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Breastfeeding Problems: Pain during the Early Weeks

I recently gave birth to my fourth child, and I quickly remembered just how tough breastfeeding during the early weeks can be. While I have breastfed three children over the course of the last 4.5 years, those first couple of weeks each time are an adjustment.

I’m definitely no stranger to pain during breastfeeding. If you have just started breastfeeding, you may be wondering if the pain you’re experiencing is normal. Here’s my experience of what’s normal and what requires the help of a doctor or lactation consultant.


Breastfeeding problems: pain during the early weeks--what's normal and when should you seek help?

Breastfeeding Problems: Pain during the Early Weeks – What’s Normal?

Pain during latch-on

You may experience a sharp pain when your baby latches on. The pain for me was so intense I would actually have to stomp my foot for a bit. The sharp pain would always subside for me after a few seconds.

With my first child I ended up with very sore, raw nipples that cracked and bled. Her latch was actually perfectly normal, but my nipples needed to toughen up to deal with the intense suction of her suckling. I actually ended up in so much pain that I reached out to a lactation consultant and ended up with a prescription nipple cream that helped with that pain so I could actually tolerate feeding her. After the first two weeks or so, the pain faded and eventually went away altogether.

Sore, engorged breasts

Your milk will come in sometime between days 2-4 after baby’s birth. The feeling is pretty intense. Your breasts will become hard and swollen to proportions you will have never seen before. It can be very uncomfortable. Remember to keep feeding your baby, and as your milk supply regulates, the engorgement will go away. I used cold compresses to help with the pain those first few days.

Pain during letdown

Once your milk comes in, you will notice an odd sensation when you feed your baby. This is called letdown. I experienced a “pins and needles” feeling all through my breasts. It can actually be a bit painful. It only lasts a few seconds, though, and the pain does get better. I always have an “overactive” letdown in the first few weeks, so the letdown feeling is pretty intense. Once my supply regulates, the letdown becomes less painful.

A sore lump in your breast

Sore lumps in your breasts are usually plugged ducts. I often get them from not wearing proper nursing bras or going too long between feedings. Avoid anything too tight around your breasts or any bras that have an underwire. The lump can be very sore, but actually feels much better when you massage it, especially while breastfeeding. It is best to remedy the plugged duct as quickly as possible, so it doesn’t turn into mastitis.

When to get help

If your breasts become tender, red, hot to the touch, and you have a fever, it is possible you have mastitis. Mastitis can make you feel miserable and hinder your breastfeeding experience. Contact your doctor as soon as you suspect mastitis to get help.

Sometimes baby does have a hard time latching-on correctly. If you cannot get baby to latch properly, your nipples will remain sore past the first couple of weeks.

Another breastfeeding problem that might cause some pain is thrush. This is a yeast infection on your nipples that could also be in your baby’s mouth. You will need to treat the thrush to get relief.

Anytime you feel something is not right in your breastfeeding relationship, do not be afraid to reach out to a lactation consultant. Most hospitals can get you in touch with one if needed.

What is your experience with pain during those early weeks?

Joanie Boeckman is an Army Reserve wife and homeschooling mama to three (soon to be four!) beautiful children. She is passionate about living a simpler life, attachment parenting, homemaking, and homeschooling. You can find her blogging at Simple Living Mama where her mission is to empower women in their roles as homemakers, mothers, and homeschool teachers.

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