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You may have heard that breastfeeding is “easy” and “your baby will know just what to do,” but sometimes that is simply just not the case and getting used to breastfeeding takes time. For many women, during the first two weeks of breastfeeding, nipples can become raw and very tender. Some of this discomfort can be alleviated by making sure your baby has a proper latch. A proper latch involves positioning your baby close to your breast, in a cradle hold, football hold, or side-lying position, and coordinating that with having your baby’s mouth wide open before latching them on to the breast; and once latched, making sure the baby’s tongue is down, lips flanged like a fish, and nipple and a portion of your areola deep in the baby’s mouth. Sounds easy, right? Well, it is often a lot for women to coordinate. In addition, not all babies instinctively know how to latch perfectly and may need a little help.
Soon after your baby’s birth, your nurse, midwife, or lactation consultant can teach you the proper positioning for your baby to latch well. This can help prevent sore spots from developing on your nipples. However, some soreness is inevitable. Your nipples just aren’t used to being sucked for several hours a day and there will be a short period of time where your nipples will need to get used to this. In the meantime, try to let your breast get some air - go topless for some periods each day! You can express some drops of breast milk and gently rub that on your nipples and let air dry. The milk has antimicrobial properties and emollient fats that can be very soothing and help with healing. Lanolin cream is another soothing emollient for sore nipples and is safe for babies to ingest.
Getting through periods of engorgement can also be a painful experience. Sometimes, breasts will produce an overabundance of milk, outproducing the baby’s needs. Some women may think that pumping the excess milk to relieve the pressure is the answer. Unfortunately, this will just send the signal to your body to make more milk so you wind up with more engorged breasts! Instead, try some gentle hand massage (under a warm shower is a great time to do this) to express some of that extra milk and release the pressure and soften your breast. In addition, put your baby to breast regularly (at least every 3-4 hours) to help regulate the engorgement. If you happen to develop a fever during engorgement (or anytime during your postnatal period) or observe any warm, red areas on your breast, call your healthcare provider.
Sore and tender nipples are some short-term inconveniences of breastfeeding. However, with patience and support, you can get through it and will be able to offer you and your baby all the amazing benefits that breastfeeding provides.
Tip: Pack some lanolin ointment in your hospital bag so you have this to use while in the hospital.
- Ann, Mum and Baby Nurse
by Phuong Le