by Carrie Saum
This post was made possible by the generous sponsorship of Wean Green Glass.
Pumping. Nursing. Weaning. Teething. Lip ties. Tongue ties. Thrush. Mastitis. Clogged ducts.
What do these have in common?
Well, for starters, they can all be painful. Super painful. When I started my breastfeeding/pumping journey, I experienced serious boob trauma. In all of the pre-baby breastfeeding classes I took, nobody prepared me for pumping, nobody showed me how to hook one up, and the diagrams in the pump directions resembled a more risqué version of Ikea furniture assembly than easy-to-follow steps. Add a poorly fitted breast shield on a double electric pump, a baby with a hard suck, partial facial paralysis, and upper lip tie and you have the recipe for some seriously ouchie boobies.
I look back now and laugh at my naïveté. After all, much of what I’d heard from other moms was that breastfeeding (and pumping) would be painful. I expected it. So when my areolae wore down to pale, oversized, paper-thin circles, I wasn’t surprised. When my nipples were a violent bright red, sometimes tending towards purpley-black hues, I thought it was normal.
IT IS NOT NORMAL.
Common, but not normal. And a sign of there being something wrong. Not that you’re doing something wrong but that there is something wrong.
For months, my breasts were off limits, even to myself. The slightest graze of my husband’s hand would cause me to shriek, and not in a good way. The needle-like spray from our low-flow shower converted me into a stinky land dweller. I white-knuckled my way through each pumping or nursing session, telling myself that this level of pain seemed excessive and prolonged, but gosh, it was supposed to be this way, right? RIGHT? Even though I had been evaluated by FOUR lactation consultants, none of their suggestions seemed to help. I began combing the internet to figure out how to make feeding my baby less painful because this just was not working.
After correcting my son’s lip tie at 8 weeks, nursing became slightly less painful. (Wonder if your little one has a tongue or lip tie? Check out these basics of tongue and lip ties here.) I wanted to enjoy it. I loved the cuddles and sweet stares between us. But damn it, my boobs still hurt! Because of some other medical issues my son faced, I still pumped 50% of the time. I wised up and began using coconut oil to lubricate my breasts during pumping sessions. I changed out my breast pads every day. I washed and sterilized all of my pump parts regularly. I soaked my bras and nursing tanks in an apple cider vinegar solution before laundering them in order to kill all of the milk/saliva/sweat bacteria. And still…the pain was nearly unbearable.
I asked our doctor, who is also our midwife, to take a look at my breasts at my son’s four month check up. She called in another one of the midwife-doctors for a second opinion and they were both visibly pained by what they saw. My doctor suggested trying a different type of breast shield, which I ordered that same day, and manuka honey breast pads for my nipples and aureolas.
Turns out, the manuka honey breast pads are very spendy. I bit the bullet and purchased them anyway. I was desperate. After $20-ish and a week of use, my boobs started to feel so much better. I showered with abandon. I slept without breast pads. Nursing felt remarkably less painful. My husband touched my breasts and I almost enjoyed it. However, I still had a long way to go before they were healed up enough to lose the super-sensitivity.
Since I’m a mom on a budget, I set out to make my own raw manuka honey breast balm concoction. (It was still expensive, but more financially viable than the pads.) Initially, I was worried about putting honey on my breasts. Honey + baby = potential botulism. But cleaning the area impeccably (and I do mean impeccably) before nursing or pumping made it safe for my little guy. I created a simple recipe, used VERY clean utensils and pots, and made certain to keep the honey in it’s most raw state possible in order to preserve its antibacterial and healing qualities.
I applied this in a micro-thin layer in the morning during my son’s longest daytime nap, and again in the evening for a couple of hours before bed, making certain to wash thoroughly with soap and warm water before pumping or feeding. I also switched out my breast pads to avoid cross-contamination. Within two weeks, the super-sensitivity vanished. I enjoyed feeding my baby, softened at my husband’s touch again, and didn’t cringe when I accidentally bumped my boobs while changing my shirt or squeezing by someone in a crowded place…like our bathroom.
So, to recap:
Pumping and breastfeeding should NOT be excruciatingly painful for prolonged periods of time. But if it is, there’s help. Find an IBCLC, (which I did not do), and have your baby’s latch evaluated. Lip/tongue tie, thrush, suck, etc. They can help you. Also, have your pump properly fitted and ask for a tutorial by someone who knows all about it…like an IBCLC. Lastly, take care of your boobies. They are amazing, miraculous milkmakers and you will only use them in this capacity for a short, but critical, window of time. Take the time to care for them (and yourself) with kindness. Healing oils, balms, spendy nursing pads, whatever. It’s worth it.
YOU are worth it.
The Nice Boobies Healing Salve
3 TBSP Raw Manuka Honey (I like Wedderspoon brand, available here.)
3 TBSP Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
1 tsp Organic Beeswax
1 tsp Rosewater
4 oz tin or glass container with lid, sterilized (we used Wean Green glass.)
1) In a small, stainless steel pot, combine coconut oil and beeswax and stir on low heat until dissolved.
2) Take pot off burner and stir in honey. Once the honey is completely incorporated, stir in rosewater.
3) Immediately transfer mixture to container and allow to cool to room temperature. Cover with lid and store
away from direct sunlight or heat.
1) Wash hands thoroughly. Scoop out a small, pebble sized amount with a clean utensil and warm between fingers to soften.
2) Apply a thin layer of salve to nipples and areola.
3) Cover with clean breast pad or soft cloth and bra.
4) Before nursing or pumping, CLEAN THOROUGHLY, and gently. (Botulism, people. And not like Botox.)
5) Put used breast pads immediately in the hamper to reduce cross-contamination.
*This salve is excellent for healing all kinds of ouchies. I use it on minor blisters, burns, and cuts. This has replaced our first aid cream.
** If the manuka honey is cost prohibitive for you, try sharing the cost with other moms and splitting a jar.
***If you are worried about your baby accidentally ingesting some of the salve, I successfully managed to keep my baby (who is allergic to almost all food) safe and uncontaminated. But please, only use this if you are comfortable doing so!
What kind of nipple issues have you struggled with? What tips and tricks have you found help?