Breastfeeding should not be painful for us mums, so if you’re finding it an uncomfortable experience, it’s important to find what the problem is to make it a smoother experience for both you and your baby.
The good news is that breastfeeding pain can often be resolved fairly quickly, but it’s always important to let your midwife know if you’re experiencing difficulties and pain as they will be able to help you.
We’ve rounded up some of the most common causes of breastfeeding pain according to the NHS, along with ways you can relieve the discomfort.
Breast engorgement normally happens in the early days when your milk supply comes in and your baby is maybe not feeding as much as they need to be. As we know, newborns need feeding little and often and sometimes, it can take your milk supply time to match up with your baby’s needs.
Symptoms: Hard, tight and painful breasts.
Releasing a little milk by hand - try not to express too much as this will cause even more milk to be produced.
Paracetamol and ibuprofen - these are safe to take when breastfeeding.
Wear a well-fitting, comfortable bra.
Place a warm flannel over your breasts before expressing.
This happens when a nipple duct is blocked and isn’t relieved. It can make the breast feel very inflamed and painful. If it’s not treated quickly, it can sometimes lead to infection and you’ll often end up taking antibiotics.
Symptoms: A breast that feels hot and tender, flu-symptoms, red patches of skin.
Carry on breastfeeding - stopping breastfeeding can often make the symptoms worse.
Keep the milk flowing - if you’re struggling to get any milk out, lay a hot flannel over the affected breast or have a hot bath or shower before expressing the milk.
Get plenty of rest.
Take paracetamol and ibuprofen
See a doctor - If it feels no better after 12 - 24 hours contact your GP or out of hours service as it’s important not to leave it untreated.
Thrush (yeast infection)
Breastfeeding mums can sometimes develop yeast infections when the nipple and areola area becomes cracked and bleed. This means that the bacteria can get to your breast, causing infection.
Symptoms: Pain in both nipples or breasts after feeding, pain that feels like a burning, stabbing or sharp pain, baby’s mouth may have white dots on the inside.
See a doctor - they will prescribe you with cream or tablets and may even give your baby a gel for their mouth.
Carry on breastfeeding - you can continue to feed your baby as normal while having treatment for thrush.
Too much breast milk
Sometimes, women can produce too much breast milk which can result in pain. If you think this may be the issue, ask your midwife or health visitor to watch you breastfeed and they’ll be able to tell if this is the problem.
Symptoms: A fast flow of milk - you may notice your baby coughing or struggling to latch because of the strong flow of milk, tension in breasts, heavy leaking, blocked ducts.
Decrease milk supply - only try this if your midwife says you have too much breast milk and if they have recommended this could help.
Express - hand pump or express with a breast pump a small amount of milk for some pain relief.
If you’re having breastfeeding problems and pain, it’s worth checking the little string of skin underneath your baby’s tongue. If it looks tight or short or if you see your baby has problems sticking their tongue out, they may be tongue-tied. This means that baby will struggle to latch on and cup the nipple in their mouth to feed.
Symptoms: Nipple pain, sore nipples, cracked nipples, or even bleeding nipples.
Seek medical attention - if your baby’s tongue is tied, they’ll need to undergo a simple procedure to have the piece of skin snipped. Over time, this should allow your baby to stretch out their tongue and latch on properly.
Blocked breast milk ducts
Narrow tubes called ducts carry milk to your nipples, and if one of these ducts aren’t drained properly during a feed, they can often become blocked. To avoid this, make sure your baby is properly latched and able to drain the milk during feedings.
Symptoms: Tender lump in the breast.
Change your breastfeeding position - your baby could be able to help you out with this problem. Position their mouth with their chin pointing towards the lump to encourage them to feed from that part of the breast.
Wear a comfortable bra to allow the milk to flow as easily as possible.
Massage the lump gently.
Pop a hot flannel on the affected area before feeding to encourage flow.
This can happen if mastitis is left untreated. A breast abscess is a very painful build-up of pus, caused by an infection and it may need an operation to be treated.
Symptoms: A painful red and warm breast, lump or swelling in the breast.
Seek medical attention - the abscess will need to be drained in a hospital.
If you are experiencing nipple pain and discomfort in the breasts when feeding but don’t have any of the above problems, it’s likely you may be struggling to latch.
Most often, breastfeeding pain stems from latching problems, so to avoid any of the above issues, it’s important we know the best way to help baby latch on for a good feed.
Need further help?
If you still feel like you’re struggling with latching and pain when breastfeeding, it might be worth seeking help from a lactation consultant.
La Leche League leaders are trained in providing mums with breastfeeding help. They also work in a number of hospitals and clinics as well as providing over the phone services, so their expertise can be easily reached.