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Nursing: How to Soothe Sore Breasts
It happens to the breast of us
Sore breasts caused by a sudden increase in milk flow and/or barriers to breastfeeding are absolutely normal. There are ways to ease the pain and assist mom and baby in bonding over breast feeding.
Whether pain and discomfort is from engorgement, cracking and drying, or mechanical issues (i.e. improper latching), mom does not have to suffer in silence! Breastfeeding is an amazing achievement and experience, and should not be discontinued or dreaded because of soreness.
*If pain is severe, switching positions while nursing is a must, and you should probably contact your doctor or lactation consultant. The same goes for excessive cracking and bleeding. Pain should not last for more than 24-48 hours if being treated properly.*
Soreness due to engorgement
When milk is being produced in abundance without a good release (whether by feeding, pumping, or self expression), breasts can become hard, swollen, and tender. Here are a few ways to help make it easier to bare:
- A warm shower. Letting warm water run on the breasts works wonders.
- Use a hot pack on the top of the breasts shortly before feeding.
- Use cold packs on the top of the breasts shortly after feeding.
- One AWESOME trick that I have discovered is to fill 2 diapers with water and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, remove from the freezer and break up the ice a bit. The diapers turn into wonderful ice packs that seem to fit the breasts really well. They kind of cusp the breast better than the average ice pack.
- Wear a sturdy, supportive bra that is not too snug.
- Gently massage the tops of the breasts - from right above the nipple up towards the chest.
- Pump. This is not ideal during the few weeks of breastfeeding as the baby is going through such tremendous growth spurts that it may confuse the body's natural response to produce (more) milk. However, if needed, pump a little from both breasts prior to breastfeeding, or pump one breast while the baby feeds from the other. Doing the second will not trigger the body (as much) to produce more milk than necessary (as it'll be done as one feeding, not in addition to) and will help to ensure even flow. Pump on a low setting (if doing so electronically) and only for a few minutes, unless pumping one side while feeding with the other. *Try to avoid pumping if you are feeding regularly (at least 10 minutes, and at least every 2 hours).
Soreness due to cracking, drying, and/or mechanical issues
Having cracked and dried nipples can make breastfeeding extremely painful. Allowing them to heal is vital for the success of breastfeeding. Below are a few suggestions for how to soothe sore nipples due to cracking, drying, and more:
- Allow the nipples to "breathe". Let the nipples relax and air out for a few minutes after feeding. Moisture can increase the likelihood of cracking and other issues. So, nipples being able to dry is important.
- Use cold/ice packs between feedings. (see the picture above for a creative idea)
- Use a cream/gel made of Lanolin (a natural moisturizer and skin protectant), such as gels made by Lanisoh or Medela. Squeeze a dab onto your finger and apply it gently (in a circular motion) to the nipple after each feeding. Lanolin will not help to heal a wounded nipple, but will help lubricate in order to lessen friction between feedings while wearing nursing pads and a bra/shirt.
- Make sure that the baby is properly latching onto the nipple. Consult a lactation specialist or your doctor if questioning the latch.
- Use colostrum/breast milk. Rub a bit onto and around the nipple after feeding.
- Feed evenly. Start with the least sore breast. Try not to feed for more than 20-25 minutes on one side at one time. Switch as needed. (Do not take the baby off of one breast to switch after only a few minutes. This can cause gas, as the first bits that come out of the breast are less caloric and higher in sugar content, and that can build up in the baby's system.)
- Change positions. Think of the nipple as a clock. Have the baby's mouth stretch across 12 & 6, and then across 3 & 9. This can be done by alternating between a cradle and a football position (or other positions).
- Relax. Do not tense up when the baby is latching on. Try to breathe, and focus on dropping your shoulders.
- Use breast pads (disposable or washable) when not feeding. Make sure that pads are changed often and remain dry (do not allow the pad to become soaked with milk).
- Soothies. Store bought gel pads that last for a few days and are disposable, Soothies help soothe the nipples with a cooling effect and protects against friction. They are reusable (usually for a few days) and absorbent.
- Try a nipple shield. Speak with a lactation consultant regarding this one, with any questions, and for a proper fitting. Nipple shields are also helpful for moms with inverted or small nipples, for a baby with a shallow latch, and for hurt or sore nipples. They are not meant, however, to be used long term.
- Natural cream, such as Nipple Butter from Earth Mama Angel Baby or Nipple Cream from Mababa. Both of which have ingredients to help not only soothe but heal the area, and can be purchased from the local health food store, or online.
- Olive Oil. Dab just a bit on the nipple. There's no need to remove prior to nursing, but you certainly can if you would prefer to.
- If absolutely necessary (talk to your doctor/baby's doctor), medication may be taken to ease the discomfort and help with swelling.
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If symptoms persist for more than a few days (after beginning treatment), you suspect a possible clogged duct, or if have a noticeable amount of blood excreting from the nipple (bleeding may happen. Use discretion as to when the amount is concerning), contact your physician or lactation consultant.
Lactation consultants are well-educated and very resourceful. Contact one at your local hospital, try La Leche League, or locate someone online. There are many forums and websites devoted to helping make mom and baby's lives easier, breast feeding included. Speak with someone about any questions or concerns, and meet in person to review positions, latching, and more, as this will help significantly improve the quality of feedings.
Make sure to stay hydrated, of course, when breast feeding. Adding natural anti-inflammatory and pain relieving ingredients - such as garlic, turmeric, and ginger - to your already amazing dinners will help as well.
Breast feeding is a beautiful thing, and so beneficial for both mom and baby! This is just a tiny pebble in the road to bonding, nutrition, and pure blissful love. Do not suffer in silence, mama!
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