Experienced moms have a way of making everything seem so easy. Like breastfeeding. Ever see a mother discreetly attach a crying baby to her breast, instantly calming him, while telling the waiter she’d like the Caesar salad with the dressing on the side? When you’re pregnant, these moms might give you hope that you, too, will find nursing a piece of cake. Of course when you are the one with a crying, hungry baby and you can’t figure out how to insert Object A into Object B without it feeling extremely uncomfortable, it can be very discouraging. But fret not. Here are 5 ways to prevent pain during breastfeeding—follow these tips and before long, you’ll be one of those enviably easygoing “experienced moms” yourself!
- It’s all in the latch. If your baby isn’t taking the entire areola into her or his mouth, you very likely will feel serious pain. And if you don’t feel it immediately, you will feel it after repeatedly nursing in this manner, when your nipples become sore and blistered. Promise yourself you won’t leave the hospital without getting a stamp of approval from the nurse or lactation consultant on duty that your baby is latching on correctly. Master the latch, and you’re halfway there!
- Never nurse “naked.” No, I don’t mean you should be wearing a sweater vest when you breastfeed. What I mean is that you should slather a natural, safe nipple protectant on your nipples every time you nurse. A good choice is Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter, which is a vegan, lanolin-free cream made from organic calendula and shea butter.
- Get into proper position. The stance you nurse in is very important. You don’t want to put your baby in a posture that will force her to pull on your delicate skin to feed. Whether it’s the “football hold,” the “cradle position” or the “side-lying” pose, make sure you’ve got your moves down pat before you leave the hospital…and if you’re not comfortable in the position you’ve been using, get help from the pediatrician’s office, your doula or a lactation consultant.
- Keep the milk flowing freely. Among the more serious causes of pain during breastfeeding are clogged milk ducts and engorgement, which can happen if you skip feedings. With engorgement, your breasts become much larger and very painful due to unexpressed milk. A clogged duct feels like a thick, painful lump in one or both breasts. Both of these conditions make nursing very painful, and can be prevented by nursing frequently from both breasts and/or pumping if you are going to be away from your baby or have missed a feeding for a different reason. If untreated, these conditions can lead to mastitis, a serious breast infection. (Handy tip if you end up with a clogged duct: fill a diaper with hot water and use as a compress on the duct while nursing. You can also massage the “lump” as you nurse to help clear things up.)
- Prevent thrush. Thrush is a yeast infection affecting both the nipples and the baby’s mouth—meaning mother and baby pass it back and forth to each other by the nature of the nursing relationship. This condition is extremely painful for both parties. If you’re on antibiotics and/or have cracked or damaged nipples to begin with (perhaps due to bad latch), you’re more likely to develop thrush. It might not truly be possible to prevent thrush, but here are some ways to decrease the likelihood that it will affect you:
- Wash your bras and other clothing, baby clothing and cloth diapers in hot water and dry on high-heat
- Take an acidophilus supplement or probiotic
- Reduce your intake of yeast and sugar (skip the bread basket!)
- Sterilize all breast part pumps, pacifiers and baby bottles after each use
- Air-dry your breasts after each feeding
If you and your baby end up with thrush, call the doctor immediately. He or she may recommend antifungal cream or the supplement gentian violet.
Don’t let those confident moms casually nursing while eating salads intimidate you. Even if you get off to a rocky start, there’s no reason why you can’t join their ranks in the near-to-distant future! And as hard as it can be in the beginning to find your nursing groove, one day, you’ll look down at the sweet baby curled against your chest, and feel happy and proud that you stuck it out.