The birth of a child is a truly wonderful event and many new mothers long for the day when they can lift their new-born to their breast.
However, although breastfeeding is best for the baby – and also the mother – for most women it’s far from the easy and natural process that many imagine.
Getting the technique right takes a bit of practice and at first, it can be far from the ideal intimate and nurturing experience. But with a bit of persistence, it’s possible to get the hang of things and once you’re up and running, you will be lifting your baby to the breast with barely a second thought.
Then just as you think you finally have the whole thing sussed….the nipple problems starts. We take a look at what breastfeeding mothers can do to look after their nipples and the steps they can take if they become sore.
Just because your baby is managing to feed well and put on weight doesn’t mean that they have got the knack of feeding in the right way. If your nipple is not positioned in the right place it will get rubbed sore by your baby’s tongue and her hard palate.
The bit you are aiming for is right at the back of her mouth. As an old saying goes ‘ it’s called breastfeeding, not nipple-feeding’; in other words your baby should have a good mouthful of your breast and not just be nibbling on your nipple. Failing to heed this advice is a short cut to becoming seriously sore in a very short space of time.
If you think your baby hasn’t latched on properly it’s best to start again. But stop! Don’t pull your nipple out of her mouth because you really will regret it! Instead simply pop your little finger into the corner of her mouth and break the seal. A far less painful approach…
Being too clean!
Whilst you are breastfeeding, you will be very conscious of your nipples – possibly more so than you have ever been in your life and ever will again. During this time, the smallest of irritants can result in significant pain and soreness, even if your skin is not usually so sensitive.
Lactating can mean lots of milk being spilt leaving you with sticky breasts. It’s hardly surprising that you may well end up washing them much more frequently than usual. After all, a sticky breast is not just uncomfortable for you but not particularly enticing for your little one to start suckling on either!
However, the constant washing and abrasiveness of soaps and cleansers can dry out the skin on your nipples, leaving you far more prone to cracking and bleeding. And whilst it is possible to carry out breastfeeding with cracked and bleeding nipples, it’s not an experience you will want to have if you can avoid it.
Where possible use a cracked nipple treatment specifically designed for breastfeeding mothers, or failing that, the gentlest one you can find, preferably un-perfumed. After gently patting dry, apply a balm to your nipples to help stop them drying out. Those designed for lactating women do not need to be wiped off prior to breastfeeding.
Get properly fitted
As the weeks pass and your baby starts to grow, you inevitably will be out and about a bit more and may well be breastfeeding whilst on the go. A maternity bra is an absolute godsend as you simply have to unclip a flap and you’re ready to feed, rather than having to unhook everything.
However, don’t forget to get your new swollen breasts properly measured as the chances are you may well have gone up a cup size or two. Squeezing those tender nipples into a too-small bra will cause the material to rub and can be a major contributory factor to cracking and soreness.
Don’t forget to allow room for breast pads too!
Your nipples get put through a lot when you are breastfeeding and although they soon toughen up, it doesn’t take much for them to become raw and painful, even if your baby has been feeding for several months without a problem.
Being in a constantly wet and damp environment takes its toll, during feeding and due to leakage. The very action of breastfeeding is also enough for changes to occur; studies have shown that neonatal sucking causes changes such as swelling, inflammation and peeling even when no trauma has occurred.
For all these reasons, prevention is imperative; don’t wait for your nipples to become excruciatingly painful to touch before you start looking after them. If you have always breastfed and suddenly need to switch to a bottle because your nipples are just too sore, the chances are your baby isn’t going to be too keen. Of course you can grit your teeth and carry on, but you will inevitably come to dread feeding time!
A great way to keep your nipples well lubricated and in tip-top condition is to smear a breast pad with balm and pop it inside your maternity bra. If you are concerned about preventing infection or are worried about mastitis, you can use a compress in the same way.