Painless Breast-Feeding: A Motherhood Myth


The biggest lie that I heard prior to the birth of my first daughter was, "Breast-feeding doesn't hurt." Then, after it started hurting like hell, I was told: "If it's hurting, you're doing it wrong."

This statement led to many days of angst for me during my first foray into breast-feeding. I had lactation consultants telling me that it simply "shouldn't hurt" or that I should just apply more lanolin or cool gel pads (such as these) to my breasts between feedings.

Within 10 days of my first daughter's birth, I was crazed in my pursuit of a pain-free feeding. I had a special pillow that I would wrap around my waist (I used the Le Cuddler, rather than the popular My Brest Friend), and I would ever-so-carefully position her fuzzy newborn head just at nipple level. I would encourage her to open her mouth wide in order to take in the entire areola, then—pop—I'd stick her on.

A second later, I would yowl with pain as she began to eat. It hurt as bad as labor contractions! Tears of pain and frustration flowed down my face as my daughter filled up on breast milk. I knew that breast-feeding was the best way to feed my newborn, but I began to dread each feeding.

After having fed three babies from these beleaguered breasts, this is what I know: I was doing nothing wrong. I just have to go through the pain until my boobs toughen up to the task. Now I have the "latch" and the "flange" working fine—I simply need to wince, wail, and wait for the pain to subside. This is what I learned through trial and error.

Back then, I finally used a breast pump when I couldn't stand the pain anymore. The machine was much gentler than my daughter, and I could feed her through a bottle for half a day while taking a break from the pain.

Though that was a temporary solution, I also happened upon a remedy to the pain—and it wasn't changing the "latch" or using refrigerated pads on my breasts.

After dutifully slathering lanolin on my breasts, I—quite by accident—fell asleep in my shirtless state on the hammock in the backyard. The combination of the lanolin and the direct sunshine burned off the remaining blistered skin, and every feeding from then on out became progressively easier.

Next Page: My breasts give up [ pagebreak ]The nerve endings in my breasts just had to "give up"—after the blisters, cracking, constant assault, and sunburn—and I enjoyed a relatively pain-free nursing relationship. With my second child, I endured this same process. Though I tried to moisturize, using lanolin or cooling pads on my breasts only seemed to worsen the pain.

So when my third daughter was born two months ago, ready to eat from the moment she emerged, I had a plan.

The nice nurses in the hospital urged me to use lanolin, but I pushed the soothing lotions and pads away. Instead, I simply coated my nipples with expressed milk between feedings. Plus, I gave them as much air as possible—letting the blisters dry and allowing the skin to go back through a kind of basic training.

The result? My breasts gave up much earlier. I have been able to feed my child every few hours from the moment of her birth, wincing and swearing until the pain subsided.

I just wish someone had told me this during my first foray into breast-feeding years ago—that it is possible to be doing everything right and still suffer terrible pain. In fact, I have met very few women who haven't discovered—to their surprise—that breast-feeding hurts. It hurts worse if you're doing it wrong. And it hurts less as time goes by. But it hurts almost all first-timers.

But then the day comes when the pain subsides, and the baby sighs contentedly and curls against my belly while drinking milk I've made just for her. And the whole thing—sore nipples and all—is worth it.