“Should breastfeeding hurt?” As a Midwife and Lactation Consultant for over 20years, I still hear this question everyday! And here’s the answer:
Except for the first minute of a breastfeed in the first 2 weeks, breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.
I will explain everything and give you the answers to:
- Why your nipples hurt?
- Recognising when it’s not normal and what to do
- When your nipples should feel better?
I want you to know that it is ok that your nipples hurt! You haven’t done anything wrong. The good news is they will heal and most pain will disappear in a week!
Now let’s get you through this next week by learning about why your nipples hurt! The next part will ease your worry and your pain!
Why Do Your Nipples Hurt And How You Can Help?
Your nipples will only hurt for a short time, as little as a week. And you can have less pain by getting the latch right. Check our my 7 Steps to Latching Success Blog.
Now, let’s learn about your nipples.
Some are long, some are short, some are flat and others are inverted! It doesn’t matter what your nipples look like!
You see, your baby breastfeeds by sucking on the breast tissue around your nipple. That’s why your nipples can be any shape or size. Your nipples are already perfect!
All nipples are soft, stretchy and have lots of tiny little crevices over them. So when you breastfeed, particularly for the first time, your nipple is going to stretch.
This means all these crevices will actually widen for the first time (ever!) as you learn how to breastfeed. This is what I call “stretching pain”.
As you go through more and more breastfeeds the pain you are feeling is this “stretching pain.” Best thing is it only lasts about 30 seconds to a minute at the beginning of a breastfeed!
Now you don’t have to worry about this pain. You haven’t done anything wrong.
Follow these points to minimise the pain:
- Hold you baby close (don’t take your baby off in the first minute)
- Relax, breathe and look away
- Resist the urge to check the latch (it won’t give you any more information!)
- Notice when the pain drops down
The great thing is that this pain is not doing any damage. Your nipples are getting used to breastfeeding which is a great thing.
You now know that the first minute is NORMAL pain. But how do you know when it’s heading in the other direction, not normal? I’II explain next.
How To Recognise When Nipple Pain Is Not Normal?
Your nipples generally won’t hurt in the first 24 hours. But after a few days for breastfeeding practice your nipples can get a little tender. The best part is now you know that a little pain is normal. Your nipples are stretching with this new activity.
So what will you actually feel when breastfeeding? The first day you won’t feel much apart from pulling and tugging but as the feeds mount up the pain can start. AGAIN, this is normal!
Here’s how 1000’s of mothers have described their pain:
- “It kind of burns and pinches for the first minute, then all I feel is a tugging”
- “It feels like a really strong pull then settles into a gentle tugging”
- “It feels like a hard pinch at the start then, as my baby keeps sucking it drops down to a tug and a pull”
So tugging and pulling is ok. Pinching longer than the first minute means you start the latch again.
Here are the signs it’s not normal:
- The pain lasts longer than one minute
- The pain increases over time
- Your baby becomes fussy pulls away
- Your baby falls asleep and stops sucking altogether
If you have any of these signs take your baby off and start the latch again. Check out my 7 Steps to Latching Success for help.
If you need to take your baby off, don’t despair, it happens a lot! The best thing to do is immediately check your nipple when you baby comes off.
The reason for checking your nipple is to gather more information. You may be thinking, “what am I looking for?” Great question!
Below are the 2 most common nipple shapes letting you know the latch is not quite right:
- Your nipple is flat on one side (generally the side closest to the centre of your chest (like the end of a lipstick). Check out Step #4 in my blog 7 Steps to Latching Success – Arm Angles to fix this.
- Your nipple is squished on both sides with a crease down the middle (running vertically). Head over to Step #3 Close Contact to learn more.
So you see, you can gather information, that is, assess the pain and check your nipple. Simple!
Remember I said that most mothers do have some damage along their journey. So next up is all about when your nipples will heal or most importantly………….. when will it all feel better!
When will your nipples feel better?
It takes about 2 weeks for your nipples to heal. I know this sounds like a long time. Hang tight, the pain will get better and better during this first two weeks!
Before I go on………………Mother’s generally ask if they should rest their nipples. Meaning, stop breastfeeding and express their milk to give in a bottle.
My answer is two fold:
- Keep breastfeeding, let me explain. Your nipples CAN HEAL why you are still breastfeeding. You see, as you breastfeed your milk will be sloshing around your nipple helping it to heal! So if you can, keep breastfeeding.
- If your nipples are just too sore to breastfeed then YES, rest your nipples. Give me a call to help you with this, 0414 403 208 or shoot me a message!
Back to it……………..The healing process, What to expect day-by-day:
Nipple Pain and Healing In The First 3-4 days
This is where the damage occurs for ALL mothers! The healing process has not kicked in yet.
- You will feel pain or discomfort in the first minute of the latch then feel a tug and a pull for the rest of the breastfeed, this is NORMAL.
- Your nipples will be a stinging a little in between breastfeeds.
- Some nipples will crack and bleed (don’t worry, it happens, nipples heal quickly, keep reading!)
Nipple Pain and Healing Up To Day 7
At this stage your nipples generally don’t get any worse. They are also not likely to get any better. So don’t worry if they feel and look the same up to day 7.
Here’s what mothers have described their nipple pain as up to Day 7:
- “Very sore, like a stinging sensation, with breastfeeds and between breastfeeds.”
- “It stings when the water from the shower runs over them and when any material brushes over them.”
- “I’m dreading the next breastfeed.” (remember your nipples are designed to go through this!)
If you are feeling the above, you are not alone! When I explain this to new mothers they are quite relieved! So I hope you are too!
Nipple Pain and Healing Day 7 To Day 14
From day 7 your nipples will get a little better each day. YAY! You will have pain on initial latching for that wonderful first minute then the pain will ease and it will feel good.
By two weeks your nipples will be looking much better and feeling much better! You have come through this time and learnt a hell of a lot! Well done!
But what if your nipples don’t heal in this magic 2 week time period? Firstly, don’t panic, I have this covered, head over to my blog, nipple pain after 2 weeks.
Before you go!
A word about nipple cream. A lot of mother’s ask me if they need nipple cream to help their nipples heal?
The answer is no you don’t! Best advice is to hand express a little breast milk and dab it onto your nipples and wait for time to pass! Just make sure your hands are clean!
All the research states,¹ apart from getting the latch right, it’s time that is the number one healer of nipples. So save your pennies!
If you do decided to use cream, because as you know, I never say NO, use it sparingly.
Remember your nipple has lots of crevices and too much cream can block them up. So put breast milk first, then a small amount of cream and that’s it!
So you now know all about NIPPLES! Fantastic! Just let me know if you need more help!
¹Dennis CL, Allen K, McCormick FM, Renfrew MJ. Interventions for treating painful nipples among breastfeeding women. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews [Internet]. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. 2008.