EXPERT Q&A

Is breastfeeding supposed to hurt?

Though breastfeeding is considered natural, it can hurt! Lactation consultant, Crystal Morgan, offers advice on what can help it be more comfortable for mom and baby.

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Question

I recently gave birth and have decided to breastfeed for a year. I expected some soreness during the first few days of breastfeeding but my baby is now a week old. Is it normal to still be experiencing pain? And what other challenges might I expect as I continue to breastfeed?

Answer

Although breastfeeding is considered natural, it is also a skill that takes time, practice, patience, and education to be successful. Nipple tenderness is common as you begin your breastfeeding journey, but extreme pain and cracked or bleeding nipples with feedings are not normal. They should be assessed by a lactation consultant as soon as possible.

Sore nipples are often related to how the baby latches to the breast. It is important to make sure the baby is taking in a mouthful of both the nipple and areola while feeding. If nipple soreness continues as the feeding progresses, it is important to break the suction and re-latch the baby. You do not want to continue the feeding if the latch is painful.

If you experience sore nipples, try the following interventions:

  • Use a C or U hold when offering your breast to facilitate a deep latch
  • Try different positions with feedings
  • Make sure the position you are using and latch is correct
  • Rub lanolin cream or expressed breast milk to sore areas
  • Start the feeding on the least sore side
  • Feed more frequently but for shorter durations
  • Use hydrogel dressings and breast shells as needed.

These interventions will be helpful as you and your baby learn the art of breastfeeding and should resolve rather quickly. However, other causes of nipple pain are not as common in the early days and could indicate a need for further assessment and treatment.

Regarding other challenges you may face as you continue to breastfeed, many women experience engorged or swollen breasts, which can be particularly painful. This is common among women after having given birth, and symptoms may include swollen, firm, or lump breasts; painful or warm breasts; flattened nipples; and a low-grade fever. Swollen lymph nodes in or near your armpits are also a sign. The CareNectar team created an activity with guidance on how to troubleshoot engorged breasts—learn more here. Also useful may be the Breastfeeding Tracker, which provides space for you to track your feedings and indicate any issues you may be experiencing.

If you experience nipple pain at any time during your breastfeeding journey, please contact a lactation consultant, who provides expertise to support you in your breastfeeding journey. Lactation consultants are health care professionals certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and specialize in helping new moms breastfeed. Find a lactation consultant near you. In addition, if you are struggling with breastfeeding, check with your pediatrician to see if they bring expertise and offer services that can assist you. The American Academy of Pediatrics shares guidance on questions to ask your pediatrician with regard to breastfeeding, available here.

We hope this is helpful, and the CareNectar team is here for you!

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Meet The Expert


Crystal Morgan

Crystal is a Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and Family Nurse Practitioner with more than 18 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in Labor and Delivery, Postpartum, and Newborn Nursery. She is passionate about all things related to women’s health and maternal child including breastfeeding education and support, and health and wellness promotion. Learn more and contact her at: toughtittylactation.com