How to Avoid Pain in the Initial Breastfeeding Efforts

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Breastfeeding can be Painful

Many women complain of pain during the initial breastfeeding efforts. Most Lactation Consultants and Certified Breastfeeding Counselors will tell you that pain is a sign that something is not right. Initially, you may experience some tenderness or soreness as you adjust to breastfeeding a baby; however, sharp or severe pain is not normal.

Initial Pain

In the past, women were instructed to toughen up their nipples prior to delivering a baby. This is unnecessary and may cause harm to the nipple. Some women do experience a period of soreness during the first week of nursing, which is referred to as transient soreness. This period usually lasts for about 10 days and stops once the mother is breastfeeding successfully.

Importance of a Good Latch

An improper latch is one the most common causes of pain. If the baby’s mouth is not opened wide enough, he or she will have a shallow latch. An improper or shallow latch results in the baby sucking on the tip of the nipple, which leads to pain and soreness in the breast. Before latching the baby on, the mother should be seated comfortably with a supportive pillow placed on her lap. The baby’s entire body should be facing the mother. To make sure the baby gets a deep latch, the mother should stroke the baby’s cheek or pull down on the chin until the baby opens his or her mouth wide. The tongue should be laying flat. The mother can then latch the baby on. While it is not always possible for a baby to take in the entire nipple, a large portion of the nipple should be in the baby’s mouth. If the baby is latched on correctly, the mother will hear a swallowing sound after every one to three sucks. The baby’s cheeks should appear round, not sucked in or dimpled as the baby sucks.

Long Lasting Pain

If the mother continues to experience pain after 10 days of nursing her baby, she should rule out underlying causes. A baby who has a tongue-tie cannot latch on properly. To check for a tongue-tie, the mother can gently pull down the baby’s bottom lip as he or she nurses. If the tongue cannot be seen, it may be a sign of a tongue-tie. Other causes of pain include thrush, vasospasm, engorgement or nipple confusion. A mother who experiences severe or persistent pain should consult a Certified Breastfeeding Counselor or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.

Preventing Pain Checklist

To prevent pain or eliminate the cause of pain when you first start breastfeeding your baby, follow a few tips.

  • Make sure the baby is latched on correctly.
  • Try different holds, such as side lying, cradle or the football hold.
  • Use Lansinoh on sore or cracked nipples.
  • Rule out underlying causes if the pain lasts for longer than one week.
  • Express a small amount of milk on to the nipple, then allow it to air dry.
  • Avoid using soap on the nipples.

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Yount, P. (2001). Nipple pain. Retrieved from

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