The joys of motherhood can be seriously challenged if breast-feeding your infant is painful or uncomfortable. Here are some more home remedies to take the discomfort out of feeding the baby.
Warm up for feedings. Fifteen minutes before feeding your baby, warm up your breasts. Try soaking a bath towel in hot water, wringing it out, and then laying it across your breasts. You can even cover the towel with a plastic garbage bag to help it retain heat longer. After removing the towel, massage each breast from the fleshy part down to the nipple to encourage the release of milk into the nipple. You'll be glad you did since an empty nipple is much more likely than a full one to be painful during nursing.
Express if necessary to ease engorgement. If breast-feeding on demand has not prevented painful engorgement and your breasts are so full and hard that the baby cannot latch on properly, it is okay to express enough milk by hand to ease your discomfort and allow your baby to suckle. But you should avoid expressing too much additional milk by hand or with a breast pump. That's because the body doesn't know the difference between a pump and a baby's mouth, so whenever milk is siphoned from the breast, the body thinks it's being used by the baby and makes more to compensate for that loss.
So the more you express, the more milk your body will produce, which is not exactly what you want when your breasts are already uncomfortably full. (If your baby is ill and unable to nurse when engorgement occurs, however, ask your pediatrician or a lactation consultant for advice on pumping to ensure an adequate supply of breast milk when your infant can once again nurse.) If you can avoid sending your body such a mixed message, it will automatically lower its milk production to suit your baby's needs, and the engorgement will pass.
Stand in a warm shower. Allowing the water to spray directly on the breasts usually causes milk to drip from the nipples, which can relieve some of the pressure from engorgement. But unlike pumping, this technique doesn't prompt the body to produce more milk. It just provides a little welcome relief. Another option: Take off your bra, fill a sink with warm water, and splash it onto your breasts.
Air them out. Try to expose your nipples to air whenever possible to help toughen them up and to prevent continuous contact with moisture, which can cause nipple irritation, soreness, and even damage. If you finish nursing and immediately put a nursing pad and bra back on, you're likely to get some milk leakage; the pad and bra will then hold this moisture against the nipple. Consider keeping your bra flaps open (on a nursing bra) or going braless under a light T-shirt for at least 15 minutes after feeding. If you were planning to nap after a feeding, you might also consider napping braless.
Wear a supportive bra that breathes. A good-quality bra that fits well will provide support and help protect your breasts from additional trauma. Be sure it's not too tight, which will only add to your soreness. And opt for one made of a natural fiber, such as cotton, that allows air flow and encourages evaporation. Bras made of synthetic fibers may hold in heat, increase sweating, and trap moisture against the breast skin.
Try "cold storage." Between feedings, put ice packs on your breasts, and wear a bra to hold the packs in place (put a thin cloth between the ice pack and the breast skin, however, to prevent frostbite). Some women use bags of frozen peas or carrots as ice packs, but here's an even better idea: Fill four resealable freezer bags with unpopped popcorn, and freeze them for use as ice packs. Not only do the popcorn kernels hold the cold longer, they don't turn mushy as they warm. And unlike most commercial ice packs, the bag of kernels will mold more closely to the shape of your breast.
Skip the soap. Although you don't want the nipple skin to be moist for extended periods, you also don't want it to become dry, chapped, irritated, and cracked, which can leave them vulnerable to infection. So when you bathe, try to avoid using soap directly on the nipples, since this will strip away the natural skin oils that keep the skin supple and hydrated.
Try some olive oil. If you notice that your nipples feel dry or chapped between feedings, smear on a bit of olive oil, some expressed breast milk, or an unscented, dye-free ointment that contains lanolin.
Massage the nipples with an ice cube. It's not a cure, but numbing the tender area will provide temporary relief from pain caused by breast-feeding.
Ice baby's gums. Babies will commonly gnaw on anything they can fit in their little mouths to help relieve the pain of teething. When your baby begins to cut teeth, therefore, don't be surprised if he or she tries to use your nipples as a teething aid. To help numb baby's gums and relieve some of the teething discomfort while defending your nipples, try refrigerating or freezing a clean, wet washcloth and allowing him or her to suck on it for a few minutes prior to nursing on each breast.
Take acetaminophen if you develop a fever. It is common for women who are nursing to develop a low-grade fever as high as 100.2 or 100.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Acetaminophen should help lower the fever and make you feel a little better, and it is generally recognized as safe for occasional use during breast-feeding. Still, to be on the safe side, check with your doctor before taking this or any medication while you are nursing. For a list of precautions to take before trying an over-the-counter fever-reducer, click here.
Or take ibuprofen, especially if you feel achy. There's no denying it: Breast-feeding is a workout, and like a tough session at the gym, some days it will leave you with aches and pains. On such occasions, ibuprofen may provide relief (it will also help lower fever). Again, however, it should be used only occasionally and only with your doctor's approval while you are breast-feeding.
The worst-case scenario for breast-feeding would be a breast infection. In the next section, we'll examine what causes infections of the breast and some home remedies for them.
For more information about breast-feeding, try the following links:
- To see all of our home remedies and the conditions they treat, go to our main Home Remedies page.
- To understand the process, read How Breast Feeding Works.
- Breast-feeding is all part of knowing How to Care for a Newborn.
- Bringing home a new baby from the hospital can be quite a shock. Learn how to cope in How to Adjust to a Newborn.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.