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  • Writer's pictureShona

Painful breastfeeding? What could it be?

Updated: Feb 22, 2023

When you experience painful breastfeeding it can really affect how you feel about feeding, and even make you want to quit. I hear you! I wrote this blog post to try to make sure that you don’t just “put up with” pain when breastfeeding, or try to “push through” the pain, but rather that you seek out some skilled support and assistance to solve the pain.

First of all, breastfeeding should NOT be painful. Anyone who looks at your latch and tells you that “it looks right”, even though you’re experiencing pain, is not providing the service you should expect.

Secondly, if we ask Dr Google about breast/nipple pain, the answer we often get is “It’s thrush”. The online articles talk about “stabbing” or “needle-like” or “shooting” pain or a “burning” sensation as signs of thrush. BUT…when we look carefully at the evidence, these sensations in our breasts can actually be caused by any number of things. The nerve pathways in our breasts run from our nipple and breast towards our spinal cord, so it’s no wonder that we feel any pain as “stabbing” into our breasts. Please don't rely on Dr Google!

Thirdly, pain when breastfeeding is a sign that something is not quite right. Every mum deserves a full and proper assessment when there is breast/nipple pain, looking at all the individual symptoms and all of the possible causes, so that the correct course of treatment can be chosen.

So, what COULD be causing your pain when breastfeeding?

• Is it the latch? The most common cause of sore/cracked nipples is poor latching (attachment). Simply put, the baby is not latching on to the breast in the most comfortable or effective position. This could be due to positioning or because of something anatomical like a tongue tie.

• Is it an infection? It could be either fungal/thrush (like Candida albicans), or bacterial (maybe some sort of Staphylococcus bacteria), or it could be multiple bugs.

• Is it dermatitis or a skin irritation? I have seen this with some mums who use hydrogel breast pads and some types of disposable breast pads. It can also happen due to using a different shower gel, skin moisturiser or nipple cream.

• Could it be muscular (due to posture)? Neck and shoulder pain when breastfeeding can be caused by poor posture or mum being in an uncomfortable position while breastfeeding.

• Is it something else?

The first thing to do if you have pain when feeding your baby is to seek help from someone with the skills and experience to help you with breastfeeding, like an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) like me. Together we can thoroughly and properly assess the whole situation. You will then receive an individual treatment and management plan, to get you back on track.

It’s important that we look at ALL the options for painful breastfeeding. Contact me to book your appointment, so together we can find your happy feed! Shona x

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