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  • Writer's pictureLisa Thompson

Thoughts on breastfeeding and pain

I have a massive interest and passion for providing good breastfeeding support for women. That’s not to say I want to force or coerce women to breastfeed against their wishes but that if that’s what they’ve chosen I really want to empower them in their choice.

I read an amazing article today (link below) that really captured a lot of what I talk to women and my colleagues about and did some double-takes when I read, almost word for word, phrases that I use regularly.

As with all of my practice, antenatally, intrapartum and postnatally I try to inspire women, and their partners / families, with a sense of how amazing their bodies really are so while supporting them in the practical aspects of feeding I speak of the communication that’s going on between their body and their baby, about how their body will respond to their baby’s needs, how breastfeeding is good for both of them in so many more ways than just nutrition. I often use story-telling, imagery and metaphors as I do this.

One of the metaphors I recognised in the article was that of dance. I often refer to the dance of breastfeeding and explain how mums and babies are both participating. So that even if mum has breastfed previously this partnership may present different challenges or require a period of practice together. I also talk about breastfeeding being a very practical skill and encourage women to be patient with themselves while learning.

I try to highlight the importance of allowing babies to take big mouthfuls of breast rather than sucking it in like spaghetti but I’ve never heard anybody else say that so I was really surprised to read it.

The main theme of the article was discussing our attitudes to pain when starting to breastfeed and this is something I’ve been talking about a lot this week as I’ve worked closely with a midwife returning to practice after a break. She also has an interest in good breastfeeding support and we’ve discussed how our collective knowledge and understanding of breastfeeding has improved over the years but that changing practice and the advice new mums get is often a slow process especially in a system when resources are stretched.

We had an antenatal encounter with a woman and her mother and breastfeeding was mentioned whereupon the woman’s mother, with the best of intentions, told her daughter that the “best advice” she’d been given after her daughter’s birth was that breastfeeding would be “toe curling for a week” before she got that hang of it. I gently suggested that nowadays we understood that breastfeeding didn’t have to be painful and that we could work with new mums to achieve something much more comfortable than toe curling! I acknowledged that yes, some women do experience a little discomfort as their breasts adapt to this new use but that damage and pain were an indication that something wasn’t quite right. I only hope that, after her birth, the new mum isn’t told again that pain is normal.

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