Breastfeeding can be physically and emotionally exhausting. But the pro is there are professionals and resources to help make sure we get the most out of this experience and take care of our own wellbeing during this time.
Why does it seem like the list of worries gets compounded after birth? Along with making sure your baby can latch properly, your milk supply is enough for them, and drinking enough water, you have to take certain steps to make sure that you’re not injuring your body in the process.
Especially while nursing.
Some breastfeeding injuries are more common than others, like engorgement and nipple chafing. And if you have certain conditions already, you may have to take different precautions while nursing.
“Underlying neurological or musculoskeletal disorders such as multiple sclerosis make it difficult to nurse. So you have to adjust the baby's weight so you can continue to feed without irritating the disorder,” Jean Tretler, RN and IBCLC with Lactation Associates of St. Augustine tells Romper. In her 10 years as a lactation consultant, this would be considered an outlier, but in her daily practice, Tretler has dealt with many types of common breastfeeding injuries.
While some of these may not be an injury you would associate with nursing, it may give you something to consider the next time you feel that sting of pain.
This is one of the most common issues for nursing mothers, but it can be caused by a variety of things, including incorrect latch.
“The most important thing is to wait for your baby to open his or her mouth wide like you would if you were biting into a raw apple. You can also stroke over their upper lip with your finger or the tip of your nipple to elicit a wide opening,” Tretler says.
Another cause of nipple damage is tongue tie or lip tie. It’s when the membrane that connects the tongue or lip is short, restricting its range of motion and ability to function properly. “If the frenulum is too tight, it causes nipple damage,” Tretel says. You can have your baby assessed if you think this may be the issue. It can be remedied by a small surgical procedure.
Looking at your beautiful baby nursing is one of those perk-filled moments that we moms get to bask in. But try not to make it a habit of bending your neck the entire time your baby is feeding. This can cause pain in the neck that can lead to other cramps because of the muscles that are connected to the base of your skull (which can cause headaches) and the muscles attached to your shoulders.
You can use this time instead to prop your head back or to the side, while occasionally glancing at your baby after they’ve properly latched.
Lower Back Pain
Back pain is caused by so many things related to birth that it can be hard to pinpoint its trigger. However, if you find yourself leaning forward to nurse, you’re likely doing something to hurt your lower back.
“Make sure baby is snuggled up close to your body. In the cross-cradle position, have the baby’s belly directly on your belly. The baby should not have to turn his head to the side to latch and should always be facing the breast,” says Tretel.
She says to always bring the baby to you. Not the other way around.
Another option if you have chronic back pain is to try laid-back breastfeeding. This is considered a natural form of nursing that triggers your baby's instincts to nurse while you lay flat on your back with your baby on top of you.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel can develop from constantly flexing your wrist to hold your baby’s head while they eat. Tretler says you don’t need to do this. Support is more for the neck muscles (which are weak) than the head.
To avoid carpal tunnel, she says, “The heel of your palm should be against the baby's spine. Keep your hand straight and use your fingertips to gently support the head. Your palm should be against their back.” When your baby’s neck is supported, they can bring their head to the breast on their own. “You’re not forcefully pushing him towards the breast. Your hand is on his back to help keep him snuggled up.”
Osteoporosis is when the body loses too much bone. During breastfeeding, the calcium your baby gets is taken from your bones. Studies show that 3 to 5% of women lose bone mass while breastfeeding, according to the National Institute of Health.
University of California San Francisco Health recommends that pregnant and nursing mothers should have 1,300 mg of calcium per day. Diet and supplements can replace what your body is losing. Adding calcium high foods like milk, hard cheeses, and yogurt are good while nursing.
If you’re experiencing these or any other pain that persists when you’re nursing, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor for care.
Jean Tretler, RN and IBCLC with Lactation Associates of St. Augustine