Facebook mom groups are full of breastfeeding questions from desperate new mothers, who are asking things like :

“how long will my nipples feel like fire?”….
“when will breastfeeding feel better?”….
“is breastfeeding supposed to hurt so much?”…

What follows is usually an onslaught of answers from well-meaning moms who remember their own struggle. Their suggestions can sometimes be confusing, because they can be all be so different. Each answer comes from a real wish to help, but what they share is what worked for them in THEIR situation, including:

“just slather on the nipple ointment, that stuff is magic!” …
“FIND A LACTATION CONSULTANT ASAP! ¬†You don’t want to wait or things will get worse!”…
“it will get better if you just keep at it for a few weeks, your nipples have to toughen up”…This is where I feel like I have to say something….

As a Lactation Consultant who primarily does home visits for new families, I usually meet them on their worst day. Maybe they’ve had a day or two of ‘pretty good’ breastfeeding, and things are really starting to hurt, or maybe it’s hurt from the first time they tried to latch that baby on.

I know a thing or two about nipple pain.

When the Facebook talk goes to the place where new moms are told that ‘nipple pain is just something you need to push through’ and ‘you have to wait until your nipples toughen up’, I feel like I have to say something.

Here’s the deal about nipple pain…
..although it’s VERY COMMON that breastfeeding hurts in the first week or two as you’re learning what to do, it’s really not SUPPOSED to hurt.

Since most new moms are not experts in breastfeeding (and may never even have seen someone breastfeed before!) they are learning this new skill, and don’t know exactly what they’re doing yet. ALMOST ALL new mothers will have a bad latch at some point in the middle of the night, because we’re too tired to care or to even notice. Once there’s a bit of damage to the nipple, then it can definitely be painful to latch for a day or two after that, even when you are getting a nice DEEP latch every time. This makes it seem like breastfeeding is actually supposed to hurt.

Most moms lean forward and lean down to give the breast to the baby, but this makes it easier for baby to slide away, and can end up with a bad and painful latch because baby’s mouth is compressing your nipple. Getting a DEEP latch where there is enough breast tissue in the baby’s mouth (it’s breastfeeding, not nipple feeding!) can usually make the whole situation feel better. You need to wait until you see a BIG open mouth before you let baby on to the breast.

Also, when the latch isn’t great, baby usually won’t get as much milk or colostrum. Don’t be a martyr, get help!

After there’s some damage to the nipple. even with a good latch it may hurt just for the first 10 seconds, but it should start to feel better and then be ok for the rest of the feed. This means that it’s a good latch, and that your nipple should start to heal.

There are some instances, like hidden Tongue Tie (which are often missed, even by Pediatricians, Midwives, Lactation Consultants and Nurses!) that can be causing you pain even when everyone says ‘it looks like a great latch’. Positioning and breast shaping techniques may help, but release may also be helpful in some cases.

No matter what you’ve heard, use your instinct. No one wants to keep having to nurse their baby over and over (it never seems to stop in those first few days/weeks!) and it’s really NO FUN if it’s also hurting you. Try a clinic, watch the videos, but if it’s still hurting, give me a call.

The sooner we can fix it, to sooner you will get to enjoy this experience!