The time you spend breastfeeding should be a sweet time to bond with your baby and a time to get to know her better. You should be sniffing her hair and lovingly gazing into each other’s eyes. It should be something you look forward to.
Breastfeeding definitely shouldn’t hurt! Unfortunately, that’s the reality for a lot of new moms. For one reason or another, breastfeeding hurts so much that it’s something they dread, and they spend every moment of breastfeeding sitting there with their jaw clenched in pain, counting down the seconds until it’s finally over.
There are a lot of different reasons that breastfeeding can hurt. It’s important to find out why it hurts so much for you to breastfeed. Then you can work towards finding a way to make it stop hurting. Thankfully, there are a lot of solutions and home remedies to get breastfeeding pain relief.
Is it normal for breastfeeding to hurt?
It is common for breastfeeding to hurt, but that’s not the same thing as normal. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt, and if it does, you need to work towards figuring out why. You’re going to spend a lot of time breastfeeding, and you shouldn’t spend all of those hours in pain. Breastfeeding should be a pleasant experience that you look forward to and enjoy. There shouldn’t be any pain involved.
Why does breastfeeding hurt so much?
There are a lot of different possible causes for breastfeeding pain. The baby might be latched on poorly, you might have a plugged duct, or even an infection in your breast. Let’s explore all of those reasons in more detail.
Breastfeeding pain from cracked nipples
Sometimes breastfeeding pain is caused by cracked nipples. If breastfeeding hurts because you have cracked nipples, it is probably due to the baby having a poor latch. This usually means that your baby doesn’t have enough of your breast in her mouth. She should be sucking on the entire areola, not just your nipple. If she has only the nipple in her mouth, the nipple is going to get pinched between her tongue and the roof of her mouth which causes pain during breastfeeding. It causes your nipples to crack and bleed, which is painful even in between breastfeeding sessions.
How to get a good latch
You can avoid nipple pain and cracked nipples by making sure the baby is latched on to your breast correctly. Here are the steps to a good latch:
Step 1: Hold the baby in a crossover hold by holding her head with the hand that is opposite the breast that you plan to nurse on. For example, if you plan to nurse on the left side, you should reach around her body and hold her head in your right hand. Hold your breast with the other hand with a “C” hold.
Step 2: Turn the baby’s whole body (not just her head) towards you. You don’t want her to have to reach or crane her neck in order to latch on to the breast.
Step 3: Encourage the baby to open her mouth by brushing down her nose and lips with your nipple. If she opens her mouth widely, shove your breast in her mouth as far back as you can. You want to get the entire areola, not just the nipple in her mouth.
Step 4: If she doesn’t open her mouth wide enough and you experience pain, break the suction by sticking your finger in her mouth and try again.
Signs of a good latch: If you have a good latch, you should be able to see the pink of the baby’s lips flanged out around your breast. You should be able to see her entire jaw moving up and down working to remove milk from the breast. You should also be able to hear her swallowing every few seconds!
Other ways to treat cracked nipples
You can try using normal saline to rinse your nipples after breastfeeding. You can make your own by mixing ½ teaspoon of salt with a cup of water. Afterwards, make sure that your nipples have a chance to air out and dry completely. Change your breast pads frequently so that your nipples aren’t irritated by moisture. You can also use an ointment such as Lansinoh lanolin to promote healing by holding in your body’s natural moisture.
If your nipples are too sore to tolerate breastfeeding, try nursing on the side that is less sore first. The baby will nurse less vigorously on the second side. You can also try using a breast shield, which is a piece of plastic that fits right over your nipple and provides protection while the baby continues to breastfeed as normal. If all else fails, you can try to pump for a while instead to give your nipples a chance to heal.
How long for cracked nipples to heal?
After you figure out why your nipples are cracked and bleeding, they should start to heal within a day or so (Sears), but it will take a few days before they are completely better. Remember, it’s important to find the cause of the cracked, sore nipples and not just treat the symptoms. A good latch is key!
Shooting or stinging pain while breastfeeding
If you have shooting or stinging pain while breastfeeding, you might have an infection called thrush. This is an infection caused by an overgrowth of normal bacteria that lives on the skin all the time. Thrush can also cause a lot of breastfeeding nipple pain.
If you and your baby have thrush, you might also see little white dots on your breast or in the baby’s mouth. If you’re having these problems, call your doctor because you and the baby will need to be treated with an antibiotic.
Breastfeeding pain with lumps
Sometimes milk can get clogged up inside a milk duct and cause a lot of pain. You can usually get rid of a clogged milk duct on your own with hot compresses, massage, and frequent breastfeeding. But if the area of the lump starts to get red and/or you get a fever, it could be mastitis. Mastitis is when a clogged milk duct gets infected, and you’ll need to visit your doctor for antibiotics. It’s totally safe to keep breastfeeding your baby even if you have an infection, and it’s actually better for you to breastfeed with mastitis even if it hurts. If you stop breastfeeding suddenly, your breasts will get even more swollen and the clog will continue to get worse.
Breastfeeding pain relief from clogged ducts and mastitis
If you notice that you are developing a clogged duct, the most important thing to do is keep breastfeeding. You want to drain the breasts as much as possible as often as possible. This will encourage the duct to become unclogged and hopefully resolve itself. If the clogged duct develops into mastitis, it will require a trip to the doctor for antibiotics. The antibiotics will take some time to work their magic, so in the meantime you can try a few things to help both a clogged duct or mastitis:
Massage: If you can tolerate it, massaging the breast in the area of the lump will help to loosen the clog and help it move out of your system.
Hot compress: Use a hot cloth or a heating pad and apply it to the affected area. This can relieve pain and promote healing.
Breastfeed or pump often: The worst thing you can do if you’re experiencing a clogged duct or mastitis is to stop breastfeeding. You want to drain your breasts completely and as often as possible to keep the clog from getting worse. Frequent breastfeeding will encourage the clog to come out and help you to heal faster.
Use different breastfeeding positions: It may help to vary the position that you use to breastfeed. It helps the baby to remove milk more completely from different parts of the breast
When to be concerned about breastfeeding when it hurts
You should always be concerned about breastfeeding pain on some level. Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. If it does, you should work towards figuring out why so that breastfeeding is an enjoyable experience for you. Try the tips listed here, but if they don’t work you should visit a lactation consultant for help.
As for when to see a doctor, cracked nipples and clogged ducts can normally be treated at home. Mastitis and thrush are the two things you need to watch out for that might require medical help. If you have a fever, feel ill, your nipples are cracked or bloody or have pus (Sears), or if you notice white dots or stabbing breast pain, you’ll want to head to the doctor for an antibiotic.
Sears, William and Martha. The Breastfeeding Book. 2018.
Melinda worked with children for years in a professional setting before becoming a full-time stay at home mom. She currently has three young children, and enjoys sharing tips and ideas about parenting and how to manage a home with excellence. She’s been featured on Heathline and Her View From Home.