Breastfeeding is made to seem so easy on TV and in the magazines, with a happy, well-rested parent and a happy baby. When in reality, breastfeeding can be rather uncomfortable and even tiring at first. The most common concern I get from parents who have just started breastfeeding is painful, tender nipples. Here I will go through the most common causes and when to seek out more help.
With breastfeeding it is common to feel tugging, pulling or some degree of suction. Pain is not normal.
1. The Latch
One of the most common causes of nipple pain is a shallow latch. Even if your postpartum nurse tells you that the latch looks “good”, any sort of pain on the latch means that something else is going on that needs further investigation.
Aim for an asymmetric latch, where your nipple is pointed towards the roof of your baby’s mouth at the junction of the hard and soft palate. To conceptualize where this is, run your tongue from behind your top teeth to where your palate changes texture. Yes, that far back!
Also, your baby’s head should be extended back so you can see their nostrils and their eyes could be looking up at you. A baby whose head is flexed forwards is essentially chomping down on your breast (ouch).
2. Tension in the Baby’s Body
Babies go through a lot in the birth canal. They are squeezed, which is why sometimes their heads come out in funny shapes. If there is any sort of tension in the baby’s body, this can make it uncomfortable to open their mouths widely enough to get a good latch.
Keep an eye out for single-sided breast pain because this could mean that your baby has difficulty turning their head in one direction to open their mouths wide enough for a strong latch.
Your practitioner should always assess for body tension and mechanics of your baby’s tongue, including the presence of a tongue or lip tie. Consult with a breastfeeding expert or IBCLC to assess your baby. For bodywork, I always turn to infant cranio-sacral therapists, osteopaths or chiropractors who offer gentle-touch treatment.
3. Tongue or Lip Tie
*Different degrees of these which can still have proper functionality of the tongue and lip
A tongue or lip tie is when there is extra tissue growth and prevents the tongue or lip from moving well enough to get a good latch on the breast. With a tongue tie, the tongue is restricted from moving high in the mouth to stimulate the breast to produce milk.
You may notice clicking when your baby is drinking from your breast, or see small, painless blisters on their lips which may tell you they are clinging onto your breast with their lips rather than their tongue.
Have a breastfeeding expert or IBCLC assess your baby if you think this is the case, or if you still have no relief after adjusting their latch.
Still Having Pain?
There are other conditions which can cause nipple or breast pain. If you are experiencing a burning, or throbbing pain in your breast or feel any hardness or engorgement, please seek extra help from a practitioner.