When I was 18 years old, I started to have breastfeeding dreams.
I dreamt about nursing puppies and kittens and human babies. Anything that needed nourishment and love, I was nursing them and snuggling them in my dreams. (I know, totally crazy and kind of TMI!).
So after working with thousands of mothers as a registered nurse and lactation consultant, I thought breastfeeding my own child would be second nature— I knew the positioning, the anatomy of breasts and baby’s mouths, the holds, and all the latch techniques.
I had comfort with handling a newborn from the moment it came out of the womb.
But when I became a mama, and my daughter Demi latched for the first time, I knew right away that we had a problem—suddenly I was the new mama who was having nipple pain. How could this be happening to me
Breastfeeding to me was everything: comfort, love, closeness, snuggles, the warmest bond in the world, so I knew I had to find out what was going on and I had to take away this pain.
Adjusting to breastfeeding your new baby can be a challenge, but it’s important to know that it shouldn’t hurt—if it does, something needs to be corrected. Here are some tips to help make breastfeeding pain-free and your breastfeeding journey everything you want it to be—
1. Get the position right
The easiest and most comfortable position for a new baby and mama is cross cradle (check out our article on positioning 101 to learn other position options). Make sure you have back, arms, and baby support by sitting on something firm but comfy, and using a breastfeeding pillow (The Brest Friend is my favorite). The baby should always have his/her entire body in one line facing in toward your chest, with their arms hugging your breast (one arm below and one above). Have the babes tush tight in your elbow crease and hold the baby’s shoulder/neck/base of the head to help guide them to the nipple. Place your other hand in a “U” shape under your breast, and prepare to latch.
2. Get the latch right
Tease your babe’s mouth with your nipple to get them to open their mouth as wide as they can. When they open wide, keep your nipple right by their nose, and snuggle your baby in to you—this will help the baby tilt their head back slightly, and the nipple will move deep into their mouth. The mouth should be wide open and their lips flared out. The baby’s chin should be pressed against the breast and just the very tip of the nose should be touching the breast. You should see their jaw moving back and forth, (not up and down), and their little ears wiggling. You should hear swallowing (the sound of swallow is a soft “kuh” sound). They will take breaks in suckling but will stay latched and they will not swallow with every suck. When the nipple comes out of the baby's mouth, it should look the same as when it went in; rounded and with no compression.
3. Break the suction
If the latch doesn’t feel quite right, before removing your baby from your breast, first try to make adjustments. If the adjustments do not fix the discomfort, break their suction by placing your finger in the corner of their mouth and sliding your finger into their mouth like a fish hook. Then, try again.
4. Take care of your nipples
After each feed, express enough of your breastmilk to cover the nipple, and let the breasts air dry for 5 minutes. Think about how much AMAZING-NESS is in your breastmilk protecting your baby, it only makes sense that breastmilk would be the best to help protect and heal your nipples! Afterwards, place a pea sized amount of nipple cream to cover the nipple; Lanolin, Earth Mama Angel Baby, or Motherlove are some popular choices. You can use cool gel pads for soothing, but you must wash the nipple after use before latching your LO.
5. Get help
Knowing and finding resources even before your baby arrives will really put you ahead. Seek out IBCLC’s in your area, La Leche League meetings near by, take a breastfeeding class, read a breastfeeding book with current and clinically supported information, and find some mama groups to join. As one of my favorite breastfeeding books, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding explains; once your LO has arrived, find and keep someone close who understands breastfeeding, knows your goals, who’s approach you respect and appreciate, someone who can support you emotionally, and help you find correct information. If the support you need requires a professional, your IBCLC is your person: get your home visit asap if you are in pain.
6. Get through engorgement the RIGHT way
When your milk comes in somewhere between day 2 and day 5 of your baby’s life, your breasts become filled with milk and they can become super uncomfortable. This is a normal process that should only last 24-48 hours max. Make sure you’re feeding on demand, ensure that you are hearing swallowing, and that he/she is gaining weight appropriately. DO NOT PUMP — this will increase your supply and make engorgement worse. 5-10 minutes before your babe is ready to nurse, get some heat on your breasts (from a shower or warm pack) to help get the milk flowing. You can even keep the heat on while you nurse. After the baby has fed and you feel some relief, put some cold packs on the breast that was fed off of for about 10 minutes. The cold feels cooling and slows down the flow. You do not need to nurse on both breasts. Have the baby stick to emptying side 1 before offering side 2. Your breasts will adjust to exactly what your baby needs, I promise.
7. Avoid use of pacifiers and bottles before 2 weeks (unless medically necessary).
To get breastfeeding off to the very best start from the first feeds, you should try not to introduce any other shapes or flows to the baby besides your breasts until at least 2 weeks postpartum. No plastic nipple is your nipple, no flow is your breasts flow, and all baby bottle nipples are much easier to get the milk out than your breasts.
8. Avoid getting thrush/candidiasis and mastitis
Keep your nipples clean and dry, and breastfeed on demand. If you experience any pain (shooting, sharp, burning, aching), redness that is hot to the touch, fever, feel like you have the flu, or if your baby has white in their mouth that doesn’t come off when scraped, call your provider right away.
9. Tongue ties, lip ties, and gape issues
When a baby has a tongue or lip tie or a gape issue, their tongue and jaw are not able to open and move correctly, causing shallow and incorrect latches, chomping on the nipple, and a ton of pain for mamas. A lactation consultant can help you diagnose this, and an Ear Nose Throat Doctor can perform a simple procedure that can really help/fix the issue.
10. Keep your baby close, feed on demand, do lots of skin to skin
It is always better and easier to get a deep latch with a happy baby rather than a SUPER hungry kid who is screaming and thrashing at your breast. Respond to your little one’s cues and catch the early signs of them waking (first sign is movement of the eyeballs under the eyelids). Do tons of skin to skin so you and your baby will feel more relaxed and comfortable which will lead to a better latch.
My own journey to making breastfeeding pain free was longer than I had hoped, but in the end it taught me so much more about how to help mamas. I have successfully and exclusively breastfeed my daughter for 21 months, and we are still going strong. My greatest piece of advice to achieve pain free nursing is to GET THE HELP YOU NEED EARLY by advocating for yourself, and always trust yourself and your body. Good luck mamas, you’ve got this!