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Breastfeeding pain relief: Expert advice for moms

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Help for sore nipples

Breastfeeding is one of nature’s wonders, however many moms get frustrated by breastfeeding pain from sore nipples. Breastfeed supplies your infant with food, irreplaceable immunities, comfort and warmth. While it is a natural process, it doesn’t always come naturally and sometimes moms experience a few bumps along the road to nursing success. Sore nipples are one of those bumps and can be a minor irritation -- but they can also threaten to derail your efforts to nurse. Read on to find out the most common causes of nipple soreness, how to prevent it and how to treat it.

breastfeeding mom and baby

Newborn phase

When your baby enters the world, she is prepared to start breastfeeding right away. However, your nipples are more than likely not used to the vigorous suckling that a healthy, full-term infant is capable of. Babies are born with very strong mouth muscles -- necessary for establishing a good milk supply and nursing for 12 months and beyond. Don't be surprised if you experience nipple soreness in the first week. This soreness can be mildly irritating to downright painful.

What to do: As long as you have a good latch (see below), you can expect this soreness to gradually get less noticeable over the first two week or two until nursing is as secondhand as walking across the room.

Prevention tips: There isn't really any way to predict or prevent general nipple soreness in the early days. Nurse often, though, to toughen up your nipples and get that milk supply built!

Improper latch

Latch refers to how the baby takes the nipple in his mouth. The preferred textbook latch would show the baby's lips splayed open, taking in as much of the areola as possible. An improper latch can cause your nipple to rub against your baby's mouth structures, such as the roof of his mouth or his gums. Also, latch issues can crop up if baby's mouth doesn't open wide enough and just the nipple itself is being suckled on.

An improper latch can lead to general soreness but it can also lead to dry, chafed, red, cracking and even bleeding nipples.

What do do: If you are having a latch-on problem, there are a few things you can try.

? Correct the latch: One time-honored practice is to gently stroke your baby's cheek with your nipple and wait until she opens her mouth wide (an inborn reflex).

? Guide him: As he approaches your nipple, put a little pressure to his bottom lip to pop it out a bit.

? Close his mouth: Although it sounds like the opposite of what you'd want to do, closing his mouth right before he latches on might prompt him to open wide.

Prevention tips: Ensure a good latch from the beginning using the same tips as outlined above. Sometimes a baby will regress a little, so pay attention to his latch every time you nurse.


Thrush is another term for a fungal infection that lives in your breasts and your baby's mouth -- and can be passed back and forth betwixt you both. It is a normally occurring fungus but certain conditions can cause a yeast overgrowth and can be bothersome or extremely painful for both of you. Thrush can be caused by antibiotic use in the mother as well as wet, moist environments. In the mother it can cause a burning, stinging pain. Thrush can be evident in a baby by noticing cream-colored patches in her mouth. It can also manifest itself as a particular type of diaper rash.

What to do: Thrush is a condition that generally requires medical attention. Your caregiver can prescribe an anti-fungal medication. It's important to treat both mother and baby at the same time. There are other remedies that you might try:

? Decrease the amount of sugar-containing foods you eat. Yeast loves sugar!

? Keep your hands washed as much as possible.

? Try soaking your nipples in a solution of one cup water with 1 tablespoon of vinegar mixed in. This should be followed by air drying and an anti-fungal cream.

Prevention tips: If you have to go on antibiotics it would be a good idea to also take probiotics as well. This can help maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your body. Also, if you use nursing pads, change them often, and if your bra or clothes become wet, change into dry ones.

When baby bites during breastfeeding

Babies can start biting well before their first teeth erupt. While it isn't as painful as a bite with teeth, it can still be quite surprising and uncomfortable. Biting is a way that babies try to deal with the pain of teething -- the counter pressure of the biting can relieve their pain. When her first pearly whites do break through, however, it can lead to a whole new world of pain if she actually breaks the skin with her teeth. Fortunately this isn't common -- but what do you do if it happens?

What to do: As tempting as it can be to stop nursing from the injured side, don't. While you will make plenty of milk to feed your baby from one breast, abruptly stopping on one side can cause engorgement and can lead to blockage or even mastitis (an infection of the milk ducts).

? Offer the uninjured breast first: Babies generally suck harder and faster when they are hungry, so offer your uninjured breast first to satiate her hunger.

? Try pumping: A breastpump can be more gentle than your baby. Even pumping an once or two can help relieve engorgement and cut down your risks of an infection. If pumping is too painful, try expressing your milk manually.

? Try a different position: If you normally nurse in the cradle hold, try the football hold or the side-lying position. This may keep pressure off the injury, allowing it more time to heal (and making it more bearable for you).

Prevention tips: Many times babies will bite near the end of a feeding, so stay alert to signs that your baby may be getting bored or distracted (slowing down, moving around). If you do get bitten, try to not yelp in pain -- this can amuse your baby who may try to repeat the performance!

General nipple-healing tips:

? Consult a licensed lactation consultant. She can help you ensure a proper latch and help troubleshoot your breastfeeding issues with you.

? Use a lanolin-based cream or lotion on your nipples.

? Go braless and shirtless if possible. The less irritation (and the more air) you have on your nipples, the quicker you will heal.

? Express a small amount of breastmilk after feeding, rub on your nipples and areola and allow to air dry. Breastmilk is loaded with antibodies that will speed healing in a number of areas, including your own nipples!

With these tips in mind you should be able to maintain a strong, healthy nursing relationship with your baby.

Video: Tips for breastfeeding in public


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