Why Breastfeeding Hurts Even With A Good Latch?

Why Breastfeeding Hurts Even With A Good Latch?

As a mom of a 5 and 21-month-old, breastfeeding has been a tough journey at times especially when I was starting off breastfeeding my first child.  One problem that I encountered was the pain I felt when my baby was breastfeeding. It is even when all the advice and literature I read said my baby had a good latch. It made me wonder why breastfeeding hurts even with a good latch?

So why does breastfeeding hurt even with a good latch?

Firstly, in my opinion, the idea of having a good latch is totally subjective to each mom.  If it doesn’t feel comfortable something is not right and needs to be solved.  The following explanations could be one of the reasons you are feeling pain and why breastfeeding hurts even with a good latch.  1) Tongue tie 2) Thrush 3) Vasospasm 4) Mastitis 5) Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis 6) Incorrect use of electric or manual pumps 

For each of the reasons mentioned above, pain while breastfeeding can manifest itself in different ways.  The type of pain along with other symptoms can usually give a clue what is causing it. We’ll explain the most suitable way to treat each cause of pain in this article.

babies breastfeeding with a good latch

Reasons for feeling pain while breastfeeding

Tongue tie

This is where a string like a membrane called the frenulum attaches the tongue to the base of the mouth. Some babies may have a short, light or thick frenulum. Tongue mobility may be restricted causing pain to mom and feeding difficulties for babies.  Feeding for some babies with mild tongue tie can appear normal while some tongue-tied babies can feed on one breast but not the other.  A procedure called a frenotomy will clip the frenulum releasing the tongue to make breastfeeding easier and pain-free.

Thrush

This is a fungal or yeast infection that can occur when you have cracked or damaged nipples.  You have a higher chance of getting thrush if you have been taking a course of antibiotics or if you have diabetes or taking birth control pills.  Most moms usually describe the pain as a sharp stabbing pain or a feeling of pins-and-needles. Deep pain could also be felt deep inside the breast as well as affecting the nipples.  This can often happen after a spell of pain-free breastfeeding and will usually affect both breasts.  There is a high chance your baby may also have thrush.  This usually shows up as white spots or patches on the tongue, gums or roof of the mouth.  Baby can also become fussy while feeding and may also have a diaper rash that won’t clear up.  Treatment involves antifungal medication for both mom and baby.

Vasospasm

This occurs mostly as a result of trauma to the nipple due to nerve or tissue damage or from a condition called Raynaud’s syndrome.  A stinging or burning feeling may occur immediately after a feed while some women may also experience a pain that shoots deep into the breast.  Vasospasm happens when the muscles inside the tip of the nipple spasm so tightly preventing the blood supply to circulate to this area.  The tip of the nipples turns white in color followed by bright red when the blood supply returns.  To prevent vasospasms, it may help to keep the area warm.  Applying a warm washcloth to the nipple or simply cupping your nipple with your warm hand can help prevent it occurring.

Mastitis

This means inflammation of the breast and can occur due to an infection or a plugged duct.  As well as pain during breastfeeding, other symptoms include the breast feeling tender, hot and swollen.  A high temperature, as well as flu-like symptoms, can be present.  It is important to continue breastfeeding your baby to ensure milk continues to flow and does not remain static within the milk ducts.  Most women will require antibiotics.  It is essential that you attend your health care provider as soon as these symptoms appear.

Skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis

With these conditions, mom may experience burning or stinging pain when the baby has latched on well, and the baby’s suck is normal.  Other symptoms may include scaling, crusting, oozing or the appearance of blisters.  In these cases, appropriate treatment from a dermatologist can ensure breastfeeding can resume within a few days.  If breastfeeding needs to stop temporarily or becomes too painful, try to pump or hand express if possible to maintain milk supply.

Incorrect use of electric or manual pumps

For mothers who are expressing, the use of a manual or electric pump could be a source of pain even when the baby is latching on well.  If expressing feels sore or uncomfortable the suction setting may be set too high on an electric pump.  Hand pumps have no suction control mechanism, so suction can rise to unsafe levels causing pain and possibly breast tissue damage.  If you feel this may be the case discontinue using your pump, give your breasts time to heal and contact a lactation consultant or a La Leche League member who will be able to guide you

Why Breastfeeding Hurts Even With a Good Latch

How do you know if your baby has a good latch?

While it may appear from the outside, that baby is latching on well if mom is feeling pain something is not right!.  Do not listen if people are saying that all is well if the baby looks well latched on and appears to be feeding well. Seek help from a more experienced person such a lactation consultant who will be better able to guide you.

To ensure your baby has a good latch the best thing to do is put a finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth, between the gums to break the suction and start again.  There are many positions that make breastfeeding comfortable, and each mom can choose the one that suits her best.

However, there are a few basic tips to ensure baby latches on well.  To attach your baby to the breast, run your nipple lightly along their upper lip.  This will encourage the baby to open their mouth wide.  When their mouth is open, guide them straight to the breast with the arm you are using to hold him.  Ensure your nipple is pointing toward the roof of baby’s mouth with as much of the areola as possible in their mouth.  When attached, you should note that the baby’s top and bottom lips are in the shape of the letter K.

How to relieve pain from breastfeeding

As mentioned earlier for medical conditions such as thrush, eczema, and psoriasis it is essential that you seek medical advice as soon as symptoms arise.  Once your doctor gives the appropriate medication the sooner you can resume breastfeeding pain-free.

  • For nipples that have breaks to the skin or blisters, you can try using nipple shields to protect the affected area and to give it a chance to heal.  They come in various sizes, and you may need to try a few first to get the right fit.  This does not work for all moms but may help during the healing period. Nipple shields are to be used temporarily and discontinued as soon as healing has occurred.
  • Your own breast milk can also help.  Breast milk naturally has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties which can help heal any wounds to the nipple. Hand express or pump a little and apply to the affected area.
  • Breast Shells.  These are hard plastic and dome-shaped to fit snugly to your breast.  If nipples are painful and tender, these can be applied to prevent anything from touching off your breast and therefore preventing further pain.  Ensure to wash and dry thoroughly and to leave off as much as is possible.
  • APNO ointment.  Dr. Jack Newman created this ointment also known as all purpose nipple ointment. It contains ingredients that help deal with multiple causes of sore nipples.  These include antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory agents.

Related Questions

Can you continue to breastfeed if your nipples are damaged or bleeding?

You can continue breastfeeding your baby even if your nipples are damaged or bleeding.  It will not be harmful to your baby if he swallows a small amount of blood and this may appear when he is spitting up.  Trying some of the ideas suggested above may help with any pain or discomfort.  It is important to maintain your milk supply for breastfeeding to continue.

Are there any natural remedies to help heal sore and damaged nipples?

If you have mastitis, thrush or any skin conditions you need to seek medical attention where the appropriate medication can be prescribed.  This will ensure prompt treatment to prevent these conditions from getting worse.   However, there are some natural home remedies to help heal sore and damaged nipples.

Applying a warm compress to your breasts and nipples can help soothe them.  Freshly expressed breastmilk to the affected area can also help heal the skin as it contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.  Natural moisturizers like olive oil and coconut oil can help prevent skin drying out.

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