Breastfeeding tips: how to get through a painful start

Following a smooth beginning to breastfeeding with her firstborn baby, the editor Annie Ridout assumed round two would be even easier. She couldn’t have been more wrong. Here are some tips for making breastfeeding more bearable in the early days…

“Got boobs, got milk, got baby – off we go,” I said to myself whilst cradling my first baby. And that’s exactly what happened. She latched on, the colostrum was flowing, the milk came in and it was all fine. Well, until mastitis appeared – but that was a little way down the line, so I was at least confident with the latch.

And then I was lying in theatre, my second baby having been pushed and pulled (forceps) out, shaking uncontrollably. The baby was crying. I couldn’t hold him properly. But after a few attempts, he latched on and started guzzling. I was delighted. Over the next 24 hours on the postnatal ward, he fed and fed and fed.

But then we got home and it started to hurt. My nipples were raw. They became dry and then cracked and then started to bleed. I would wince as he latched on, and not stop curling my toes and clenching my fists for the entire feed. It was so painful that I cried during the night.

Having breastfed my daughter for over a year, giving up didn’t feel like an option; I wanted to give my son the same start to life that my daughter had had. But I lay awake in bed wondering how on earth I was going to continue – and retain my sanity – with this level of pain.

I phoned La Leche League and spoke to a lovely lady (their volunteers work from home, counselling women about breastfeeding over the phone) who told me that it does hurt at the beginning but to check the baby’s latch. If they stop feeding and the nipple is lipstick shaped rather than normal, the latch is bad.

I then went to see the midwife and she reminded me about nipple-to-nose (more below) and having the baby’s body facing yours – rather than craning their neck to get to the nipple. And then a midwife came round and said: the latch is good. You’ll be fine.

But I wasn’t, so I took to Instagram and had a good old share. And loads of amazing mums said that they’d felt the same, and that it would all be ok. They shared tips and words of wisdom and encouragement and suddenly, I felt like YES! I’ve got this. So I took the advice, made some changes and very soon, breastfeeding was no longer painful.

So – for other new mums finding breastfeeding unbearable who are determined to push through the pain, you can do it. But here are some tips for making it all a lot more comfortable…

Breastfeeding tips

  1. Nipple to nose: cradling your baby, put your nipple to their nose. This should make them tilt their head back then when the mouth is wide open, shove the whole areola into their mouth. You want as much nipple as possible in the mouth, rather than just having them suck the end of it.
  2. Make sure before you start, their belly is facing your belly and the whole body is towards yours. If they’re craning their neck or twisting, the latch won’t be good.
  3. Use lanolin to sooth sore nipples. But if you’re already at the really cracked/ bleeding nipple stage – THIS SOLUTION IS MAGICAL: buy Jelonet (it’s gauze, used to treat burns). Put lanolin on the nipple, cut a nipple-sized square of Jelonet and layer the gauze on top of the lanolin then put a breastpad on top (I used Mama Designs natural bamboo ones – reusable and really soft). Within two hours, feeding barely hurt. I couldn’t believe it. Jelonet heals cracked nipples from under the skin meaning that the baby won’t undo the healing process when he latches on for another feed.
  4. Check for tongue tie. If breastfeeding really hurts, it could be because the baby can’t latch on due to tongue tie. I didn’t have this issue but lots of  mums/babies do and it can be corrected.
  5. Squeeze out a little bit of milk before the baby starts feeding. This soothes an already sore nipple, and the extra moisture makes it less painful when they latch on.
  6. Savoy cabbage leaves are great for blocked ducts, when the milk comes in. Your boobs can feel like they’re about to burst they’re so full and popping a leaf of cabbage in your bra, straight from the fridge, cools them down, relieving some of the pressure. This was my go-to for recurrent mastitis the first time round.
  7. Take paracetamol. It’s safe when breastfeeding and will ease some of the pain.
  8. I haven’t tried it but coconut oil was recommended as it’s anti-bacterial, soothing and moisturising. So if your breasts are engorged, lightly massaging them with it might help.
  9. REST. Tiredness – though somewhat inevitable in the early weeks – won’t help when it comes to dealing with painful boobs. So nap in the day, when the baby sleeps, if you can – and accept offers of help.
  10. Persevere – and soon the pain will subside. Of those who decide to continue through the pain, I’m yet to meet someone for whom it has continued to be painful forever. After the first few weeks, hopefully you and your baby will get into the swing of it, the pain will ease and your breastfeeding journey will become smooth and enjoyable.

Good luck!

And if you have any more tips, please do share them in the comment section below.