Breastfeeding During Pregnancy – Common Discomforts and How to Help (Part 1)
This post is part one of a two part series. Part one covers general discomforts and other concerns, bad latch, and poor nursing habits; part two is on pregnant breastfeeding agitation.
Whether your pregnancy was planned or a complete surprise, the decision to continue breastfeeding during pregnancy is a big one. Not only is your decision steeped in emotion (as any weaning decision/experience is), but there are also pregnancy-related physiological and psychological changes that drive many pregnant mothers to wean prematurely – or at least wish they would. Changes in milk (both flavor and quantity), breast pain, nursling frustration, and the pregnancy nursing “heebie jeebies” can all combine to make breastfeeding a more unpleasant experience than what the nursing pair is used to.1
Breastfeeding during pregnancy can bring about unexpected discomforts, but there are ways to work past them. And, thankfully, the discomforts generally do not last through the entire pregnancy. While 74% of pregnant mothers report some measure of pain during breastfeeding, the pain varies from woman to woman. Some women feel only minor discomfort, others describe stinging, burning, or other much more intense pain. There are mothers who experienced discomfort during one pregnancy but not others, and mothers (one in four!) who do not experience any pain at all. And most mothers do not have pain while breastfeeding for the entire pregnancy – there may be months when the pain is “absent or substantially reduced.”2
So what kind of pain can a nursing mother expect? And more importantly, what can she do to alleviate it? Below are some of the more common discomforts for nursing mothers, as well as ideas on how to relieve or get past the discomfort.
General Soreness and Other Concerns
Do you have sore breasts? Tender nipples? If this is your second pregnancy, you may remember having some of these same general discomforts the first time around. Sore breasts are a common symptom of pregnancy, and there’s not a whole lot you can do to alleviate it. But it can’t hurt to try – so here are a few ideas:
- Cold Cabbage Leaf Compresses: Place cold cabbage leaves inside your bra or nursing tank top.
- Warm or Cold Packs: Some women find that warm rice packs or wet towels (heated in a microwave) or cold packs (rice packs or otherwise) can help soothe breast pain.
- Lanolin: Nursing mothers often use lanolin to relieve sore breasts, but it may not be as effective when used for hormone-related pain. (And yes, it is safe for use while breastfeeding.)
- Stay Hydrated: Some mothers experience more breast pain if they do not drink enough water. Remember to drink plenty of fluids!
- Wear a Comfortable Bra: Some women find that loose clothing irritates their nipples because it shifts and rubs against them. Find a breathable, natural fabric that fits comfortably, provides firm support, and does not shift when you move.
- Take Care of Yourself: If you are “eating for three,” you may feel more tired than you may usually feel during pregnancy because two other bodies are demanding so much of your own. Be sure to eat plenty of healthy foods (Chapter 13 in Adventures in Tandem Nursing is dedicated to health and nutrition when you are eating for three), get lots of rest, and create time for yourself so that you can recharge emotionally as well as physically.
- Take Steps to Reduce Nausea: Morning sickness is never any fun, but it can be enhanced by a nursling wanting access to the breast. “Improved diet, extra vitamins, especially vitamin B6, rest, and small, frequent snacks may all be helpful in overcoming the nausea of pregnancy.”3 Nursing may actually be a lifesaver during those months of morning sickness, because it can help your normally active child lie down, calm down, and relax.
If your nursling has noticed a change in let-down or quantity, she might adjust her latch in an effort to get more milk. Reemphasizing nursing basics will go a long way to helping you get relief.
- Try Hand Expressing: If your milk is still flowing but your let-down has slowed, your nursling might be grateful if you’d hand express in order to get the let-down started for him.
- Gentle Reminders to Be Gentle: If your little one is sucking too hard to try to get the flow going, gently remind her to be gentle with your breast.
- Don’t Nurse a Hungry Child: A hungry nursling will be more insistent, so make sure he has had something to eat and/or drink prior to breastfeeding.
- Relearn a Proper Latch: Work on helping her relearn how to position her mouth correctly on the breast. Kellymom.com has some good articles on helping with latch, see When Baby Bites and Latching and Positioning Resources4
Poor Nursing Habits
Nurslings unaccustomed to changes in your breastmilk might start wiggling, increase twiddling, or do other annoying things in an effort to entertain themselves at the breast. Gently work on nursing manners to make your time breastfeeding more enjoyable! Read more about improving poor nursing manners in Twiddle Me That.
- Provide Alternatives to Twiddling: Bring our your nursing necklace, a soft toy, or some other object that is acceptable for your nursling to play with while breastfeeding.
- Limit Nursing Positions and Locations: If he tends to wiggle more on the couch, move to a chair that doesn’t give him as much room. If nursing acrobatics increase with a certain nursing session, gently and firmly remind him that there is a “no wiggling” rule. Be gentle, firm, and consistent.
- Institute a Ten Count: Allow her to nurse to the count of ten on one side, switch to the other side for another ten count, and then the nursing session is over. This gives you a light at the end of the tunnel, and it offers the child a concrete and simple time limit.
- Use Mental Imagery: If your supply drops, it can help (just like it did when you were first nursing) to mentally picture milk flowing through your breasts. Imagine feeling that let-down. Even a small let-down can alleviate some of the aches of dry nursing. “The relief that let-down offers, suggests researcher Dr. Mark Cregan, PhD, may stem in part from lubrication and in part from a fresh dose of oxytocin, since oxytocin can increase the mother’s pain threshold.”5
Stay tuned for part two, which will talk about how to cope with nursing aversion during pregnancy.
Did you deal with breastfeeding issues during pregnancy? How did you manage them?
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Statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with your health care provider. If you are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition or are taking any medication, please consult your physician. Nothing you read here should be relied upon to determine dietary changes, a medical diagnosis or courses of treatment.
- The information in this article comes largely from an excellent book – Adventures in Tandem Nursing. It is incredibly helpful for mothers who find themselves pregnant while still breastfeeding an older nursling. The author, Hilary Flower, delves into the factors surrounding the decision to wean, tips for nursing during pregnancy and nursing tandem, health and nutrition, and more. I highly recommend it for any nursing mother! For more on nursing during pregnancy and tandem nursing, see Chapter 7 of Mothering Your Nursing Toddler, by Normal Jane Bumgarner. ↩
- Hilary Flower, Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond at 39-40. ↩
- Mothering Your Nursing Toddler at 128. ↩
- For more on these suggestions, see Adventures in Tandem Nursing at 41-42. ↩
- Adventures in Tandem Nursing at 44. ↩
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"Breastfeeding During Pregnancy – Common Discomforts and How to Help (Part 1)"
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