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When breastfeeding hurts: 7 possible causes and solutions, mama

From raw nipples to a bacterial infection, here are some reasons why you may be experiencing pain during breastfeeding and tips to help reduce pain.

why does breastfeeding hurt

Breastfeeding can be a beautiful way to bond with your baby, but every mama may experience it differently—and often, the experience can involve some physical discomfort.

So let's address the commonly heard breastfeeding mantra, "Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt. If it hurts, something's wrong." This is true—to an extent. But our concern with that phrase is that it discounts the widely shared experience of many brand-new mamas: Those first days of breastfeeding are not always awesome. We hear you, mama, and we want to ease your worries a little.

From raw nipples to a bacterial infection, here are some reasons why you may be experiencing pain during breastfeeding and tips to help reduce pain.


Raw or chapped nipples

Especially for new mamas, a very sensitive part of your body (hello, nipples) is suddenly being tugged, rubbed and sucked for hours every day. It is bound to be at least a bit raw and uncomfortable. It cannot be overstated that if you are worried, seek support. But if all checks out, and all you need is a period of adjustment, here are some tips to make breastfeeding more comfortable.

  • If you suspect that your nipples are just adjusting and need a little TLC, try expressing and rubbing a bit of breast milk into them, as breast milk has healing properties (I know, right?). Scientists have discovered that many of the key properties of breastmilk (growth factor, stem cells and probiotic bacteria) can have medicinal uses beyond feeding the baby. Healing your nipple might be one of them!
  • Expose your breasts to air. Try for a few 20-minute sessions per day (though more definitely won't hurt).
  • Use a baby-safe nipple ointment between feedings.

Latch issues

Painful latch issues can stem from several areas, so seeking the aid of a lactation consultant early is usually the best thing to do, when possible. If it hurts when your baby latches, if your baby seems stressed at the breast, if your nipples are cracked or bleeding, or if your baby can't seem to maintain a latch, something might be up—and a lactation consultant can help you discover what the issue is.

It could be anything from needing to tweak your positioning a bit, to a structural issue with your breast (for example, flat or inverted nipples), to a structural issue with your baby's mouth (like a tongue or lip tie).

If you're experiencing pain during breastfeeding, try out these breastfeeding positions:

  • Laid back: You lie back or recline at a 45-degree angle, the baby lies on you belly-to-belly, bobs their head until they find your nipple, latches and eats.
  • Cradle: The baby lies in your arm across your abdomen. Their head is supported by your arm that's on the same side as the breast they are nursing from.
  • Cross-cradle: The baby lies in your arm, across your abdomen. You support their body with the opposite arm from the breast they are nursing on.
  • Football: The baby is at your side with their head toward your front and their legs pointing toward your back. They nurse on the side they are being held on.
  • Side-lying: You lie on your side with the baby also lying on their side, facing you. They nurse from the breast that's on the side you're lying on.

For more ideas, check out Your best latch: 10 things to know to breastfeed without pain.

Lip and tongue ties

Another possible cause of pain during breastfeeding: Sometimes a baby's mouth structure can make it difficult for them to get a proper latch, resulting from a too-tight frenulum (the membrane that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth or the one that connects the upper lip to the upper gum). These are called tongue ties and lip ties, and they can cause discomfort or pain while breastfeeding when the baby can't latch properly. You may notice these visually, or you may find out your baby has a tie because they are having issues latching. It is actually quite common and rather easy to fix.

An otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) can do an in-office procedure to release the tie, either using a laser or a scissor snip. (This is sometimes done in the hospital before discharge if you have a hospital birth.) Tongue and lip ties are not always a problem. However, If you do need to get it fixed, don't worry. The process is usually well-tolerated and works wonders on fixing a latch problem. Most insurance plans will cover this procedure, but you may need to get a referral.

Oversupply

While it may seem like producing too much breast milk is a good thing, women who experience it know it can be very difficult to deal with. Symptoms of oversupply often include:

  • breasts that are always full or engorged
  • a baby who is unhappy at the breast—fussy, gagging or spitting up frequently

Symptoms of oversupply can also be connected to other breastfeeding issues, such as a baby with a lip or tongue tie. Therefore, if you suspect that you have an oversupply, your best bet is to consult with a provider or lactation consultant to get an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Plugged or clogged duct

Sometimes milk can get obstructed in one of the ducts (the highways that transport the milk from the lobes to the nipple). When this happens, it is usually on one side and can cause a painful, hard, warm and red lump. Here are some tips for unclogging a duct:

  • Try taking a warm shower or applying a warm compress and massaging it.
  • Nurse your baby—a lot. It may take some acrobatics, but we have seen success when women position the baby so that their chin is pointing toward the clog, since that is where they are most efficient at removing milk.
  • Try "the dangle." Place the baby flat on their back on the floor and then position yourself on all fours over them, dangling the breast with the clog for them to nurse from.
  • If these tricks don't work, call a lactation consultant or your provider.

Thrush (candida or yeast infection)

Thrush is a common condition that can cause breastfeeding to hurt, and it can develop in your breasts, in the baby's mouth, or both. Babies naturally get a white tongue when they breastfeed. If you can scrape the white off with your fingernail, it's likely milk, but if you can't, it could be thrush. The baby may also develop a bumpy diaper rash. You might know that you have thrush if your nipples burn, or when the baby latches, you get a sharp, shooting pain in your breast.

Thrush is usually treated with an antifungal medication for you (often a cream for your nipples) and the baby (often a gel that is applied in their mouth). Make sure you and your baby are tested and treated for thrush because it is easily spread. It thrives in warm, moist areas (like your baby's mouth).

Mastitis

If bacteria enter the breast where there is unmoving milk, an infection called mastitis can occur—and mama, it hurts. In addition to the symptoms of a clogged duct, you will usually feel sick, much like you have the flu, with chills, body aches and a fever. These symptoms warrant an immediate call to your provider (yes, even at 2:00 a.m.). They can sometimes even diagnose you over the phone.

Mastitis is treated using oral antibiotics, and it is almost always safe to continue breastfeeding (your provider will guide you here). It's actually the best thing to do, as it will help prevent the condition from worsening.

Here are some mastitis prevention tips:

  • Fully drain the milk from your breasts while breastfeeding.
  • Allow your baby to completely empty one breast before switching to the other breast during feeding.
  • Change the position you use to breastfeed from one feeding to the next.
  • Make sure your baby latches on properly during feedings.
  • If you smoke, ask your doctor about smoking cessation.

Breastfeeding pain can be tough to deal with, but so often, there is a solution. Whenever you are worried, reach out to a provider right away.

Here are some of our favorite items that can make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable:

Multi-purpose balm

best nipple balm

This healing wonder is a mama must-have. A nourishing and fragrance-free blend of just five organic oils—nothing more, nothing less— it works in harmony to address an array of skin issues.

$20

Virtual lactation consultant visit

virtual lactation consultant

This 20-minute video chat consultation will connect you with a Tot Squad lactation expert to support your breastfeeding, lactation, and infant feeding goals.

$50

Breastfeeding pillow

breastfeeding pillow

The unique L-shape design of this breastfeeding support pillow is made to hug all shapes and stages of recovery, with C-section moms in mind.

$25

Double electric breast pump

double breast pump

Sleek on the outside and high-powered on the inside, the Luna pumps more milk in less time and is easy to use, with a quiet motor that won't wake the baby. The massage and expression modes provide full control and maximum comfort.

$260

Nursing sports bra

nursing sports bra

This thoughtfully-designed nursing sports bra offers wide and supportive straps, moisture-wicking fabric, double-layer support and a nursing flap clasp that you can work with one hand.

$69

A portion of this article is excerpted from The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama.

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

1. Go apple picking.

Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

4. Have a touch-football game.

Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

Minimize smoke exposure.

Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

Do your best to filter the air.

According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

"Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

"COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

Most importantly, don't panic.

In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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100 unusual + surprising baby name ideas

From Adelia to Ziggy.

Our list of 100 baby names that should be on everyone's list this year includes more choices than in the past of names that are obscure and surprising. That's because there are so many more unusual baby names coming into widespread use and baby namers have become a lot more adventurous.

Expectant parents do not need to be told to move beyond Jennifer and Jason. Their thinking about names has evolved to the point that the most useful thing we can do is offer a large menu of intriguing choices.

Here are our picks for the 100 best surprising + unusual baby names now.


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