Breast-feeding Pain

03 Dec Breast-feeding Pain

Guest Blogger: Jill Zeruth

Before I had my first child, I took it for granted that something as natural and beneficial as breast-feeding my newborn should be easy and certainly be pain-free—was I wrong!  Right after giving birth, nurses in the hospital showed me various ways of holding the baby and shared their own nursing tips.  I even spoke with a lactation consultant.  Still, breast-feeding my baby turned out to be more painful than giving birth to him and this pain lasted for weeks.  I wondered what I was doing wrong, what I should be doing differently, and what was wrong with me.  I couldn’t understand how a biological process intended by Mother Nature to seamlessly promote health in a myriad of ways to both the baby and the mother could be so tiring, difficult, and most of all, painful. I began to feel disheartened and worried that it just wasn’t going to work out.

After a while, I began to find out that I wasn’t the only mother feeling this way.  Many mothers I spoke with shared similar stories of curling their toes in pain as they breast-fed their newborn babies.  Misery loves company and I began to feel normal again!

In a recent article, British researchers observed eight first-time mothers breast-feeding in the early postpartum period through audio accounts and interviews.  The main message the women conveyed was of tension and confusion between the ideal of “natural” trouble-free breast-feeding and the reality of the pain they were experiencing.  This pain and confusion frequently collided with their struggle to develop strong and positive identities as new mothers.  The researchers also pointed out that the pain, as well as the intense and difficult emotions, could go up and down from one feeding to the next.  One fairly pain-free feeding offered hope, but then a mother might feel betrayed by a bout of increased pain at the next feeding.

Women need to feel supported when they are learning to breast-feed.  It is a time when they are experiencing residual pain from giving birth, are learning to take care of a new baby, are managing changed dynamics of their family, and are learning to be a mom. Feeding a child shouldn’t be an added challenge.  Yet, as with mothers in the US, the women in the UK struggled with mixed messages—while breast-feeding is strongly encouraged by experts, it can also be experienced as shameful when conducted in public.

In the end, after those first painful and confusing weeks of breastfeeding, I have been fortunate. I have given birth to three beautiful boys. Yes, I experienced pain breast-feeding each one of them right after they were born.  But with my second and third sons, I was much less confused and knew just to hang in there.  I know there are a few lucky women who don’t have any pain with breast-feeding; however, the majority of us are not in that crowd. Hang in there, moms! It gets easier—eventually.