The value and benefit of breast/chest feeding for both baby and parent are undeniable. There are countless studies out there to substantiate why breastfeeding is advantageous. But what happens when breastfeeding hurts? How do you continue?
Painful breast/chest feeding is one of the main reasons parents abandon feeding altogether and switch to artificial feeding. Let’s go over some of the ways to help with painful feeds.
See A Lactation Consultant
Of course, avoiding the pain altogether is probably the best plan. However, that is not always possible. If you are having latch pain that lasts throughout the whole feeding, your baby’s feeding should be assessed by a lactation consultant. Any kind of pain while feeding or nipple damage is one of the most important reasons why you should involve help from a certified lactation consultant.
I have seen countless families over the years. Like thousands of babies. I can honestly say positioning is one of the biggest reasons for nipple pain. If you are unsure about positioning, there are some great resources for assessing your baby’s feeding position. If you are having trouble, call a lactation consultant. I know I probably sound like I’m repeating myself here (and I am) but it is money well spent to have an expert take a look and see if positioning can be adjusted to make the latch more comfortable.
Milk Coming In / Engorgement
Sometimes families will tell me the latch felt fine the first couple of days after the baby was born but has become increasingly painful. Often this is due to milk coming in and engorgement. If the breast is full, this can make it hard for a baby to latch comfortably, causing a shallow latch and painful nipples. You can learn more about how to help ease engorgement and tips to make breastfeeding easier as your milk comes in.
What can you do if you have nipple damage? There are some efficient home remedies you can try to help heal sore nipples. Let’s face it, we love home remedies. They are typically safer for baby, easier for parents to use and you can be preventative about your care as well.
Moist Heat For Sore Nipples
Applying a warm wet washcloth directly to the nipples after feeding can help soothe and heal the skin. If possible, let your nipples air dry after to aid in the healing process. This is safe to do after every feeding.
Your own breastmilk has healing properties to it and can be used to heal chapped, cracked nipples. Gently express a few drops after the baby is done feeding and rub it into the skin. Here are a few other suggestions for chapped nipples.
Saltwater Soaks For Sore Or Damaged Nipples
Saltwater soaks are great for healing. Basically, all you have to do is mix about 1/8tsp of salt with 8 ounces of warm water. If you’re concerned it may sting, don’t be. It’s a mild solution and not enough to sting but just enough to help heal. The easiest way to soak is by mixing this in a small glass (like a shot glass) or a teacup and put your breast right in the cup. It may sound funny, but it works. If you can do this a couple of times a day, it will heal nipples quickly.
Breast/Chestfeeding On Damaged Nipples
How do you handle feedings if nipples are damaged? Obviously, the idea is to heal the nipples and not cause more damage.
Let’s say there is a breastfeeding parent with cracked nipples. The first thing to do is figure out why this is happening. Your nipples will continue to be damaged if you continue to do what is damaging them. If your finger hurts because you slammed it in the drawer, don’t slam it in the drawer again. Once we know what is causing the damage, the healing process can start.
Nipples heal fairly quickly if they are not being traumatized. All the tricks and tips won’t help if you don’t identify the problem. This is where a skilled lactation consultant comes in. Breastfeeding should not be painful or cause nipple damage. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
Should You Take A Break From Breast/ Chestfeeding?
Breastfeeding parents often ask if they can breastfeed with damaged nipples. Or if they should breastfeed with damaged nipples. You absolutely can, it is not a reason to discontinue breastfeeding. Breastfeeding with damaged nipples will not cause harm to the baby at all. However, if it is so painful, a break might be necessary.
I have had to counsel breastfeeding parents through a break in breastfeeding to give nipples a chance to heal. As I mentioned, nipples will heal quickly if they are not being damaged so taking a break from breastfeeding on the affected side will help them to heal quickly. Usually within about 24 hours (depending on the wound). During this break, healing techniques should be used, and pumping is a necessity to keep milk flow going. Make sure the pump flanges are the correct size, and you are pumping on a lower setting to prevent further damage.
One of the best ways to prevent painful or damaged nipples is to be aware of what is normal and what is not. Nipple damage should not be happening. It is not a rite of passage into the world of breastfeeding. Initial latch pain should only happen in the first minute or so of the feeding, and then you should not feel pain. You may feel the pull of the baby sucking (which may feel strange), but it should not be painful throughout the feeding.
If you are feeling pain that continues through the feeding, have cracking, bruising or other trauma to the nipple, it will probably not get better on its own. This is the time to call in a lactation consultant to see what is happening with the feeding. Often it is a simple positioning fix that will allow you to continue breastfeeding without interruption. Sometimes it is more difficult (think tongue tie), and more interventions are needed. A lactation consultant is worth their weight in gold when it comes to nipple pain and latch problems. It’s worth it to have them involved to help you through this journey.