Tuesday, June 16, 2009

5 tips for pain-free breastfeeding.

Imagine that you had a personal chef who could make you the perfect food, specifically formulated to your own chemical balance and physical needs. Breastfeeding is like this for your baby. The milk you naturally produce is the perfect food for your yummy little gummy worm. The vast majority of mothers are physically able to breastfeed their babies, yet some find it extraordinarily difficult and painful. Quite often the task of breastfeeding can be eased with just one or two basic techniques. Though milk production is often one of the most basic concerns a breastfeeding mother has, in this collection of tips I am focusing more directly on ways to make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable over all. These 5 tips are designed to be most helpful to breastfeeding mothers who are having a hard time with chapped nipples, getting a good latch, releasing a good latch and making the overall experience of breastfeeding more enjoyable.

1. Make your baby a nice breast sandwich.
If your nipples are getting chapped, it is most likely a latching issue. Getting enough of your breast into your baby's mouth so that they can form a good latch is a tricky maneuver. The best way I found was to compress (or pinch, really) my breast between my first two fingers just outside my areola, while pressing my entire breast in toward my chest. This made my nipple and areola somewhat flatter, like a sandwich, and it was easier for me to get more breast into my son's mouth, which made it easier for him to latch on. This tip is especially helpful for mothers who have been overly compensated with volume in the chest area.

2. Give your baby a little cheek tickle.
Of course it doesn't matter how compact and accessible your breast is if your baby doesn't open her mouth wide enough to get more than a nibble. Luckily nature has given babies an instinct to help them open their mouths nice and wide. If you touch your baby's cheek lightly with your nipple, your baby should turn her head toward your breast with her mouth wide open. This opening will only last a second, so be quick about shoving your breast as far in there as you can get it. Don't worry about filling your baby's mouth too full with nature's bounty, she can always self correct after she finds a good latch.

3. Try different nursing positions.
Most of us have burned on our brain one specific visual image of breastfeeding. The mother holding her baby in her arms across her chest in a horizontal position with the baby's belly button facing up, and the head turned into the breast, rests in the crook of the mothers elbow. This is commonly referred to as the "Cradle Hold" and is the image most mothers reflect on when they first imagine breastfeeding. However, what this image doesn't reflect is that for babies with reflux this position would be difficult, and probably painful. For babies with gas, this position is less than ideal, and that mother's arm is gonna fall off if she holds her baby like that for every feeding. There are several different styles of nursing position, and most rely on some sort of nursing-pillow support. The most similar variation is the "Cradle Crossover Hold" in which the mother holds her breast with the hand and arm that she had been using to "cradle" the baby, and uses the other arm to hold the baby belly-to-belly with her hand supporting the head while nursing. There is also the "Football Hold" which is most commonly used to tandem feed twins, but which some single babies find more comfortable as well, where the baby is tucked next to the mother under her arm and she uses the same arm to hold the baby's head to the breast. There are several official positions like these that are easy to find illustrated online, but you should not feel restricted to these exact positions. My son's favorite nursing position as he got larger was vertically belly-to-belly while straddling my thigh. I supported his head and neck from behind though he was pretty good at holding his head up by the time we found this position. I don't think this is an "official" nursing position, but I like to refer to it as the "Koala Hold".

4. Use your little finger to help release a good latch.
Another source of nipple chaffing comes from improper latch-release techniques. Once your darling little rose bud gets a good latch, it can feel like he is vacuum-sealed to your breast. If you need to interrupt a feeding for some reason (like running to the restroom or answering the door), if you need to disengage your baby after you know that your milk is gone or if your baby has fallen asleep at the breast, it can be hard to figure out how to remove him gently. If you simply pull him away until the latch is broken, it will be traumatic to your nipple, and perhaps to your baby's delicate mucus membranes as well. I've seen some mothers even try to pry their baby's jaws apart by pulling on their forehead and chin, it did not look comfortable for the baby and I do not recommend it. Instead, try inserting your littlest finger into the corner of your baby's mouth and pressing into your nipple just enough to let air in. This gently breaks the seal without causing either of you any undue stress or discomfort. It seems simple, but it can really help reduce nipple irritation and pain.

5. Give your baby a little mouth-wash.
Though some nipple irritation is caused by improper latching and releasing, less commonly it could be a sign of thrush (a yeast infection). A yeast infection of your nipple is caused by the growth of yeast in your baby's mouth, due to high sugar content and an imbalance of healthy bacteria. The most important thing you can do to help prevent this from happening is to take a clean, damp baby washcloth and wrap it tightly around your finger and rub it over your baby's cheeks, gums and tongue after every breastfeeding session. Keeping a spray-bottle filled with very weak chamomile tea and a pile of clean wash clothes near where you usually breastfeed will make it easier to remember to do this after every time you nurse. If your adorable little smoochy-face develops an infection in spite your best efforts, some things you can try to help resolve the infection quickly are: eating some unsweetened yogurt ever day for a few days, cutting sugar out of your diet for a few days and replacing the weak chamomile tea in the spray bottle with a very weak mixture of baking soda and water (1/4 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 & 1/2 cup warm water). I also would wash your baby's mouth out before naps and before night-time sleep as well as after breast feeding.

Trick: Vary your diet while tracking your baby's gas.
This trick doesn't have so much to do with your comfort while breastfeeding as it does with your baby's long-term potential to resist becoming a picky eater. The flavors of the food you eat while breastfeeding come through your breast milk in a very diluted form. Fostering a familiarity with many different flavor profiles while your baby is experiencing her first relationship with food fosters a flavour flexibility which can come in very handy later in life. I especially recommend eating as many different types of vegetables as possible, because they are traditionally the most resisted food group for children. You should be sure to keep a log of the foods you eat each day, and the times that your baby expresses discomfort and excess gas, because this will help you eliminate foods that are causing your baby discomfort more quickly.

Trick: For Chapped nipples use bag balm.
Your baby cannot eat this substance, so you might want to take some time off of the breast for one or two feedings. Pump enough milk to keep your baby fed for about 24 hours, and slather on the bag balm. It is sticky and can be staining, so I recommend for mothers to use breast pads to shield the balm-covered nipples while they heal, and wear a soft sleeping-bra to keep the pads in place. In about 12-18 hours you should see a significant decrease in the irritation, and you may be able to begin breastfeeding again. Be sure to thoroughly clean your nipples before returning to breastfeeding with your baby. Many mothers also recommend lanolin, since it is something your baby could ingest small amounts of with no ill effects. I did not find that it was effective for me, but it is another remedy you might want to try.

Breast feeding is a special and magical bonding time for mothers and babies, especially if there is less discomfort and anxiety involved in the experience. Hopefully these tips will help keep your nipples pain-free and your breastfeeding experience a positive one (for one more great tip for better breastfeeding look here). If you have found these tips to be helpful, please forward them to any new or expecting parents you might know. I also love, and respond quickly to, questions and comments. Happy parenting!


  1. Thank you for your very helpful tips. My baby is a week old today. I was literally in tears last night due to my painful nipples and her needing to nurse every 30 min to an hour for a 3 hour block. I'm getting better at getting her to latch on properly. She has a very strong suck and is lazy about opening her mouth. What is bag balm. The tips of nipples feel dry. I may need this.
    Marley's mama

    1. Bag Balm is an ointment that was developed to treat the drying and cracking of farm animals teets while they were getting used to being milked regularly. Over time nursing women began using it, and found that it was a good treatment for their own sore nipples from breastfeeding. It has become a little less known in recent years, but is still readily available at holistic, and natural stores in the US. I'm not sure how common it is outside of this country though.
      Here is a link to the contact info of the company that makes it.

  2. my nipple has wound, and it bled, because my baby bite it, is it still safe to breastfeed?or do i have to waitfor the wound to get healed?