Even under the most ideal circumstances, the first days of breastfeeding can be challenging. For any number of reasons, the baby may have a less than ideal latch at the breast during the first several feedings, and as a result, the mother may experience nipple trauma. This may range from slight soreness and discomfort to visible damage or even bleeding. The important thing to know is that while this can be painful (sometimes severely), it is **temporary.** A short-term focus on correcting the cause of trauma and on healing will lead to long-term benefits to mother and baby.
Here are some concrete steps to move in the direction of healing:
Fix the Latch
The most common reason for early nipple damage from breastfeeding is a less than ideal latch. Even if the damage has already been done from the first or subsequent feeds, the most important thing to do is the fix the latch! This is both to avoid any further trauma as well as because when the latch is corrected, the pain of nursing on a damaged nipple dramatically decreases. Often, once latch is corrected, the feeling may start off painfully, from the first 5-30 seconds or so, but then will subside because with a correct latch, the baby is no longer causing friction on the nipple itself. Get help as soon as possible from a breastfeeding professional, peer counselor or experienced nursing mother. Healing can’t begin until the latch is fixed.
Sometimes, switching the position in which the baby is feeding can make a huge difference in discomfort and healing for the mother. If the baby caused the nipple trauma in the cross-cradle position, for example, switching the baby into the football hold on the damaged side will cause the baby’s mouth to come in contact with a different part of the nipple than when the trauma occurred. This not only can reduce pain, but puts less strain on that part of the nipple, allowing it to heal faster. If no standard position seems to relieve contact with the damaged part of the breast, laying the baby on his or her back on the bed and breastfeeding from above on hands can knees can, as a last-ditch option, allow the mother to completely control which part of the baby’s mouth contacts a particular part of the nipple but “spinning around” to whatever is most comfortable.
Start from the Least Damaged Side
When babies are hungry, they suckle more aggressively. Allowing a baby to get started nursing on a non-damaged or less-damaged breast can allow them to have that initial satiation and then settle into a calmer pattern. Switch sides at that point, and the damaged nipple won’t need to tolerate that initial, more active suckling.
Nurse More Often
This one is counter-intuitive as many mothers tend to stretch out feedings due to nipple soreness or pain. But nursing more often keeps the baby from nursing quite as aggressively. It also keeps the breast from cycling between a state of being very full which can strain tender skin, and emptied after a long feeding. The resulting more frequent but shorter feedings, less engorged breasts and less aggressive hungry babies can lead to a baby with a better latch, which ensures no further damage and less pain after the initial latch-on.
All of these strategies will move mother and babies in the direction of healing damaged breasts and moving towards a mutually positive, long-term breastfeeding relationship.
Disclaimer: All material on the BellaOnline.com Breastfeeding website is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Although every effort is made to provide accurate and up-to-date information as of the date of publication, the author is neither a medical doctor, health practitioner, nor a Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). If you are concerned about your health, or that of your child, consult with your health care provider regarding the advisability of any opinions or recommendations with respect to your individual situation. Information obtained from the Internet can never take the place of a personal consultation with a licensed health care provider, and neither the author nor BellaOnline.com assume any legal responsibility to update the information contained on this site or for any inaccurate or incorrect information contained on this site, and do not accept any responsibility for any decisions you may make as a result of the information contained on this site or in any referenced or linked materials written by others.