Saturday, August 1, 2009

World Breastfeeding Week - Supporting Moms Through the Initial Pain of Breastfeeding

It's World Breastfeeding Week. Professionals everywhere are working toward the goal of increasing awareness for moms everywhere of the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk. reported that the lives of 1.3 million babies could be saved annually if more moms worldwide would breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their babies' lives (

If I could change one thing I’ve ever read and heard about breastfeeding, it’s what moms are told: “If a baby is latching on correctly, it shouldn’t hurt.” Well, for many women, it hurts a lot, especially in the beginning. At least it did for me!

When I started breastfeeding my first son almost 10 years ago, my nipples were excruciatingly sore for 8 weeks (yes, 8 long, painful weeks!) I went to a board-certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) twice because I was in so much pain and thought he wasn’t latching on correctly, something was wrong, etc. She said he was nursing perfectly, all was well, and I shouldn't be in pain. Sounds good, but I was in pain.

I made it through those difficult first 8 weeks only because of the support of my sister-in-law who had had difficulties breastfeeding her first baby 5 months earlier. I didn't give up and successfully breastfed for 4 years (yes, I know that that's way too long for most people's comfort, especially here in the US).

For most moms, this painful timeframe is a lot shorter – 1-4 weeks – but the pain can still be excruciating. When you have to re-experience it every 2-3 hours for 2-4 weeks and you’re post-partum (i.e., extremely hormonal, tired, and overwhelmed), it feels like a lifetime. And if you have another child (or children) demanding your attention, it’s even more difficult. Many moms give up altogether -- they throw in the towel and give the baby a bottle of formula.

It's important to acknowledge that yes, it can be very painful, even when baby's breastfeeding correctly. Breastfeeding education and ongoing support is essential. Moms may still need help with correct latching, help with plugged ducts, and more.

We need to support women THROUGH the painful, difficult time, reassuring them that the pain will subside completely, rather than make them think that something’s not right – either with them or with their baby. It’s also important to reassure moms that even though for the first 3-4 months they’ll be breastfeeding every 2-3 hours, as the baby gets older, the frequency decreases.

Continually reminding and reassuring moms would help them get through it, rather than give up. It’s also important to focus on the benefits of continued breastfeeding – after 6 months, breastfeeding becomes very easy and it’s pain-free. Plus, it's inexpensive and "green" -- no additional waste in landfills.

The physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding and breastmilk for both mom and baby are well-documented. We need to support moms through the difficult times so both can receive these benefits.