Does breastfeeding hurt?

Pain is one of the most common breastfeeding fears. While many breastfeeding mothers experience some degree of discomfort or pain, it's usually a sign that your baby’s mouth is poorly positioned on your breast. When your baby has a poor latch, your nipple can get squished between the roof of your baby’s mouth and his tongue. 

One way to tell if your baby has a poor latch is to examine your nipples before and after breastfeeding. When your baby has a good, deep latch, the nipple will be positioned at the back of the baby’s mouth. Aside from being elongated (lengthened), the shape of the nipple will be the same, before and after breastfeeding. On the other hand, if your baby is poorly latched, your nipple will look flattened or creased after breastfeeding.

While achieving a good latch is an important step to pain-free breastfeeding, even mothers of babies with a good latch can find breastfeeding painful at first. Fortunately, this tugging, pulling, or painful sensation that occurs at the start of a feeding (and is due to the nipple being elongated) lasts for only a few seconds, and generally stops completely after a week or two once your nipple has grown accustomed to this new task.

If the pain persists throughout a feeding, between feedings, or for more than two weeks, it may signal a different issue, such as a strong let-down (milk-ejection) reflex, a yeast infection, unrelieved engorgement, or a plugged duct. The best advice is to get help from someone trained to help breastfeeding families, such as an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), La Leche League Leader, or WIC peer counselor.

If you notice that your baby has a poor latch, or you experience pain lasting more than a few seconds, gently slide your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth, break the suction, remove your baby from the breast, and try again.

Click here for instructions on getting a good latch and here for visuals on a good versus poor latch.

Last updated April 12, 2020

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