Some women are hesitant to breastfeed their baby due to the fear of it being painful or uncomfortable, and retell the horror stories of cracked, bleeding, scabbed and sore nipples that they heard from their breastfeeding friends. I can almost feel you cringe as you read those words. You may cringe because you do not ever want to share in those experiences, or you may be nodding your head remembering your time nursing through these discomforts, or you may be the tired, worn momma who is currently there and desperate to find relief. If this is you, you have stumbled upon the right place!
During the first couple of weeks of learning to breastfeed, your nipples may be tender due to experiencing the newness of a frequent suckling baby, however, breastfeeding should never be painful. It is not supposed to hurt. Despite what your friends with the horror stories tell you, breastfeeding pain is not normal and is closely associated with a poor latch. Understanding what to look for as your baby latches on to your breast will greatly improve your breastfeeding experience and reduce or eliminate your pain or discomfort. Below I have listed a step-by-step tutorial of latching your baby properly to your breast:
- First, hold your baby facing you, belly to belly, rather than your baby lying with their back on your lap and their head turned to the side reaching your breast. (Note: Take a minute and try this for yourself. Turn your head completely to one side while keeping your torso forward. Try to swallow. Not so easy, huh?).
- Bring your baby to your breast and tickle your baby’s nose with your nipple. This will encourage your baby to tilt their head back and provide a wide open mouth as they search to put your nipple in their mouth. A lot of times breastfeeding discomfort is caused by a shallow latch, so ensuring that your baby opens their little mouth wide enough from the beginning will help avoid problems with pain later. Also, rather than holding your baby directly behind their head, try holding their neck to allow the head to tilt back, thus ensuring their ability to open wide.
- No need to pull out a protractor, but you will know your baby has a wide enough latch when the corner of the mouth makes an approximate 140 degree angle between the lips.
- You will want to see an asymmetric latch, where more of the upper areola will be visible and most of the bottom of the areola will be covered by your baby’s mouth.
- The next thing you will want to look for is your baby’s lips flanged out like a fish as opposed to flat against the breast or tucked in. This will help ensure a tight seal. (Note: babies with a lip or tongue-tie have difficulty with this and are often unable to latch effectively. Have a lactation consultant check your baby for lip or tongue tie before you leave the hospital and especially if you are experiencing discomfort or your baby is having trouble latching. There is usually an easy fix for this and babies are able to continue breastfeeding without issue. My Alice has a slight upper lip tie. It has never significantly affected her latch or caused me any discomfort so I chose not to have it fixed. Tongue-tie’s are usually much more of an issue than lip ties in regard to a comfortable latch.)
- Lastly, your baby’s chin should be closely touching the breast with their nose lightly touching the breast.
Working on a proper latch goes beyond eliminating any discomfort for momma; it is also important for effective milk removal. If your baby is sporting a shallow latch, the milk will not flow as efficiently as it should. This may cause frustration for your baby as well as decrease your milk supply. While breastfeeding is a very natural process, it can take some time to get into a natural groove for both momma and baby when it comes to latching. If you are experiencing any discomfort while nursing or if your baby is struggling to latch, I highly encourage you to have a consultation with a lactation specialist where they can observe your baby latching on to your breast. As a lactation counselor myself, I did not decline the visits from the lactation staff in the hospital. Even though Alice had a great start to breastfeeding, and I had the knowledge of what needed to be done, I welcomed the advice and support of the lactation consultants.
Be patient with yourself and your baby, and do not get discouraged. Try to relax and always seek help when you need it. You were made for this, momma!