Breastfeeding isn't supposed to hurt, but that doesn't mean it can't. "Lots of moms experience some toe curling when the baby first draws a nipple back, but if it doesn't subside in 10 to 15 seconds, something's wrong," says Kelly A. Hightower, R.N., a certified lactation counselor. Here are five common causes of breastfeeding pain—and what you can do to solve the issue.
Improper Latch "When a baby has a shallow latch, meaning the entire nipple and areola isn't in her mouth, it'll hurt," Hightower says. To help ensure a proper latch, "try a breastfeeding pillow with another pillow underneath to get the baby high enough. And use a stool or a pile of books to get your knees higher than your hips," Hightower suggests. Once Baby is in place, have her tip her head back like a baby bird. When her mouth is wide, nestle her in with her chin firmly on your breast. "When you look down, you want to see just the crescent smile of the top of your areola," says Hightower. If you still feel pain during breastfeeding, use your finger to break suction and try again.
You can also try repositioning Baby: If you're nursing while cradling the baby in your arms, the tendency is to hold her head in the crook of your arm, near your elbow. Instead, move her down a few inches closer to your wrist. This should put her in a position where her lower lip can take in more of the underside of the areola, lessening the sting.
Cracked Nipples A less-than-perfect latch can bring about chapped and blistered nipples. In addition to resting your breast from nursing (pump while your nipple heals), Hightower recommends using a soothing ointment, like Lansinoh HPA Lanolin, to help heal. "You want to use a product that you don't have to wipe off and doesn't taste funny, because your baby will be tasting it,"' she says. Therapeutic hydrogel breast pads ease pain after breastfeeding as well.
Thrush Both Baby and mom can suffer from this common fungal infection. "If mom has thrush, she'll notice red patches on her breast, fire-engine-red nipples, peeling skin, and shooting pain in her breasts," Hightower says. There's a good chance your health-care provider will recommend that you apply an antifungal cream to your nipples. If sharp pain while breastfeeding persists, a stronger prescription may be in order to cure thrush. "Be sure to regularly wash your nursing bras in hot water. It'll help kill the fungus," Hightower says. (Hydrogel breast pads help in this instance as well.)
Clogged Duct With all of that milk flowing through your ducts, sometimes one can get plugged, resulting in a tender, painful lump beneath your areola. Don't stop nursing or pumping, though: Getting the milk out will provide breastfeeding pain relief. "Warm baths, warm compresses, manual hand expression, and even cold cabbage leaves can help with the clogged duct," Hightower says. (Leave the cabbage on until it wilts.)
Mastitis When breast tissue becomes inflamed and infected, it can cause breastfeeding pain, redness, and possibly fever and chills. "Missed feedings and engorgement can contribute to mastitis," Hightower says. If you've got a heavy milk flow, Hightower suggests keeping a hand pump on your bedside table to relieve the pressure throughout the night, even when the baby is not awake and ready to feed. Antibiotics are likely needed to reverse mastitis.