My pediatrician kindly told me the truth about nursing: Sometimes, it just hurts.
This, after the lactation consultants and the breastfeeding advice websites repeatedly exclaiming, “You’re doing it wrong! It shouldn’t hurt! If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong!”
I needed to know that I wasn’t doing it wrong. Some pain is normal.
I was feeling what so many women have felt before me, and it does get better, for many nursing mothers after a couple weeks of breastfeeding, and for some, after a month or so.
But when it hurts, it hurts so much that you want to kick your feet right through the glass top of the coffee table in front of you. And a month seems like an impossible length of time to endure such torture. Am I right?
We asked our online community of been-there-done-that moms what their most recommended remedies for painful breastfeeding are. So aside from mastering the proper latch, here are the tips they shared.
Nipple creams, butters, or balms
Dr. Jack Newman’s cream is deeply loved by women with cracked nipples. It requires a prescription because it contains active ingredients that over the counter creams do not. But many find comfort from these topical ointments: Bamboobies nipple balm, Earth Mama Angel Baby nipple butter (despite the name, this is a down-to-earth product that many love), MotherLove Organic Salve for sore and cracked nursing nipples (our fave!), and Lansinoh (a classic).
When you get down to it, any of these specially-designed nipple soothing balms can act as lip-balm in the future.
Multi-purpose oils and ointments
Coconut oil is great for roasting sweet potatoes or rubbing on a baby’s head to fight cradle cap, but also soothes irritated nipples. Buy coconut oil and when your nipples heal, you can use it for cooking and a gajillion other things, including lube. Yep, I said it.
At least one guide to Essential Oils includes a recipe for Nursing Mom’s Best Friend ointment, which combines four different oils. I am not in the know about essential oils, but I’m betting you have at least one friend who is an enthusiast who can hook you up.
Make sure that any goop you put on your nipples is safe for ingestion by the baby. When in doubt, ask your pediatrician. Chapstick? Sure. I also used polysporin as suggested by a doctor, which has had a long life of fixing other owies.
I found that mild heat on my chest took the sting away after I nursed. Frequently wearing the baby in a snug carrier, like a Moby wrap, made me feel better, but a heating pad provided real comfort.
When Heather and I compared notes on this topic, we learned that were both coached by lactation consultants to submerge our breasts in a warm saline bath. Seriously. Warm water and salt, in a bowl, on your desk. Lean over and dip naked breast in. Feel like this is the weirdest life stage ever.
Boob-shaped comfort pads
Lansinoh makes gel pads that cover the nipples, affectionately known to their fans as “soothies”, while Avent sells ones that go around the nipples (you have to see the design to get it). Pariday Tendher Pillows are reusable gel pads with a waterproof fabric to also prevent leaking milk traveling to the front of your shirt. Bamboobies makes soothing therapy pillows that do both warm and cold comfort. Many moms suggest that the true relief is secured by attaching the pads to your breasts after storing them in the fridge.
Controversial to many in the lactation community because a shield acts as a barrier between breast and baby, these plasticy devices provide nipple pain prevention and relief to many with flat, inverted, or sensitive nipples. Ultimately, anything that helps continue breastfeeding, gets filed in my success drawer. If you want to try a nipple shield, you have our blessing. My lactation consultant advised not to use it for longer than necessary, so once the nipple heals, try nursing again the old-fashioned way.
Maybe you need a pump “vacation”?
Cracked or bleeding nipples might need some time away from baby to heal. What kind of vacation is no vacation at all? The kind where you keep up with baby’s feeding demands by pumping around the clock to keep your supply up while letting injured nipples rest from baby’s chompers. I did not find that pumping hurt that much less, but others tell me it does.
Heather told me that during her worst breastfeeding pain, it was all she could do not to chuck the baby across the room.
Did we miss your favorite tip for sore nipples? Tell us in the comments! We have been known to cut holes in a bra or t-shirt.