Thursday, April 07, 2005

Nipples of Steel

I was relieved to hear mothers at my book group comparing nursing experiences the other night. We shared a laugh recalling those first few weeks of nursing when our tender nipples stabbed with pain for the first 30-60 seconds after the baby started sucking. One woman even did a perfect pantomime, complete with bouncing feet, raised eyebrows and her mouth shaped in a tight “O.”

When new mothers call me, frustrated with their nursing experiences, one of the first things they say is “It’s not supposed to hurt!” This is what the lactation consultants, the hospital nurses, or even La Leche League leaders have told them. After we talk a while, it becomes apparent that they are not referring to a chronic issue, but rather an initial "ouch" that fades as the session progresses. A week later, they are fine.

This was my experience with both of my newborn sons. I do not think I had positioning problems or that my sons had bad latches. I think my nipples, which until that point had encountered nothing rougher than a bath towel, were in shock at the repeated compression and stroking they were getting at ninety minute intervals. This seems normal.

Yet I have seen time and again the hospital nurse say to a mother, “Remember, if it hurts, you’re doing something wrong.” Yikes! I have even asked “It’s normal for it to hurt a little at the very beginning of a feeding session, though, right?” and been told “no.”

Finally a lactation consultant explained to me that they don’t want mothers to get it in their heads that they have to endure pain to breast feed. She said many women will go through weeks of nursing, clenching their teeth the entire time, because the baby is chomping on the nipple instead of the areola. I am all for avoiding that!

Always the moderate, I am just asking for full disclosure. Breastfeeding should not hurt for the entire session, true. And once you and the baby are in a groove, the reappearance of pain probably indicates an infection or blockage. But if in the first two weeks your nipples hurt pretty darn badly -- and you find your eyes suddenly squinty and feel the need to revert to those slow, steady labor breaths for a minute or two – it is probably just a little adjustment period while your nipples get used to their new task.


Anonymous yvonne said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! It drives me crazy to hear the whole "if it hurts, you're doing it wrong" without some kind of disclaimer for that first minute during the first couple weeks. ACK! I know women quit because of that little piece of sage advise. *sigh*

Oh, by the way, I discovered your blog several weeks ago. I'm a new doula, working on certification and I love reading about your experiences. Thanks!

8:17 PM  
Blogger Dynamic Doula said...

I'm with you- I tell my clients about that stinging/pulling sensation so that if/when it happens they know it's normal and not a sign of a problem, necessarily. I have never met a mother who breastfed her baby and didn't experience some discomfort!

We have to be more honest with mothers. One at a time, I guess!

12:06 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Yeah, isn't that crazy! My latch and positioning were fine too, and it hurt so bad I did almost nearly quit. (Glad I didn't.)

I really have to wonder, though, if it didn't have something to do with the fact that my nipples had been coddled for years. Any part of the body that is exposed to air and friction is going to become tougher than a part that isn't. Maybe it's bras that are the problem. Anything in the LLL books about that?

8:46 PM  

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