It’s Not Supposed to Hurt

I just read yet another post on another website that talked about sore, cracked, bleeding nipples being “normal” and it’s something that new moms just have to endure.  Unfortunately cracked nipples are common, but they are not normal!  Breastfeeding should NEVER be painful.  Pain is a sign that something is not right.   Listen to your body.  If you have pain with breastfeeding, get help now!

20 thoughts on “It’s Not Supposed to Hurt

  1. I agree with Pam and Susan! Meet another mom of 8 (!) who never experienced sore nipples with any of my babies–not even my 6th baby with a bubble palate. Perhaps nipple size has something to do with this: my nipples measure 10 mm, and some of the sore nipples mothers I see experience “oral-boobular disproportion,” where the baby’s mouth and the mother’s breast really don’t fit well for a few weeks, and nipple size is 30 mm+.

    • Thank you for posting, Nadja! And good for you for nursing 8 babies. Amazing. Funny, but I’ve never seen much of a problem with baby’s mouth being “too small” for mom’s nipple. Usually with good positioning and some tricks, it all works out. Babies and mothers are amazing, don’t you think?

  2. I really struggle with why breastfeeding should be so “difficult” and so easy to get wrong when that contradicts everything I believe about womens’ innate ability to grow and birth a baby?!


    • Thank you for writing, Nicola. I would invite you to read the post on my home page. It addresses that very issue. When I speak to women in other countries, they are often baffled by us westerners having so much difficulty with breastfeeding. I think it is, in part, because it’s not something that we ever see, until we actually have a baby. Then, suddenly, we’re supposed to know how to do this thing!

  3. I respectfully disagree… I do not have any friends who have not had some pain at the beginning. My daughter had (and still has) an extremely strong suck… and a small newborn mouth when she was born. It hurt for 3 weeks. Once my nipples got used to it I was fine, and I’m still nursing a year later. I have heard similar from everyone at my BF support group and at my LLL meetings. So either it does usually hurt for a few weeks or all of us had some problem that no LC or LLL leader in this area could fix. But it doesn’t last for long, thankfully.

    • First, I have to say anyone who experiences sore nipples and continues breastfeeding is one amazing woman! I am so happy that eventually you and your daughter figured out how to nurse comfortably.

      I also must point out that your experience of nipple pain and that of your friends is exactly the reason this myth keeps being circulated among mothers! In 20 years, I have known 1 mom who could not breastfeed w/o some degree of discomfort. She worked with me and 3 other professionals in other disciplines to solve the problem. We were able to get things a lot better, but not totally resolved. I think you have a good point at the end of your post when you say that perhaps the people you worked with just couldn’t solve the problem. That doesn’t make it “normal.” I would say sore nipples are common. Especially in a culture that expects sore nipples–that makes mothers less likely to seek help BECAUSE they think it’s normal. The myth just keeps perpetuating itself…

      Thank you for writing!

  4. It makes me sad to hear so many responses about someone WATCHING how the baby is attached and declaring it good or WATCHING a baby suck and declaring the suck excellent or strong. You cannot visually SEE whether it is causing pain. The pain is real. It is a sign something is off. And it should NOT be tolerated. I have seen:

    *a tiny shift in the angle of a wrist,
    *a slight relaxation in a shoulder,
    *an unclenching of the hand grabbing holding the baby’s cheeks and ear,
    *crossing a leg or lifting the knees with the feet on a stool
    *a downward shift in where the baby places the lower lip

    all make a huge difference to mothers’ comfort.

    There are few people who can learn how to play a sport easily just from practicing.
    There are some people who also need to a coach talk to them while they are learning the sport.
    There are some people who also need a coach to gently assist their body movements as they are learning the sport.
    There are few people who can learn a sport merely by reading about it.

    And there are anatomical variations that make it easier or harder for certain people to learn a particular sport. Thus, the wonderful variation in sports that people choose to play.

    There is no one position that works well for all women. There is no position that you can observe that may not be causing a mother pain. There are some babies that have anatomical variations or other problems that make it very challenging indeed to get to comfortable nursing.

  5. Meet a mom who never experienced sore nipples with six kids: Me.
    If I had sore nipples with my first I would never have breastfed her! Haha. I say this because I am not super woman, I am lazy woman! With my first baby, I did not breastfeed because it was good for babies, good for mommies. I breastfed so I did not have to fix a bottle and could do it laying down! If it had ever hurt me even once I would have quit. I am always in awe of the women who have pain and still choose breastfeeding for their babies! They are the superwomen of breastfeeding. With my seventh I had sore nipples…she has a bubble shape in her palate that she liked to pinch me in. Now, really, my nipples could not be any ‘tougher’ after nonstop suckling on them for 20 years!! And still her suckling behavior due to her anatomy cracked them on day one.

    Pain happens and is very real to the person feeling it! However, just because it happens doesn’t make it normal. If there is pain, something is not right. Especially if there is physical trauma to the nipples! Sure, maybe one mom’s tender is another mom’s excruciating pain, and you look , and see nothing. I can see that being possible. But, cracked bleeding raw nipples? That is a sign something is very wrong. Rather that something is latch, anatomy, suckle behavior, or whatever, it is still not normal. It doesn’t mean it isn’t real. It just means if it hurts, something is up, find out what it is. Sometimes the reality is the reason is there, but it can’t be easily fixed, but time will help it resolve.
    It is important for mothers to know that pain is sign something is wrong and sometimes when we know what it is, we can fix it. Sometimes even knowing what it is we cannot fix it quickly. And sometimes, we never do figure out what it is, but time resolves it anyway. Still, pain being a reality does not mean pain is normal. Nor does it take away from the mothers who chose not to quit and got through the pain they were experiencing so they could breastfeed their babies!


    • Pam, thank you for taking the time to write this very honest comment. You made some very good points. I just hope that breastfeeding moms will get help as a result of this discussion!
      I’m curious if your bubble-palate baby also had a tongue tie?


  6. Hmmm, every mum I have spoken to has said that they experienced pain for at least two weeks and cracked, bleeding nipples. Some mums give up after 4-5 days because it’s too much. Those who keep it up all say after 2-3 weeks the pain dissipates. This was also my experience. The lactation consultants at the Swedish said my baby had a great sucking technique from the start and that he was latched on properly. The paediatrician watched me breastfeed and confirmed this. I know myself that a few times he wasn’t on as well as he should but in general I followed the guidelines, I checked his positioning against all of the pictures and instructions I was given and he was doing just that. However my nipples bled and were incredibly sore because once the nipple starts bleeding, it then forms a crust, which is sucked off at the next feed and makes the nipple sore again, a vicious circle until the skin toughens. I wish more mums knew that pain is to be expected most of the time, but to persevere because it will go. I have yet to meet a woman who has experienced no pain when breastfeeding over the first couple of weeks of her child’s life.

    • Marilisa, thank you so much for telling me about your experience! I’m so sorry you had to go through so much pain. What dedication! Yes, this is a common experience, but I would emphasize, definitely not normal and definitely preventable! This is why I keep writing these pieces about pain and breastfeeding. I see many, many moms who were told “the latch is perfect” at the hospital. But the latch was, in fact, causing lots of nipple pain. Sometimes it takes a very skillful LC to find the problem. It can be subtle. I have to add that pediatricians (except for VERY few) do not have training in lactation and are usually not qualified to evaluate breastfeeding. That is why so many peds refer to lactation consultants in the community. I’m glad that eventually breastfeeding proved to be an enjoyable experience for you!

  7. I have heard there is a theory that some babies have high suction levels that can sometimes affect the comfort level of nursing. Each time I have a new baby, it hurts for three weeks. Now, maybe, because I know how to get a good latch and do it right, I may be lax with my own kids. But I really believe that for some women, it can just hurt for a bit.

    • Thanks for writing, Sima. I’m sorry you’ve had pain with your newborns. No, pain is not normal! Many women have slight tenderness in the first weeks, but this is very different from PAIN. Pain is an indication that something is wrong and can usually be easily corrected. Sometimes even experienced moms need a slight adjustment to nurse comfortably. If you have another baby and your nipples are sore, please seek help!

  8. Dear Naptimewriting,

    I respectfully disagree! This is exactly why so many women expect pain when breastfeeding. I’m so sorry you have had that experience, but that just means you didn’t get the right kind of help. There are many, many LC’s and women who claim to be LC’s who are not skilled enough to help with some of the subtle or difficult situations. That doesn’t mean the mom is “wrong.” It’s baby’s job to latch and suckle correctly. If a mom is in pain and an LC can’t help or can’t at least tell her why it hurts, it’s time to get a new LC. I have had situations where it took a while for pain to resolve even after intervention, but the reason was clear and the mom understood the process. Please see “Emma’s Breastfeeding Saga” and “Red Flags when Hiring an Lactation Consultant” for more info. I think you’ll be able to relate to Emma!

    Thank you for writing!


  9. I agree that cracked nipples aren’t normal and are a sign that something is not right. Pain, however, sometimes results from a perfect latch and flawless technique. Sometimes early nursing hurts. A lot. For longer than anyone would like.

    Sure, poor positioning, or a shallow latch, or tucked lips, or tongue tie, or thrush, or any of the dozens of things that cause pain that isn’t normal can be resolved with the help of an LLC. But sometimes breastfeeding really hurts in the beginning, and it does moms a disservice to claim that nursing never hurts if done right. Saying pain isn’t normal makes new moms think they’re wrong if even time with a lactation consultant and a breastfeeding support group can’t fix the pain.

    I was once in a breastfeeding support group where a (substitute) lactation consultant said that proper positioned and latched breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt. Several women disagreed. She said it could be uncomfortable but not hurt.

    And we asked her to leave when four of the women started crying because their pain hadn’t resolve even with LLC help. Time and emotional support fixed each of those women’s pain, which *was* normal. Their nipples just needed to get used to the growth spurts and the frequent feedings and the refusal to resort to a pacifier and the hormones.

    Happy to find your blog. Hope disagreeing helps someone know that they should get help for pain and they should also be patient with their poor, overused nipples.

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