breastfeeding: a pain worse than childbirth?

New mom Lindsay over at Suburban Turmoil says yes, the first few weeks of breastfeeding HURT LIKE HELL -- worse than giving birth.

My response in her comments section:

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt the way Lindsay is describing. Even in the first ten days. If it does, something is likely not right and likely, can be fixed with the right guidance and support.

If breastfeeding hurt that bad for that many women, the species wouldn't have survived. Some discomfort in the first few weeks is common, but the type of worse-than-labor-and-delivery pain Lindsay describes is not normal. It's pathological - meaning, something is wrong and can be fixed.

I am sure, just as with every aspect of the human body, there are unique individuals for whom early breastfeeding really hurts even when positioning is right, the baby is latching on right, etc (Lindsay may be one of these unique individuals). But seriously, if breastfeeding is causing that level of extreme pain, something is almost certainly wrong - something that can be fixed.

I have breastfed three children. It never hurt. In the first few weeks, I would get a little engorged and my nipples were tender a bit, but "pain" would be far too strong a word. Especially the kind of pain L. is describing.

So if you are considering breastfeeding, please don't resign yourself to horrible pain in the arly weeks. It isn't inevitable and many women will tell you it isn't even very likely.

But I am really, really sorry for those of you who have had this experience of hurting that bad. It sounds awful.


Suburban Turmoil said...

I should've qualified that it's worse than the pain of childbirth with an epidural. Heh.

But yeah. I had two lactation consultants watch me breastfeed and read everything I could get my hands on regarding positioning, problems, blah blah blah and I'm convinced I was doing everything right- even more so now that the pain's gone away. But it hurt like heck both times for the first two weeks. And I began noticing that everyone I talked to afterward said, "Oh yeah, the first two weeks are incredibly painful!" and wondered why no one told me this before I started breastfeeding.

Anonymous said...

Mastitis ain't any fun either.

Lori B said...

Well, with my first I had inverted nipples and it was the most painful thing I've ever experienced. Bleeding, cracking - awful pain whenever my son latched on. It got better after about two months - I just persevered. With my second, no problems because my nipples were no longer inverted.

Dewi said...

Suburban mom,
It is never normal to have that level of pain when breastfeeding.
When women say they have that type of pain it is a red flag that something is wrong.

There is evidence based published clinical studies to indicate that if breastfeeding hurts there is something wrong. No matter what your lactation person or doctor supposedly said or did for you, normal breastfeeding does not hurt; you or the baby had an underlying undiagnosed problem. Did you ever become pain free if so what do you contribute to becoming suddenly pain free?

I have no doubt you experienced intolerable excruciating pain, I think you had very poor breastfeeding management from your doctor and lactation consultants.

Without seeing your breast after the baby detaches a few common things come to mind that is frequently overlooked by some lactation consultants (especially the less experienced LC's) is canadisis in your breast, or your baby had a tight frenulum. It could have been lots of things, but those are common overlooked issues that cause pain.

Both of these things are so insanely painful, frequently neither one is diagnosed quickly and most doctors disregard complaints as if breastfeeding should hurt.

Suburban Turmoil said...

Both times, I had pain until the tenth day and by that evening, it was completely gone. I'm fine now and it doesn't hurt a bit.

I swear, I kept reading all the "it shouldn't hurt" literature out there and tried to figure out anything that could have been wrong- I could find nothing. Even a yeast infection wouldn't have just gone away... And I find it odd that nearly every breastfeeding mom I've spoken to had the exact same experience. Are we all crazy? Or is it possible that for a lot of women out there, it just takes a few days for our bodies to adjust to the demands of breastfeeding?

Anonymous said...

I did not feel any pain when breastfeeding nor did I have any issues at all...I also never felt a "let down" response (I only knew milk was coming out if I squeezed my nipple and saw it). I was so ready for problems that I read book after book to prepare, bought a pump, lanolin for dryness (neither used until I wanted to pump to go out) but everything went off smooth as could be.

Anonymous said...

I feel very bad for any woman who has pain while nursing. It must be awful to be torn between nourishing your baby and being pain-free. I did not have any pain while nursing, and I nursed fairly constantly for 2 years. I think it really helped that for the last trimester,(I know it sounds funny but other mom swear by it), I would tug on my nipples! Also, I would put olive oil on them!
becky mom o' willie

Meagan Francis said...

I had horrible, excrutiating, kicking-feet-and-sobbing pain while nursing two of my four children. One (the first, strangely, who had a lot of trouble nursing) gave me no pain at all, not even soreness. The last, just some minor soreness.

It didn't really "look" like thrush with #2 or #3 but on a hunch I decided to treat for thrush and was noticeably better within a day. This was on week 3, after I'd exhausted everything else.

It's hard to say how much pain I might have experienced with #2 and #3 if I had treated the thrush early on--i.e. how much of what I was feeling was normal soreness and how much was the thrush. But now I tell friends who are experiencing the kind of pain I was and can't find a cause, to just go ahead and try gentian violet. Nobody should have to wake up in the morning dreading nursing their brand-new baby!

Leslie said...

It's hard to know what to say to people about breastfeeding before they've done it. If you say it's easy, effortless, and never hurts, you'd be lying for one thing, and for another you'd leave them unprepared for the problems that can develop. OTOH, if you go on about the problems and the learning curve, etc., you may scare them away all together.

No, breastfeeding shouldn't hurt. But it often does, because we have lost the communal wisdom to teach and nurture bf mothers. For example, my mother did try but was largely unsuccessful at nursing due to the bad advice out there at the time. When I had my babies, she was supportive but didn't have any knowledge to give me. Neither of my grandmothers had nursed babies either. I was the first of my friends to have a baby. No one I personally knew had experience with breastfeeding.

Luckily I had done my own reading in advance, and did not have any major problems with my first three babies. When my daughters have babies I will be able to help them with nursing if they want because I have lots of experience and knowledge.

I had three largely pain-free (with the exception of some early soreness) experiences. Then with my fourth (down the road a bit--he was past a year) I had the worst case of thrush ever. Nothing would make it go away, not even gentian violet. If I had been inexperienced or less committed to nursing him I would have weaned then. I had found an online community of breastfeeders, though, who helped me through that with support and advice. Support is so important, and not just from a lactation consultant, although a good one can be invaluable--if you can afford one.

I frequently suffer pain nursing my fifth baby, who is two. We went through a horrible time from 2-4 months, with a diagnosis of failure to thrive, hospitalization, pumping and supplementing via SNS, many trips to the lactation consultant, every galactagogue in the book . . . Yes, there is a problem; her jaw was too receded to milk the breast effectively. After six weeks of almost no weight gain at all, I had to supplement with 15 ounces of formula a day. Eventually she grew to where this was no longer necessary; but to this day her latch is poor and I still get cracks and pain occasionally!

Is the pain worse than childbirth? Well, no I wouldn't say that!

katie allison granju said...

Let me clarify that I am not denying that the pain is REALLY REAL for women who have it. What I'm saying is that it can be fixed. Something is wrong. It shouldn't hurt like that.

Even if it suddenly stops after 10 days or 3 months, it doesn't mean that something fixable wasn't wrong during those 10 days or 3 months.

So my advice is to talk to a LLL Leader or a certified lactation consultant if you are hurting that bad. And if the professional help you get tells you nothing is wrong but it continues to hurt like that, try someone else. Not all lactation consultants are created equal (just like not all docs are created equal).


Anonymous said...

Just to put it out there-I've breastfed three children so far and never had bleeding, cracked or dry nipples. So it doesn't happen to all breastfeeding mothers, as some have told me. The only pain was in the very very beginning when my first was learning how to nurse and I realized that she would be falling off the nipple as she drifted to sleep...that was very simple to fix.

Anonymous said...

denial is such a lovely thing. I know of plenty of people who have been in excruciating toe curling pain from breastfeeding. And no, nothing was "wrong". Its just the way it is. Thing is, that the lactivists desperately desperately don't want you to know this because then you might, gasp, FORMULA FEED. Yeah, there are a lot of people who have pain free experiences but I do not doubt that there are also people, even if they are a minority, who have very real, completely unavoidable pain. As for the "species dying out"...uh, I think that people will endure a lot rather than let their child die from starvation.
Along these lines, NO ONE, but NO ONE, told me with my first child about all the many things that could go wrong breastfeeding. It was lah lah lah..its so EASY, its so NATURAL, anyone can do it....if you screw up its because YOU didn't want to do this bad enough..blah blah blah and on into infinity...
Well, with much hindsight and having talked to many many people I have reached the conclusion (and the commentary here backs this up as well) that there is a well guarded conspiracy among "lactivists" to minimize the feelings and excuse away the pain because they are so desperate to force everyone to breastfeed. Honesty is indeed the best policy and what happens when "the ends justifies the means' in your campaign is you win no friends and influence few. Most people get pissed at "lactivists' not because they think breastfeeding is horrible but because they think the tactics used are despicable.
Someone should sue LLL for the cost of their antidepressents after these dumbfucks push them over the edge....

Anonymous said...

She's an idiot. Everything she says is so thoughtless, predictable and plain dumb. She has not one original thought of her own. The queen of sheeple.