Understanding What Pain is Normal in Breastfeeding and What is Not

When nursing hurts, you need to know what’s normal and what’s not.

And you need to know right away!

Breastfeeding pain can be miserable. I’m feeling for you. I’ve been there!

For the first several weeks after delivery, your body is adjusting to feeding a person. That’s a lot of work.

So it goes without saying that you’ll have a time of transition.

Unfortunately, one of those transitions is pain. As your body begins to heal, it can be painful. I know! It’s not fair! You just went through an entire pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

Take heart – you’re almost to the end of the painful part of the process!

Let’s Take a Look at What You Might Be Feeling

  • It hurts when the baby latches on. It’s definitely normal and it won’t hurt forever. This is the single most important thing to remember…..when your baby is just minutes old and is willing to nurse, as sweet as it is, do NOT, and I will repeat it…do NOT, let the baby nurse on one side for more than five minutes at a time. Remove the baby by gently inserting your finger into the side of her mouth to break the suction and then switch sides. You can do that as often as you need to, but don’t make the same mistake I did. I thought the baby was doing such a spectacular job nursing, I just let her go for a half an hour. And…..I could hardly nurse the next day. Please heed my warning! Make sure your baby is latching on properly by taking in the whole part of your breast and not just the nipple. Don’t let the baby only latch on to the nipple or you’ll be hurtin’ for certain! If you need help finding the proper latch, you can call your doctor or midwife and ask for a consultation with lactation consultant. After every nursing session apply a nipple cream like Earth Mama Natural Nipple Butter to your nipples to prevent them from cracking. (Even if you’re not hurting at all. Trust me!) If they do become cracked, you can use tea bags in the shower. Hold them over your nipples and stand in the warm water. It gives new meaning to the term “a spot of tea!” 
  • It hurts to touch my breast. This isn’t normal and could indicate an infection such as mastitis or a plugged duct. Don’t worry! Both are very treatable. But do pay attention and let your doctor or midwife know, especially if you have a fever, chills, or flu-like symptoms. You shouldn’t feel any lumps, see anything red, or have any pain or tenderness on your breasts (other than painful nipples, since you’re just starting out nursing.) If you want to try and treat yourself first, you can use a warm compresses. Warm up a towel with hot water and gently place it over your breast. Gently massage your breast (especially in any area you feel a lumpy spot) to work out the plugged duct. You can also take a hot bath or shower and gently massage the lump(s) in your breast. I’ve had great success using lavender essential oil, to soothe the soreness and help heal the breast. Alternately, you can use cabbage leaves tucked into your bra. I have no idea why this works, but it does! You’ll just be ready to make coleslaw when you’re healed! 🙂 If you do, indeed have mastitis or a plugged duct, nursing your baby may very well be the best remedy. It’ll help the milk move through the ducts and can loosen any plugs. I’ve healed myself of several bouts of mastitis this way without ever needing any other treatment. Of course, I’m not a doctor, so if at any time you feel the need to be seen, don’t hesitate to call your midwife or OBGyN. Also important to note: If you do have mastitis or a plugged duct, it will not hurt the baby to nurse.
  • Cramps. VERY normal. After you deliver a baby, your body needs to go back to its original state. Your uterus stretched out for a very long time in order to hold the baby. Now it’s trying to go back to it’s pre-pregnancy state. That involves cramping. And when you nurse, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin that helps contract your uterus. So, yep, unfortunately, cramps are part of the process. Of course if you notice large amounts of blood or blood clots, it’s a great idea to let your doctor or midwife know. It’s important to note that typically, the duration and intensity of the cramps tends to increase with each baby you deliver. So, if you’re on baby number two or beyond, know that it’s very normal to have cramps when you’re breastfeeding.
  • Neck, shoulder pain and headaches. Very normal. Your body just went through a massive amount of work, and although the hard part is done, you may experience neck and shoulder pain from sitting in new (and sometimes very awkward) positions to nurse your precious little baby. It’s very normal. Headaches are also very common. It took me four babies until I realized that the headache in the middle of my forehead that I always got the first week postpartum was from looking down at my baby to help him or her latch on. Essentially, I was cross-eyed for a long time, while looking down to help the baby nurse. If this happens, it’s very normal. Of course, if you’re concerned, it never hurts to let your health care provider know.
  • Emotional Pain. Very normal. Nursing can be the most joyous experience you’ll ever have. But more than likely, that won’t happen immediately. I’ve shed a great deal of tears while trying to teach my new little nursling how to get the hang of nursing. It’s very normal to feel upset (especially with all of the postpartum hormones running through your body) and you might feel like you cry a lot. And that’s ok. If you find yourself crying incessantly, then you need to seek help. Expect that you will shed some emotional tears when learning how to breastfeed.

In my decade and a half of nursing, I’ve experienced all of these things at some point or another. But I still managed to exclusively breastfeed all of my kids and you can too! If you’re struggling with breastfeeding, take a deep breath and remember that it takes time to learn something new. You’ll be ok and so will your sweet baby! Blessings to you as you do one of the most awesome things in the world – nurse your baby!

Have you struggled to understand what’s normal and what’s not with breastfeeding? What tricks helped you cope with the first weeks of nursing? Are you just starting to breastfeed and not sure what to do? Comment below, and I’d be glad to help you!



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