infants & toddlers
Mastering Breastfeeding

One of the greatest obstacles to overcome upon becoming a new parent may be pain while your baby is nursing.  Sore, cracked and bleeding nipples can result from a baby not latching on correctly, but it can also occur when everything is done in a textbook fashion. There are many reasons why nursing may be painful.  Your child may have a strong sucking reflex. You may have developed a yeast infection, thrush, on your nipples.

When I began nursing my newborn baby girl I encountered excruciating pain. I was in pain while she nursed and I had a burning sensation for a long time after she had finished. I had read books on nursing and I had even taken a breastfeeding course before she was born. I could not understand why I was in so much pain.

I did everything the lactation instructors said to do: I made sure her mouth was covering the entire areola (the whole areola needs to be included or soreness and cracking can ensue), I nursed her for at least ten minutes on each side, and I alternated between the football hold and the cradle hold. Despite this, I developed large cracks on my nipples.

I had the hospital nurses come in each time that I nursed to see what I was doing wrong. The nurses said she was latching on properly.  I was using a purified hypoallergenic lanolin cream called Lansinoh, which can be left on while the baby nurses, to help my nipples heal. I used plastic breast shells in order to keep my clothing from touching me. I was also rubbing breast milk around the nipple after each feeding and allowing it to dry. I was still in pain. This was not the beautiful bonding experience that I had read about and I felt like a failure.

In addition to the pain, when my milk came in I became engorged. My breasts became the size of two large cantaloupes and nursing did not relieve all of the pressure. My daughter was also falling asleep after only nursing on one side.  I thought she wasn’t eating enough and I could not wake her to feed her on the other side.

I called a lactation consultant. The lactation consultant told me that the baby’s weight gain was a clear indication that she was latching on correctly. The doctor/lactation consultant examined me and told me that I had a yeast infection on my nipples. She prescribed an oral medication for me, an ointment to apply to the infected area and a medication for the baby to prevent her from getting thrush.

The next problem was my daughter’s spitting up. The pediatrician said that my daughter’s reflux valve had not fully developed so she was unable to keep all of her food down. The pediatrician also advised me to avoid eating any dairy products, tomato sauce, citrus, chocolate and spicy foods because these foods may cause spitting up. I restricted my diet and she still spit up, sometimes full feedings. Immediately after she spit up she was hungry. This meant that the pain I was experiencing became even greater because I had to feed her twice as often.

In addition to the multiple feedings, she was eating for forty-five minutes every two hours, which meant that I was only getting an hour break. Despite the difficulties I was experiencing, my daughter was growing at an amazing rate. I kept at it. Even when I found myself at 2:00 a.m. thinking I couldn’t take it anymore and I wanted to stop, I didn’t. The obstetrician told me that it could take six to eight weeks for my nipples to heal. After ten weeks, the pain finally went away and the cracks finally healed. I was able to nurse pain free. This was a real milestone.

As time went on, the pain subsided, my milk supply leveled off to the amount needed for baby, and she began to nurse for shorter periods of time. Most importantly to me, I finally felt the bonding that the books referred to and the greatest benefit of all is that I have a happy, healthy baby.

Solutions for Painful Breastfeeding:

• Speak to your obstetrician. Ask for help – pain indicates there is a problem;

• Contact a lactation consultant;

Get a book on breastfeeding (i.e. The Nursing Mother’s Companion by Kathleen Huggins);

• Buy a nursing pillow and a nursing stool;

• Apply lanolin to the cracked or sore areas;

• Concentrate on something else or direct the pain elsewhere.

Solutions for Engorgement:

• Wear cotton nursing pads;

• Apply a diaper soaked in warm water to the breast;

• Take a warm shower and manually express a small amount of milk;

• Before nursing, manually express a small amount of milk to relieve some of the pressure (not more than an ounce);

• Massage the breast in a circular motion from the outside inward, toward the nipple.

Solutions for Spitting up:

• Wear an apron while breastfeeding;

• Put a bib with a plastic backing on baby while nursing and leave on for a short period after (remove before putting baby down for a nap).

Tips for successful breastfeeding:

• Utilize knowledgeable nurses;

• Find a lactation consultant;

• Surround yourself with supportive people;

• Tell yourself as time goes by, it will get better.

Practical benefits of breastfeeding:

• Save money on formula;

• No bottles to wash;

• No need to heat bottles at night;

• Return to pre-pregnancy weight quickly.

Web Resources
Comprehensive site with breastfeeding information from experts, excellent question and answer section, humorous stories, chat rooms and shopping guide.
Educational, supportive site for breastfeeding mothers.
American Academy of Pediatrics web site features a section with medical updates on breastfeeding.

Jennifer Robinson, J.D., is the mother of a 12-month old baby girl and works at the Superior Court in Bridgeport. Contact Jennifer at


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