to get your baby to nurse in different positions so that you’re truly draining the ducts from every angle possible. In addition to breastfeeding, apply moist heat just before breastfeeding to help relieve pain and discomfort from the clogged duct and to help milk flow more easily. Apply moist heat in between feedings to encourage healing of the duct and to relieve any pain. Regular application of moist heat will help prevent a clog from forming in the first place.
What it is: Also known as a ‘milk blister,’ a milk bleb is a blocked nipple pore. Unlike a clogged duct, a bleb is on the surface and is visible. They are usually quite painful, and show up as a clear, white or yellow dot on the nipple or areola. Similar to clogged ducts, if not properly treated, a bleb can lead to mastitis.
What to do: Blebs can last a long time if not treated, sometimes even weeks. Applying moist heat to the bleb(s) will soften the skin blocking the milk duct and encourage it to open. Even after the bleb clears, it’s important to continue moist heat treatments for at least a week to ensure the duct stays open.
What it is: As natural as breastfeeding is, babies and mamas often need to learn how to do it right. An improper latch is simply a baby who isn’t quite getting the hang of how to most efficiently get the milk out. Babies who do this might clamp down too hard, thus crushing the milk ducts and preventing optimal milk flow, or they might just suck from the nipple, preventing the ducts from moving milk forward. No matter what the problem is, an improper latch hurts like hell. It might not hurt the first few times, but it’ll hurt eventually.
What to do: A lactation consultant is your best friend when it comes to improper latch. Call one in ASAP. Your lactation consultant will take a look at how your baby is nursing and will troubleshoot with you, showing you exactly what you need to do to encourage a proper latch. If you’re not sure where to find a lactation consultant, just ask your baby’s pediatrician and if they don’t have one on staff, they will point you in the right direction. And of course, moist heat and cooling therapy help here too! Applying moist heat before nursing will improve let-down, allowing the milk to come down faster, which in turn will help your baby latch more effectively when she’s not desperately waiting for the milk to start. Cooling compresses help after feedings if you’re still sore and until any latching issues are resolved.
What it is: Mastitis is an inflammation and infection of breast tissue that can lead to redness, swelling and warmth in the infected part of the breast. This can happen to women who aren’t breastfeeding, but it’s most common in nursing moms. Many women report a sudden onset of symptoms, including fever, chills, breast pain and fatigue. It usually occurs in the first 12 weeks of breastfeeding, but it can happen at any time.
What to do: If you suspect you have mastitis, the very first thing you should do is call your doctor to see if you require antibiotics. Mastitis can be very serious if not treated promptly. Whatever course of treatment your doctor prescribes, it’ll likely accompany advice to apply moist heat to the affected area for relief and to help reduce and improve symptoms. For women prone to mastitis, regular moist heat application is the best way to prevent it from returning.
What’s a breastfeeding mom to do?!
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This isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list of conditions that can cause breastfeeding pain, and is by no means meant to stand in place of advice from your doctor or board certified lactation consultant. Your local La Leche League can also be very helpful. If you’re having a problem or concern, it’s always best to consult your doctor.