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Breastfeeding may be nature’s way of feeding babies, but not all new mothers and infants take to it naturally. In fact, for many, the whole process is so challenging that it can only be compared to using a computer while riding a unicycle. (Cirque du Soleil’s got nothin’ on us!) But that’s not to say that it can’t be done; with a little preparation and a few tricks from a professional, the vast majority of women are able to breastfeed their babies successfully.
Here, we explore different travails encountered by new mothers (the working title of which might be “We Shall Overcome”), followed by expert counsel from Ellen “Binky” Petok, a board-certified lactation consultant and owner of The Pump Connection in Woodland Hills, Calif.
The challenge: Robin Webber never thought that something as natural as breastfeeding could be so painful. But when she gave birth to her twin girls 19 months ago, she found out just how uncomfortable it could be.
“For the first few weeks, I was in tears because it was so painful,” says the mother from Omaha, Neb. “My nipples were actually bleeding. I was also exhausted from the constant feeding, so I tried nursing my babies at the same time by holding them like footballs—otherwise, I was up all night feeding them.”
Webber put lanolin cream on her nipples to help soothe and heal them. After three weeks, her skin toughened from the intense regimen of breastfeeding two babies, and she was actually able to nurse her twins without weeping. “Despite the initial pain, I’m glad I did everything I could to continue nursing my girls,” she says.
What the expert says: Even if you’re not nursing twins, it’s not unusual to become sore during the initial phases of breastfeeding. “Most nipples haven’t gone through the kind of rigorous activity involved in nursing,” Petok says. Discomfort usually subsides within five days, when breast tissue “habituates” to an infant’s constant feeding, but if it takes longer for the pain to stop, or if your nipples start bleeding, a visit to a lactation consultant is in order.
The best way to prevent nursing pain is to make sure the baby is latched on properly (see How To Breastfeed: Deep Latch Technique). Beyond that, mothers who experience cracking or bleeding should wash their nipples with warm water once daily and pat them dry. “Nipples can become colonized with bacteria, and the little germs in there prolong soreness,” Petok says. Once the nipples are dry, apply breast milk to them, followed by glycerin gel pads. Breast pain also can be allayed by holding the baby in different positions while nursing.