Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What You Need to Know Before You Breastfeed: Newly Exposed Skin Hurts

I know, I know. They tell you that if the baby is latched on properly, its not going to hurt. The truth is, though, that for a couple of days or weeks, depending on how sensitive your skin is, your breasts are going to be a little chaffed and sore.

I had a friend in highschool who figure skated. I remember one day, she came to school with her feet wrapped up in bandages. I asked her what had happened. She shrugged and said, "Oh, new skates. It takes a week or so for them to work in. In the meantime your feet get pretty sore." The adjustment your skin makes when nursing a baby is pretty similar.

Think of it this way: You nipples have, for the most part, been cloistered away in specially designed, cushioned carriers for the last few years. They have been treated gently and delicately, for the most part, for that time. Now they are going to be trotted out every 1 - 2 hours and sucked on and exposed to the elements. Everything is going to get moist from a mix of saliva and milk, and the dry out, and then get moist again. This is a big change for skin in a very sensitive area. It will take a few days to adjust to this new state of affairs. In the mean time, nursing is going to hurt. Your nipples may crack and bleed, even if you are doing nothing wrong. If you have very sensitive skin and a very enthusiastic baby, you may experience cracking and bleeding as a chronic concern throughout your time as a nursing mom. And, surprise! Every time you start nursing a new baby, you will get to go through it all again as your skin toughens up once more.

Why don't you hear about this? Because no one wants to scare you away from breastfeeding by telling you that it can hurt, just like no one tells you their labour horror stories until you are already pregnant. It is part of that strange, secret pool of information that women only admit to after you have joined the club.

So, what can you do to make things as pain free as possible, and help your skin heal up quickly? Here's a few tips:
-- get some Lanolin. The brand I have in called Lansinoh. It is sticky, oily stuff that helps soften and protect your nipples and surrounding area, but that is safe for the baby to ingest. Apply it when your nipples are dry, after you have breastfed, or whenever they feel uncomfortable and dry.
-- whenever possible, air dry. Your skin is moist right after nursing. If you put it next to fabric while it dries, it will stick a little. Then, when you go to nurse the next time, you will pull a bit of skin off when you loosen your bra to feed the baby.
-- check your baby's latch. Make sure that someone experienced has shown you how to latch the baby on properly. Check the baby's latch to make sure they are not making the problem worse by sucking improperly.
-- breathe deeply and find your happy place as you latch the baby on. If you are tense because of pain, baby will sense it and your milk will not flow as well. Remember all those labour relaxations exercises? Now you get to use them again!
-- don't worry if a little blood gets into the baby's milk. I have a friend whose nipples bled severely for a few weeks. She asked her doctor if this was going to harm her son, and he said it would not. She nursed three children with a bit of pain, but otherwise no problems.
-- remind yourself of the eventual payoff. In a few short days or weeks this too shall pass. Like so many things you will experience as a mother, you will find that little bit of pain and frustration can be worth a lot of later satisfaction.

1 comment:

  1. A few drops of breast milk rubbed on your nipple works wonders too, breastmilk - the all on one wonder :o)




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