In my work as a postpartum nurse, over and over I would see the same thing happen. A new mother would try so hard to latch her sleepy newborn. When the baby was finally breastfeeding, she was so relieved and happy! Even if she knew there was something wrong with the latch, she would continue feeding. A mom loves her baby so much that she will tolerate pain if it means her baby is eating.
Unfortunately, this approach does not work for long-term breastfeeding success. Pain is a sign of nipple tissue damage. And, once nipples are cracked and bleeding, it often requires the help of an IBCLC to correct the latch and get on the road to healing. Even with expert help, with a newborn latching 8 to 12 times a day, nipples take several days to heal.
Even if you have worked for 30 minutes, or even a few hours to help your baby latch, if you feel pain after the first few sucks, try to adjust the baby’s position. Place his tummy facing yours so that he doesn’t have to turn his head to latch. Hold his hips and shoulders close and allow his head to move freely. If the pain does not resolve, gently remove the baby and relatch. Allowing a baby to continue with a poor latch will lead to these four problems:
- Babies who are not well latched have difficulty removing milk or colostrum from the breast, and compensate with longer or more frequent feedings.
- Ineffective milk removal will lead to problems with milk supply.
- A superficial latch will lead to nipple damage. This causes painful breastfeeding until the latch is corrected and the nipples are healed.
- In severe cases, painful breastfeeding can affect bonding between mother and baby.
The first few days, before the mature milk “comes in,” is a time for mother and baby to learn the dance of breastfeeding together. During these early days, baby should have unrestricted access to the breast. Insist on a deep, painless latch from day one. Gently reposition or relatch your baby as many times as you need to get it right. Try different breastfeeding positions. Laid-Back Breastfeeding is easy to learn and naturally results in a deeper latch. If you are concerned about the latch, get skilled help as soon as possible. Don’t ignore nipple pain and hope it will just go away on its own. The most loving thing you can do for your baby is protect the breastfeeding relationship by making sure things get off to a good start.