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Breastfeeding Can Be a Real Pain

December 8, 2010

Two boys…

two years, six months and some odd days…

of breastfeeding…

before I experienced severe pain from nursing.

And, OUCH, it hurt.

Breastfeeding is beautiful. But it can be downright painful at times.

Thankfully it’s gone now but during my painful days (just a few days ago) I did a lot of research trying to find out what the heck was going on with my body. I tried not to think too hard about possibly weaning my little guy, but I will admit, the thought crossed my mind (several times). I’d venture to say a majority of moms (if not all) have or will experience some kind of breast pain during their nursing years.

I’m going to give you just a brief rundown of the things that may cause you pain when nursing. There are many reasons why you would feel pain while nursing, and a variety of solutions as well. You will find more information on all of these issues at; just do a search on their home page for your specific issue.

  • Baby is not latching properly. One of the most common reasons, and it usually occurs at the beginning of the nursing relationship (though it may happen at ANY time during your nursing relationship). The best ‘solution’ is to learn how to properly latch your baby before you ever begin nursing. Of course, this is ideal, but many of you may be suffering now. Start with Dr. Jack Newman’s website. Spend the $30 for his ‘Visual Guide to Breastfeeding’ video. Go to a local La Leche League meeting. Why all of these things? Because seeing other moms latch a baby on is going to help you understand how to get your own baby to latch on correctly.
  • Baby is chewing or biting you. THIS is what was causing my pain. Preston got three new teeth in three days. As soon as they started popping thru I started experiencing pain. My oldest NEVER chewed or bit my nipples so I had no idea what was going on. But Preston decided that chewing on my nipple when he was done drinking milk was comforting. Nice. Not really. Our problem was (mostly) solved by changing his position while nursing for just a few nursing sessions. He had also created a teeny-tiny sore near my nipple that was being rubbed more raw by the second. A little lanolin on the area before he nursed was a big help.
  • You may have a plugged duct or Mastitis. If you have a plugged duct you may see a ‘milk blister’ on the nipple or it may be further back in the duct where you can’t see it. You may feel a pea-sized lump in your breast. The key is to get rid of it quickly by using heat and massage on the affected area. I have had plugged ducts and have found that massaging the affected area while in the shower and while nursing has been the best remedy. A plugged duct that is not treated can quickly turn into Mastitis. Typical symptoms of Mastitis include a high fever and general achiness, among other flu-like symptoms. For more detailed information on plugged ducts and Mastitis click HERE.
  • Some women have a painful letdown. This is common in the first 12 weeks of nursing, however, it should diminish unless you have an overactive letdown or oversupply. The pain often feels like pins and needles in the nipple area. I experienced this with both of my kids but it didn’t last long and although a bit uncomfortable I wouldn’t have described it as painful.
  • It could be a yeast infection called Thrush. If you or your baby have recently been on an antibiotic then the likely cause of your pain is Thrush. BUT, Thrush can strike even if you haven’t taken an antibiotic. There are many reasons you would get Thrush. Please check out for a ton of resources on this topic.
  • Tongue-tie or other physiological reasons. A tongue tie occurs when the band of tissue that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth is too tight. I like THIS site for information on nursing a baby with a tongue-tie. Other physiological reasons would be a recessed chin or a baby with Down’s Syndrome, among others.
  • Oftentimes a woman will experience discomfort, even pain, in her breasts during ovulation and/or leading up to when her period starts. I’ve experienced this with almost every cycle. Thankfully mine is just a bit of discomfort and isn’t actually painful. Hormonal changes are what cause this discomfort so this may also happen if you are pregnant and breastfeeding.
  • And when you’ve ruled everything else out…It may be that your  nipples just need to ‘toughen up.’ Though I haven’t had this experience, I’ve read and heard OVER and OVER to use lanolin religiously when you begin your nursing relationship. Don’t wait until things get bad. Use it to prevent ‘bad.’

Well mamas, there you have it…a (fairly) quick rundown of painful breastfeeding issues. If you try the solutions offered here or on other websites but do not find relief, please see a Lactation Consultant. If you’re not sure where to find one, call or email a local doula (find one at or call your local hospital’s maternity ward.

Breastfeeding can truly be a ‘pain’ at times but it’s ALL WORTH IT! You have the peace of mind that you are giving your baby what is best for them – and I’m not just talking about nutrition. You are also feeding their emotional needs when you choose to breastfeed your baby.

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