The early days and weeks breastfeeding a newborn are challenging in many ways. Especially for first time mothers, breastfeeding is a completely new experience and can feel very awkward. Add to that all the hormonal changes her body is going through to recover from birth and prepare for breastfeeding, and a baby who needs to be fed every few hours, including at night, and many new parents find themselves exhausted and wondering if they are doing this right.
Some challenges are normal during the early days and weeks. Nipple tenderness in the first week is caused by the hormones in the mom's body preparing her for breastfeeding. This extra sensation helps increase the levels of lactation hormones during each breastfeeding session and helps bring in a full milk supply.
The trick is distinguishing between tenderness, which is common and normal, and pain or break down of the nipple tissue, which is not. If breastfeeding feels surprising during the first 10 seconds after the baby latches, then feels ok, that is probably normal. If strong sensations or pain continue, then the baby is probably not latched or positioned optimally and may be damaging the mother's nipple.
Another common cause for concern is engorgement. The first few days of a baby's life, his mother's breasts produce colostrum, the first milk, which is very important for getting the baby's digestive system off to the best start. Somewhere around day 2-4 most mothers' milk begins to transition to mature milk which has a much higher volume than the first milk. This transition leaves many mothers with the feeling of very full breasts which can be uncomfortable or even painful. If the breasts become very full, it can become difficult for the baby to latch on. With proper management and frequent breastfeeding, engorgement is short-lived for most mothers.
Connecting with La Leche League, other parent support groups in your area, or a lactation consultant during these early days can help mothers realize that what they are going through is most likely normal. It will help them find the tools and resources they need to get breastfeeding and parenting off to a great start!