I’m sure that most of you have heard the phrase “Breast Is Best”. Especially if you are a parent. As the mother to three daughters, all of whom were breastfed, I happen to agree with that phrase. Unfortunately breastfeeding isn’t as easy as most people think it is. There are many things that can cause pain when you are a breastfeeding mom and I went through all of the ones listed in this article at one point or another during my breastfeeding years. Here are a few of the common reasons that many breastfeeding moms may have breast pain and some commonly known ways to alleviate those pains.
Engorgement is a very common problem for breastfeeding mothers. It does not matter if you have had one child or five, engorgement can still occur. Engorgement can be very painful for many women. It usually occurs when your milk first “comes in”, turning from colostrum to real milk. It can also occur when your breasts are not getting emptied during nursing sessions with your baby. Engorgement can occur when your baby starts sleeping through the night and skips nursing sessions and even when you decide to wean your little one. Engorgement can cause swollen, tender breasts that feel very heavy and uncomfortable. Some people discribe engorgement as feeling like having a rock in yoru breasts. If engorgement isn’t relieved soon it can lead to clogged milk ducts and even a breast infection called mastitis. Engorgement can sometimes become so severe that your little one may not be able to latch on properly in order to breastfeed.
There are many ways that you can relieve the breast pain of engorgement. The easiest way to relieve engorgement is to simply feed your infant as often as possible. If you are too engorged for proper latching on then you can express some milk by hand or with a breast pump. Express just enough for your baby to get a proper latch. Another method often used it to take a warm shower just before breastfeeding. The warm shower will cause enough milk to flow so that the engorgement is lessened and your baby can properly latch on. It is suggested that a lactating mother should go no longer than 3 hours between nursing sessions in order to prevent engorgement. If your baby is starting to sleep through the night this could mean waking yourself up in order to empty your breasts by either manually expressing or pumping. I know it sounds crazy to wake yourself on purpose when your baby is sleeping through the night, but if you have a consistant problem with engorgement this could be just the thing you need to prevent it.
Other ways to relieve engorgement are massage, during a feeding to increase the amount of milk coming out, cool ice packs, to relieve the heat and pain, and many women even swear by cabbage leaves. You are suppose to take a nice, cool cabbage leaf and just place on the engorged breasts and somehow it’s suppose to relieve the pain and swelling. Many women who use cabbage leaves will keep a storage bag of ready leaves in their fridge so that they can just grab one and go. You can simply place it inside the bra to hold it steady on the breast.
Dry and cracked nipples are another common pain associated with breastfeeding. I had a severely cracked nipple when my second daughter was only one week old. I had never had that with my first daughter so it took me a little while to figure out what was going on. This breastfeeding pain has several causes. It can be from an improper latch, thrush in your baby’s mouth, using a breast pump wrong and very dry skin (which can be caused by soaps, lotions, perfumes). For me it was very dry skin that caused the cracked nipples.
To rid yourself of this awful breast pain, you should check your baby’s latch to make sure that everything is going well with that. Don’t use any soaps, lotions or perfumes in your nipples as they can dry out the sensitive skin. You can rub a little breastmilk onto your nipples and allow them to air dry because the milk can actually heal cracked nipples. Allow your nipples to air dry as much as you possibly can. Lastly, the very best thing for cracked nipples in my opinion is lanolin. You can buy a tube of medical-grade lanolin by the name of Lansinoh. It comes in a tube and you apply it to your cracked nipples and it quickly begins to heal your cracked nipples. It’s safe and very soothing and doesn’t even require you to wash it off before breastfeeding your baby. For me the Lansinoh was a life-saver.
Clogged, or plugged, milk ducts are another breastfeeding pain that many nursing moms deal with. The breast is filled with milk ducts that carry the milk through the breast and out the nipple and when one of these milk ducts get clogged it can be a very painful experience. A clogged milk duct can be caused by a tight bra, the breast not being emptied when your baby nurses and even engorgement from missed nursing sessions. The breastfeeding mother may notice a small tender lump in her breast. It can also be red and possibly a little swollen.
A clogged milk duct should be taken care of as soon as you notice it or else you could be risking a serious breast infection called mastitis. There are many ways to rid your breast of the clog. You should nurse as often as you and your baby possibly can. While nursing you should change positions often so that all of the milk ducts in your breast have a chance to empty. Massaging the affected area during nursing will help the clog work it’s way out of the milk ducts. You have to massage pretty hard but it’s well worth it in the end. Applying warm, moist heat to the area will also help. You can do this by wetting a simple washcloth with hot water and laying it on the breast. You can also soak in a warm bath or take a hot shower. My favorite way to quickly get rid of a clogged duct was to do all of the above at one time. I would nurse my daughter with a warm, wet washcloth on my breast while doing massage to work the clog out. I would always have the clog cleared out in a matter of 2-3 nursing sessions. Also don’t worry about your baby ingesting the milk clog. It will not harm your baby at all.
Thrush is another common breastfeeding pain that many nursing mothers have to deal with. Thrush is caused by Candida, a yeast-like fungus that grows in dark, damp places and is found in the birth canal of most women. It can be passed to the baby at birth and then passed to your breasts during nursing. Thrush is not a serious infection but it can be very painful. Signs of having thrush are small red or white patches on the breast, red or purple nipples and sharp, shooting pain in the breast. A lot of times pain is the only sign of infection. Some breastfeeding moms that are infected with thrush will also have a vaginal yeast infection at the same time. The baby may also show signs of having a diaper rash when the two of you are suffering from thrush.
To rid yourself of thrush you will have to go through an extensive cleansing period. You will need to treat both mother and baby, even if only one is showing signs of thrush. If you don’t treat both mother and child then the thrush can continue to be transferred back and forth between mother and baby. Your doctor will prescribe the mother a cream that she would apply to both breasts after each feeding. The pediatrician will prescribe a liquid medication that you would apply to the baby’s mouth and a cream medication to apply to the baby’s diaper area. Some mothers also swear by a product called genetian violet. It’s a purple liquid that you would use to “paint” the inside of the baby’s mouth and apply to the nursing mother’s nipples and areola of both breasts. The genetian violet will stain anything and everything that it comes in contact with, so be carefully with it. I was going to try genetian violet when I suffered from thrush with my third daughter. Unfortunately, my second daughter, who was three years old at the time, thought it would be great to “paint” herself and my bathroom cabinets purple with it. To this day I still have purple spots in my bathroom. Luckily it quickly faded from her skin.
With thrush you will want to boil any and all rubber nipples and pacifiers that your baby uses. Boil them all every day for 20 minutes. You will want to replace all of them with new ones after the first and second weeks of treatment. Air drying the breasts and your baby’s bottom as much as possible will also help with the healing process. You will need to frequently change breastpads and diapers. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after all diaper changes and nursing sessions. Boil all of your breast pump parts daily for 20 minutes. Also wash your bras in hot, soap water everyday, making sure to rinse well. If the thrush persists for more than two weeks be sure to let your doctor know. He/She can prescribe you a different medication that may work more effectively on your type of yeast.