Episode 2: Breastfeeding Shouldn't Hurt
Jacqueline Kincer [00:05]
Today’s episode is going to be all about how breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. Before I start getting hate mail and a bunch of DMS from people saying: ”Well, breastfeeding totally hurt me in the beginning, or it hurts right now. Let me tell you, I’m here to completely validate your pain and explain to you why you shouldn’t be settling for suffering. So stay tuned.
Welcome to today’s episode about how breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. Before we dive into this controversial topic, or what some people might consider controversial, I wanted to share with you a bit of my own experience so that we can all start off on the same page.
When I gave birth to my first child, my son, breastfeeding was extremely painful, probably at least on day two, if not the first day of breastfeeding. And I’ll never forget, I had the hospital lactation consultant come in, she threw me some hydrogel pads and shoved my baby on my boob, and was on her merry way. And I could never replicate what she was doing. She never taught me how to latch, and these hydrogel pads just smelled very chemically. And one of them ended up dropping on the hospital floor, which I thought, basically, we are gonna set that on fire now and not use that! I put my nipple cream on, and I kept trying my best. And for the next six to eight weeks or so, I suffered in extreme pain.
My toes curled every time I latched my son, my nipples were cracked, and they were bruised. I remember my husband sitting with me, and I was crying. I was in tears trying to latch my baby. It was awful. And, of course, he latched that wasn’t an issue. But his latch was so painful, and the pain subsided.
So then it went away towards the end, or as the feeding continued. I kind of almost forgot about it. And then I put my nipple cream on. And I kind of thought, well, they wouldn’t sell these nipple creams if you weren’t supposed to use them. So, that’s kind of how it worked.
Until one day, I attended my FIRST La Leche League meeting. And this meeting was my first venture out of my house. I didn’t have my husband, I didn’t have my mom, it was just me and the baby in the car for the first time leaving the house.
And I probably pulled over five or six times on the way there, and it wasn’t far. It’s a few miles away. But with a crying baby in the backseat, I could not drive. It was like physically my body was like, pull over, see if something’s wrong with him.! And, of course, he was totally fine. He just didn’t want to be in his car seat. So that’s a whole other story there! I’m sure you’ve all been there. If you have already had your baby at some point!
We’ve all pulled over just to make sure they’re okay. Right? So he was fine. We get to the meeting. And one of the things I heard said a few different times at this breastfeeding support meeting was that breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. And I silently was fuming because breastfeeding hurts. And I just felt like you’re wrong. Breastfeeding hurts. I didn’t hear the shouldn’t part.
What I heard was breastfeeding doesn’t hurt, which was not what they were saying. But that’s how I sort of internalized it. I’m like, Well, it does hurt, and you don’t know what my experience is like. And maybe y’all aren’t experts in breastfeeding. So whatever!
But as much as I had resistance to that idea, I also kind of always kept it in the back of my mind, like, is there something I could be doing differently? But the thing is, no one shared with me what I could be doing differently.
I went to our pediatrician, who was also a lactation consultant. She was like, yeah, the latch is fine. Looks great. And I was like but then why does it hurt so bad?
And so, I felt like something was wrong with me. I felt like it was my nipples or my skin tissue. Or something was wrong with me. That was a horrible place to be in. That was a horrible thing to feel. Never once was it ever a consideration that something could be wrong with my beautiful, perfect child, who is this miracle who just entered the earth. And turns out years later, we discovered he had a tongue tie and a lip tie. So that’s a whole other episode for sure. But my pain was denied.
No one told me that I could fix my pain. In the hospital, the lactation consultant basically said you’re latching your baby wrong. Well, babies with tongue ties and lip ties cannot latch properly. So if we had gone in that direction, then I wouldn’t have felt like such a failure as a mom.
Now thankfully, I did consider continued breastfeeding. Despite those struggles, despite getting plugged ducts and mastitis, despite having a colicky baby who would spit up all the time, despite all those things, we still continued breastfeeding. And in fact, my son breastfed all the way until he was four years old! Mostly, he kind of wrapped it up when he was three. But that was how my journey went. And when I started studying and becoming a lactation consultant, and before that, I even ended up becoming a La Leche League leader as well.
I learned through my studying that breastfeeding actually really shouldn’t hurt. If it hurts, that means there’s a problem, and we should do something about it. So the message of this episode is, that women’s pain should be listened to, your baby does not want you to be a martyr for them. They do not benefit from your pain. Breastfeeding is not designed to hurt your body. And that is the take-home message that I really want to sink in.
And there are a few things to consider when it comes to this. Just speaking about evolution and things. We don’t see other mammals in the animal kingdom cringing when their babies go to latch. If you have ever seen a whale, just go (whale sound), whatever, it’s baby latches, while maybe they make some sounds, okay, I haven’t watched enough documentaries to really know. But a kangaroo or whatever, we could give a lot of examples, cats, dogs, they lay there peacefully and blissfully until they start kicking them away when it’s time to wean. But for the most part, I really haven’t seen any other animals in the animal kingdom experience horrendous pain from nursing their little babies.
And just thinking about what our species is designed for, we’re designed to continue the species, right. So now, I don’t want to make apples and oranges comparisons, but let’s just take sex, for example.
So part of the reproductive process, sex, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding, are all parts of the reproductive process. Well, sex is designed to feel really, really good. Because that’s if it feels good, it’s like, we’re incentivized for continuing the species, almost to a fault, because there’s really just too many of us. But sex can also feel bad. Sex can hurt. It’s not supposed to, though, I think we all know that, right?
Now. But think about a teenager who’s exploring this idea of sex and may be thinking about having it, they might hear this narrative. Well, it always hurts the first time. That’s like, kind of the same narrative that we’re in for girls, right? For girls, that hurts the first time for the guy he’s never told, Oh, sex hurts. Sex hurts the first time. So this is just another example of women’s pain. And we’re told childbirth should hurt. But I know several women who have had painless childbirth, myself included.
Now I’m not sitting here to brag or anything like that my first birth was horrendous and painful and awful, and all kinds of interventions and whatever. But my second birth, I would never describe it to you as painful, and no, I did not have the drugs. Okay. Just so we’re clear.
But I think we need to start questioning things. Do you know that we were taught from a very young age that our periods are another part of the reproductive process that is supposed to be painful, it’s normal, it’s expected? Guess what? It does not have to be painful. So what you’re basically saying is, If you subscribe to this paradigm, these things in the female reproductive process are supposed to be painful. What you’re basically saying is that women who don’t experience pain in any single one of those instances that something is wrong with them.
Think about how illogical that conclusion is. But that’s the obvious conclusion. If you’re saying periods are painful, childbirth is painful. Breastfeeding is painful, and having sex is painful. Well, if it’s not painful, something must be wrong with you then because you’re not normal. And that’s just not true. And I’ll give you another example here. So my cousin, not reproductive related necessarily, but sort of. She had extreme, extreme abdominal pain. And I think she even had her first baby after this. And so she ended up going to the hospital, she went to the ER. And you know, they checked her in. And she was basically told by the doctor that she had severe menstrual cramps and she should take ibuprofen and go home.
And this happens a lot. By the way, there are studies done on their ex posies, there are articles all the time coming out about this topic, where women’s pain is blamed on female reproductive things or it is denied. And this even happens in childbirth, when women are saying, I’m in so much pain. And they’re just given these drugs. And there’s a broken system out there, right? I think we know that.
So she ended up, my cousin on this adventure, putting her foot down and saying, I am not leaving this hospital until we figure out what’s going on. That is not what is happening. I want something, a scan, whatever, whatever we need to do. They ended up, I think, doing an ultrasound, and they saw her appendix was about to rupture! Had she taken ibuprofen and just been sent home, she now would have been put into a very acute emergency state with a ruptured appendix. And it would have been a real emergency that she needed to be whisked to the hospital and rushed to the ER. Thankfully, she was enough of a patient advocate for herself to get the care she needed and deserved. Her story is not unique. Women’s pain is denied. And it is normalized. And I am really sick and tired of it.
So back to breastfeeding, nipple pain, breast pain, this idea that oh my gosh, your boobs are going to be on fire and just full like pornstar boobs and just so engorged, you know, after you have the baby, well, maybe. But also, I know tons of women who have never experienced that. And that is totally not normal and a sign that milk is not being effectively removed from the breasts.
So to normalize that and just say, well, let’s throw some cabbage leaves on it, or to normalize, and I hear it a lot like midwives, who love nurturing women and caring for them and creating the best birth who will say, Oh, well, yeah, your nipples are going to be cracked and bleeding for the first two weeks. Now I appreciate what you’re trying to do when you say things like that. I do because you’re trying to encourage them to keep going with breastfeeding despite the obstacles.
So what I’m not saying here is that if you have breastfeeding pain, you should stop breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is not for you. That’s another extreme. And that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying, though, is you should listen to the things that your body’s telling you. Listen to that, and figure out, well, how could I make it not hurt? Maybe there are things you can do yourself, try to get a better lunch, try to do this, try to do that. Maybe there’s an actual problem, and you might need some outside help to support you. And that is okay. Because I wish I was told that.
I wish I was told that when I had my first child. I felt like I had to figure it out on my own. No one really let me know that there was a community out there available to support me. No one told me there’s a 24-hour breastfeeding hotline for my state’s wish they had, I probably would have called it at 11 at night, I really wish they would have told me that! I wish I had known that I could have called La Leche League in between there once a monthly meeting so that I didn’t have to wait until two months postpartum to go to a meeting. I wish I had known that.
There are a lot of things I wish I would have known about private practice lactation consultants who could have helped me. I wish I had known that. And by the way, there are far more resources today than there were even just seven years ago. That doesn’t seem like that long ago. I feel like my baby is four, but he’s turning seven. It’s just crazy. Time flies when you become a mom!
I feel like that is one thing that is a commonality that I definitely see. But I wish I had known these things. There wasn’t this podcast, there weren’t the same practitioners as there are, it exploded. There’s so much more online these days, so much out there. But it wasn’t available then. And the things that were available, I had no knowledge of that no one shared with me. It’s like they expected me to just know to just figure it out to know where to look. Well, guess what? I’ve never been a mom before, so I don’t know where to look. All I knew was there’s nipple creams offered at baby stores and that seemed like the obvious thing to put on my registry and to use.
And I read the womanly art of breastfeeding, which is a great book. But it really helped me with troubleshooting problems. So I say that to you because you might feel like you’re in the same boat where you feel like you just don’t have this information.
So what causes breastfeeding pain? Well, let’s break it down into two different types of pain there’s nipple pain, and then there’s breast pain. So nipple pain is caused by a few different things. First and foremost, the most obvious one and most common one is a poor latch. Now, this could be just poor latching technique on the part of you or your baby. But really, you’re the one who has to kind of guide your baby in the early days. So poor latch technique, sometimes that’s responsible.
I also, though, in my practice, have seen numerous times that women are really smart. If something hurts, and they know that they’re doing it wrong, they’re gonna try and figure out a way to do it better. Most moms, for the most part, know how to latch their babies, sometimes I definitely have to show them and tweak them. But it’s only because they were shown how to do it incorrectly by someone else first. So I find that quite often, a lot of times, I’ll see other lactation consultants, especially in the hospital.
And I know, lots of you in the hospital are my colleagues, and you’re amazing. But there are another set of you that teach moms to do it in a way that just isn’t going to work for the long term, it’s not going to be sustainable. And in my mind, what I’ve seen, in my years of practice, there’s a right way to watch a baby, and there’s a wrong way to watch baby. And it also can depend on the baby somewhat. But for the most part, it’s got to be a certain way, unless that latch technique is good, we may not get pain free breastfeeding. So latch technique first.
But let’s say you have the best technique, your baby, you’re doing the best you can, your baby’s doing the best they can, it still hurts, well, then maybe there’s something else causing that. An underlying structural issue that isn’t allowing your baby’s mouth to nurse properly at the breast. That could be just some tension, some subluxation, which is a fancy word for misalignment, essentially. So something that could be taken care of by some sort of bodyworker, a chiropractor, an osteopath, a cranial sacral, therapist, physical therapist, something like that. That might be something to address.
If your baby was in an odd position in the womb or was head down for a very prolonged period of time, there’s a really solid chance they need bodywork. If the birth was very long, if it was very short, if your baby came out in a funky way, vacuum, forceps, all that kind of stuff. C section, your baby really needs some body work. And don’t worry, I’m gonna bring on some experts to talk about that with you. Because it’s very, very important when it comes to breastfeeding.
And so, if that doesn’t address the issue, then there’s probably something else underlying. Usually, it’s a structural issue, like a tongue tie, or lip tie, or something like that, that is not allowing the baby to nurse in a way that is the way they should be nursing, and so, therefore, it’s causing you pain.
Sometimes it’s about the latch. Sometimes it’s about what’s going on inside the baby’s mouth. Sometimes it’s both, but those are the most common reasons why breastfeeding hurts. Now you could have nipple pain because maybe you had a nipple piercing that was fairly recent that you maybe took out mid-pregnancy or something like that. And so you’ve got this wound, this hole essentially that as it healed, some adhesions might have been created. And every time your baby nurses, those adhesions, the inner walls of that hole that was there are kind of getting pulled apart. And that can cause you breastfeeding pain. Now, that’s not a very common reason for it, but that’s another reason.
Then there are things like breast pain. So breast Pain is pain elsewhere, besides just the nipple, and this could be from engorgement, this could be from plug ducts, mastitis, it could also be from vasospasm, which is essentially a spasm or contraction in the breast tissue that is causing pain. And if it’s not mastitis or plugged ducts, obviously we know this issue is there. There are a lot of different ways to address that. And to resolve that if it’s engorgement.
Again, this is not super, super normal. Now, if you have breast implants, your risk of painful engorgement definitely increases because there’s just less room in your breast for the milk-making glandular tissue to expand. Right? So you’re at a higher risk for engorgement in that kind of situation. We expect more. But in a normal breast that’s never been surgically altered. Getting engorged as your milk comes in or your milk transitions that’s really a sign of poor breast drainage for the most part unless you have oversupply, which again isn’t normal.
So there are normal things, and then there are common things, and just because something is common, meaning that it happens to most people or it happens really often, doesn’t make it normal as in like normal to our biology or physiology.
Now a lot of things that you’re going to hear on this podcast, a lot of things I teach when I work with people, are common and do not equal normal. And that includes a lot of things that include, I mean, these are all like individual episode topics, by the way.
Reflux, baby’s not stooling every day, drooling. There are a lot of things, I can make a massive list for you. But breastfeeding pain isn’t normal. Yes, it’s common, but we shouldn’t normalize it. We shouldn’t just accept it. I think that we should question it. Because, again, breastfeeding pain puts you at risk, it puts you at risk for mastitis. It puts you at risk of ceasing your breastfeeding journey early, which puts your baby at risk for all sorts of health complications, not to mention the mental and emotional fallout.
There are so many women out there who have a lot of guilt and shame that they’ve internalized about their breastfeeding journeys and how they didn’t go according to plan and how they ended too early. They also might feel like just less confident moms.
There’s a lot of evidence showing that breastfeeding actually decreases your risk of postpartum depression, the hormones involved in breastfeeding, and there are neurotransmitters and all sorts of things at play here. And we can’t underestimate the value of a good breastfeeding experience for the mom and the baby. So there’s a lot to consider if we just accept women’s pain as normal.
Well, that pain might be interrupting the nice hormonal dance that’s supposed to be happening during breastfeeding. So when I asked moms, what’s your breastfeeding experience been like? I had a mom tell me how devastating it was. Wow. You know, that’s a very, very powerful word. Your breastfeeding experience should not be devastating. I don’t think we can accept that any longer as a culture, I really don’t. Because, again, we’re normalizing women’s pain, not just the physical pain of breastfeeding, hurting like I’m talking about. But their emotional pain, their mental pain, the things that a lot of us don’t talk about. And I’m not okay with that. I think we need to talk about these things.
So my big take-home message for you is if breastfeeding hurts, even in the beginning, that’s a sign something is wrong. And I cannot tell you how many babies I’ve seen later in life. One month old, two months old, I just saw a seven-month-old before I recorded this podcast. Breastfeeding hurt for the first two weeks. And then so ever since then, it’s been smooth sailing. But this baby has ties. And no one has caught it. Because this mom thought breastfeeding should hurt for the first two weeks. That is not true. And now we’re looking at trying to do a procedure on a seven-month-old, which is a lot harder than trying to do it on a newborn. And not just that logistically actually doing a procedure to correct the ties. But not to mention that I uncovered some other things that this baby’s had digestive troubles all along, have had reflux. And there’s been some other issues.
So we could have avoided all of those issues of this baby being in constant pain by trying to go to the bathroom every day, we could have traded that constant pain for the last seven months had we looked at the mom’s pain in the first two weeks. And this is not an uncommon story, by the way.
So there’s a lot to look at when it comes to this. And I’m not saying that you can listen to this episode and know exactly what the cause of your breastfeeding pain is. But I hope you’re getting some clues as to things to look for. And that you’re starting to question well, hmm, maybe it shouldn’t hurt. Maybe she has a point here. Maybe I should just think about this and just start asking some different questions like, well, what can I do to decrease the pain? Or when do I notice the pain is worse? Is that a certain time of day? Is it the beginning of the feeding? Is it in the middle? Is it at the end? Is it the whole feeding? What are these things? Because what you shouldn’t have to do is to go slap on a nipple shield or pump to let your breasts get some rest.
Now sometimes, we need to do that because that’s just part of healing and getting breastfeeding back on track. So I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with those things. Those are amazing tools when we need them, but you shouldn’t spend the next six months nursing your baby with a nipple shield. You shouldn’t have to exclusively pump if you don’t want to.
So if you want to breastfeed to go well, but it’s hurting, and it’s not, well let’s figure out why it’s not going well. I think you deserve that. I think your baby deserves that. And a lot of times, what I think it comes down to is not only is it this cultural conditioning, this programming, that again our pain ever since very very early in life. usually starting around puberty with talking about menstruation, our pain as women, we’ve been told it’s expected, we’ve been told it’s normal. And that’s just how it is. We’ve just accepted that’s like a fact of life. I don’t think we have to accept that anymore. I think we can stand up and be in our own power. And we can say, No, my body hurts, my body’s trying to send me a message, I should probably listen to my body.
And listening to your body has to do with self-worth. But that can be a far-off concept. For some people, it first has to do with self-acceptance, if we can just learn to accept ourselves. So when we deny our pain, we are denying ourselves, we’re denying the messages that we already know, we’re denying a truth that is already inside of us. Your body is saying, Ouch, that hurts. Pain is an indicator that something is wrong. It’s a signal your brain sends to go, Hey, you might want to pay attention to this and do something about it.
What’s the definition of insanity? Isn’t it doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? Right? So you just keep latching the baby, keep latching baby, keep latching baby. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. I’m not saying you’re insane what I am saying, though, it just doesn’t make any sense to expect a different outcome when you just keep doing the same things. Right?
But we’re just told, well just suck it up. Just deal with it. And I want to share with you this, I had a woman, a mom, who booked an appointment with me, I want to say this is maybe about a year ago, maybe longer. And on her intake form, when I asked the question, what’s your main objective? What’s the goal of the appointment today? And she wrote, my goal is just to be able to learn how to better tolerate the pain of breastfeeding. And I was crushed. I was heartbroken.
No woman should ever be saying that is their goal. She was just like, well, it’s gonna hurt. And that’s totally fine. But I just want to know how to deal with it. Wow! Wow! And, of course, we discovered that, again, tongue tie and lip tie are going on. Now, I’m not saying that’s always the reason why, but that’s most commonly what happens when I see people in my practice.
But how sad is that, that this mom was just like, I just want to do the best for my baby. And if that means that I just have to endure this pain, then okay. But again, you being in pain, you suffering, that is not what’s best for your baby, your baby does not want that if your baby wants you to enjoy breastfeeding it, it does not want you to avoid it, be worried about it, anxious about it, be cringing, every time it happens. That’s not enjoyable, right? Not enjoyable at all for your baby. So just something to consider.
I think we need to start changing the narratives around things for breastfeeding. I actually saw this on social media, there was a social media account, and their whole account was basically promoting how breastfeeding is painful. And you know, we should just accept it. And I was like, What, whoa, wait, what?
I get it that you’re trying to encourage women to breastfeed, and so am I, but their breastfeeding journey isn’t going to last very long if their nipples are falling off! Their breastfeeding journey isn’t gonna last very long if that pain then turns into decreased milk supply down the road, and she’s not making enough milk at six months and has to use formula, and the roller coaster goes off the rails and she stops breastfeeding soon. That’s not gonna help anyone. So I hope that that makes sense.
I hope that I’ve gotten my point across because I really, really want the best for you and your baby. And this is something that is so important, that really, really needs to be talked about. So I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I’d love to hear if this episode resonates with you.
So feel free to reach out to me on Instagram, send me a DM or comment on the post something of that nature, because I would love for you to share this message with other moms in your life as well.
I would love for you to share this with friends, with your community, and get this information out there so that we can all band together because honestly, we kind of have to just take care of ourselves a little bit. Right?
We as women, as moms, need to look out for each other, and to support and inform and encourage one another. Because if we think we’re going to get it from our culture and our society, that isn’t always the case, sometimes yes, we do. But that isn’t the case for a lot of people these days. So again, I hope you found this information really valuable and really helpful.
And if you did, and if you want this information to reach more moms, one of the best things you could do is not just share this podcast, but also leave us a review on iTunes. Because those reviews, help our podcasts get seen, help get this message out there. And there’s a ton of incredible information coming your way, not just from me, but from amazing experts from amazing moms who are absolute trailblazers, have so much to share tons of stories, and tons of support coming your way and I look forward to sharing that with you on future episodes. Thanks for tuning in, and I’ll see you on the next show.
If you’re like most new moms, you’ve probably heard that breastfeeding hurts in the early days. In this episode, Jacqueline is busting that myth and breaking down why the idea that breastfeeding should hurt is actually harmful to moms and babies. Tune in to hear about the causes of breastfeeding pain and what to do about it if it happens to you.
If you enjoy this episode and it inspired you in some way, I’d love to hear about it and know your biggest takeaway. Take a screenshot of you listening on your device, post it to your Instagram Stories and tag me @holisticlactation
I’ve got a special gift for all my listeners and it’s 38 powerful breastfeeding affirmations to support you on your breastfeeding journey, so go get that free audio now at https://holisticlactation.com/mantras
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- Why breastfeeding pain shouldn’t be tolerated
- Why enduring painful breastfeeding is harmful
- The causes of breastfeeding pain
- What to do to get breastfeeding to stop hurting