Your Midwife keeps telling you breast is best, you sit in hospital and doctor's waiting rooms staring at posters that say the same, but part of you is worried. Will you be able to breastfeed at all and scariest of all will it hurt.
In fact that question hangs over a lot of mums-to-be, so is breastfeeding painful? The short answer is yes sometimes it can be, but the long answer is much more in depth and complex.
The first time you latch your baby on yes there is some pain and it can be quite sharp, but its only for an instant and stops once the baby is feeding as long as the baby is latching on correctly. I found it helped to breath in quickly as the baby started to suck, hold, then breath out again. Whilst it's a sharp pain it's by no means agonising or unbearable and as I will talk about later is short lived.
The other issue in those first few days is soreness of the nipples themselves. Basically its a lot like badly chapped lips around the nipple and can get very sore or even bleed a little. The important thing is to dry the nipple off after feeding and ensure your baby latches on as well as possible, there should be little or no pain once the baby is feeding. Don't be afraid to ask the healthcare professionals to help you ensure the baby is latching on to the breast correctly as this can be one of the biggest causes of pain whilst breastfeeding.
When it comes to the chapped skin itself there are a number of products on the market that you can apply to sooth the nipples in-between feeds. I preferred gels and creams that were safe for the baby and didn't need to be washed off every time you needed to feed. My favourite was a type of waxy gel that was cooling, soothing and stayed on the nipple without accidentally wiping off so healing for longer than just during the time of application.
Then we come to the word all breast feeders dread, Mastitis. This is a condition of the breast where you develop an area or small lump which becomes red, inflamed and sore. It can even lead to infection and having flu like symptoms. Obviously if you develop any issues like this you should contact your health professional in case you require further treatment, but it's much better to avoid Mastitis in the first place and there are ways you can help prevent it.
Ensure you have bras that fit properly, your breasts will be larger when breastfeeding. You can go up as much as two cup sizes when breastfeeding, and on the same theme avoid tight clothes around and across your breasts.
Feeding regularly and avoiding your breast becoming engorged with milk also reduces your risk of developing the condition. Be aware of your breasts and you will know when it's time for baby feed even before they start to cry sometimes because of the full feeling. Try to present a different breast each time your baby feeds as even feeding on both sides avoids engorgement and the increased risk. I also was given some advice by a midwife that seem to help and that was to gently massage around the breast whilst the baby fed. Just a short time once or twice a day to help ensure no milk ducts were staring to block up.
By using these preventative measures I avoided Mastitis with all four of the babies I breastfed, but obviously there are no guarantees and you should be aware of the symptoms and not be afraid to see your doctor about it if you need to.
Back to the original question though, is breastfeeding painful? Well as we have covered there are issues that can arise during breastfeeding and there can be some relatively minor pain, but the great news is the longer you breastfeed the less the chance of any pain is. Personally I found with my first baby, using the above preventative measures that the initial latching pain grew less and less each time until after about 3 weeks it was gone. With my later children it went within a very short period of around a week.
To sum up I would say to anyone considering breastfeeding it isn't always easy and there are things you may need to do to reduce the pain and to protect yourself from more painful conditions, but it is a natural, wonderful way to connect with your child. After an initial period breastfeeding becomes second nature and pain free and of course for us frugal Mums its not only perfectly made for your little one, it's free!