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Why does everyone tell you breastfeeding doesn't hurt?

(83 Posts)
mummyclare Wed 17-Sep-08 12:45:45

I am baffled by the unrealistic advise given to pregnant women about breastfeeding by the NCT/midwives/BFCs like -

If it hurts you are doing it wrong.
Every women produces enough milk at the beginning to feed twins.
99% of women can successfully breastfeed.

I understand their role is to encourage women to do it but surely being honest about the difficulties of starting that many women encounter would be more helpful. Mothers who then have difficulty are left feeling they've failed when they are trying to pick up the pieces. Likewise problems may not get as bad if we were honest to women about it.

e.g. First few feeds with my first I kept detaching her because it was hurting and I thought she wasn't latched on correctly.

mummyclare Wed 17-Sep-08 12:49:53

Oh and the other one - "breast feeding is easy".
Sure it is for some people. If we want to get breastfeeding rates up in this country then we need to stop women who are expecting it to be easy giving up when it isn't. The propaganda should surely be more sensitive to those women.

whomovedmychocolate Wed 17-Sep-08 12:54:47

I like 'breastfeeding is a natural process' - yes it is, but it feels alien for the first three months and you may not know anyone who has done it.

FioFio Wed 17-Sep-08 12:57:27

Message withdrawn

cyteen Wed 17-Sep-08 12:58:32

I haven't been given any unrealistic advice. Everyone I've spoken to acknowledges that it's hard work, can hurt, doesn't always work out etc.

StarlightMcKenzie Wed 17-Sep-08 13:01:04

Message withdrawn

mummyclare Wed 17-Sep-08 13:01:40

Wow cyteen you've met some kind people.

When I went with problems to a breastfeeding cafe the woman who had led the NCT class was the (very good) breast feeding counsellor who then said "just breath through the pain" and put her hand on my shoulder saying "it's hard isn't it?"

Romy7 Wed 17-Sep-08 13:01:51

i get a bit cross when i hear of women giving up after a week because it is hurting - it's perfectly normal to be sore at that point. i'm not cross with the women that are giving up, i'm cross because they haven't been told it might be sore for a bit, but will probably settle down and be easy peasy later... if i'd been told it would be fine and dandy and then sat and watched my boobs bleed and flake for a fortnight, i might think it was time to reach for the bottle too... <milk or otherwise lol>

Piccalilli2 Wed 17-Sep-08 13:05:44

I think midwives, NCT etc are worried that if they tell it like it is (i.e it often does hurt in the ear, quite a lot actually, and for no appparent reason) even fewer peoplely weeks will even start breastfeeding in the first place. But I agree with you. I felt like such a failure when I found it hard until about 6wks when it miraculously 'clicked'.

marge2 Wed 17-Sep-08 13:06:03

I agree, if they were more honest them more women would persevere through the initial pain.
My niece gave up breastfeeding after only 5 days cos 'it was agony' - er - yes - that's right. It does hurt for a couple or three weeks, but then it's fine. It hurts again when they get teeth( worse) , but persevere - it stops hurting again!

I think first time Mums should definitely be warned it will hurt and that it's not always easy, but that is normal and to really persevere anyway as it is SO MUCH better for the baby then bottle, and after all aren't parents meant to put the childrens needs/welfare above their own? Maybe not forever, but certainly in the infant years. Of course there will be cases where there is a genuine problem or reason that breastfeeding is not possible rather than just 'I want my body back!!' or 'it's too time consuming'.

Mind you in my niece's case she still thinks 'it's all about her'. The baby is still only a couple of weeks old. She is about to learn bloody quickly that life is no longer all about what SHE wants .

Oh dear - I bet I piss a lot of people off here - sorry to all you Mums with the pert boobs and clean houses!!wink

gabygirl Wed 17-Sep-08 13:10:25

I've personally never heard any midwife or health visitor say 'breastfeeding is easy'

But perhaps it would be fairer to follow 98% of women can breastfeed with the qualifier: "in countries where it's the norm and where women are given intensive support to establish breastfeeding".

And while my first experience of bf was agony, my second and third were completely painless right from the beginning, which was down to the fact that I had an independent midwife who made sure that it was by helping me get my baby well latched on and positioned from the very first feed!

And all the bfc I know acknowledge what a challenge bf is for many women giving birth in the UK where maternity services aren't geared towards supporting lactation and where mums themselves are not familiar with the the normal intensity of the early breastfeeding experience because they have been brought up to see bottlefeeding as the norm.

I do think it's something has to be said to counteract the belief that lots of women have in this country that lactation is a fragile mechanism that only works for a small number of earth-mothery types. That's not the case. The truth is that if all formula supplies dried up tomorrow, the vast, vast majority of mums would manage to successfully raise their babies on their own milk. Though acknowledging this doesn't mean you have to pretend that bf is easy.

melpomene Wed 17-Sep-08 13:11:39

I think people should be warned that it may hurt, and that they should have latch checked if it does. It certainly doesn't always hurt, and many people are lucky enough to have a smooth start. It's a fine line between being realistic and discouraging people!

gabygirl Wed 17-Sep-08 13:12:28


Apologies for the syntax in that post. It made my eyes bleed trying to reread it. blush

LackaDAISYcal Wed 17-Sep-08 13:16:17

The advice given isn't unrealistic though mummyclare; those statements are perfectly true (with the exception of the twins one hmm) although it should be clarified in AN classes that pain at the beginning is normal and that it will pass once BFing is well established. Pain on first latch is something that should definately be discussed as I certainly wasn't prepared for the toe-curling, sharp intake of breath inducing agony that lasted until about a week after my milk came in.

Unfortunately though if the pain is continuing through the feed, then the likelihood is that the positioning or latch is wrong or that there is a problem with the baby like tongue-tie.

And it's true that 99% of women can successfully BF, provided they have the support in getting it well establsihed, as there are only a few for whom physiological issues or a drug regime mean that they can't.

I've not heard of every woman producing enough to feed twins though hmm. If you have twins, then yes, but as milk production is on a supply and demand basis, then you will produce the right amount of milk for your baby, if everything is going OK.

harpsichordcarrier Wed 17-Sep-08 13:16:22

I have never heard a BFC or NCT person say that bf "doesn't hurt" and I have NEVER heard anyone from the NCT, LL say that women are doing it WRONG.
the advice I hear given is much more honest, realistic and positive ime.
(midwives and particularly HVs can, otoh, talk utter shite about bf but it isn't always their fault)
generally, if the pain is more than fleeting or it doesn't pass in a few days then it is a warning flag to check the latch.
the same goes for your second and third statements.
BUT ime it is very rare for women not to be ableto produce enough milk GIVEN THE RIGHT HELP AND SUPPORT.
bf doesn't hurt for many women, and for most of the remainder the pain tends to pass after a fairly short time ime.

tiktok Wed 17-Sep-08 13:23:35

We have covered this topic before - that's ok, just shows it's an important one!

I am an NCT breastfeeding counsellor and we certainly do not say 'if it hurts you are doing it wrong'. As if. I don't know who says this. However, pain is not an integral or unavoidable part of breastfeeding. Many people do find it hurts, this is true, but it is not designed to hurt. In fact, it is designed not to hurt! Apart from babies and mothers with special problems (oral, facial, palatal, or other difficulties), the breast and the baby can come together comfortably and effectively.

Why do we keep on saying this? because we observe it, and we observe that when someone knowledgable and skilled helps a mother, the pain is lessened.

We are honest about the problems than can arise - it would be a very short breastfeeding class if we weren't! But a lot of problems can be avoided, and a lot of them can be lessened.

Mummyclare - I don't understand what was wrong with the bfc's response. She tried to help with the pain when you were distressed, and empathised with you about it. I hope she then went on to look at practical ways you could amend your positioning.

Sometimes, because there is a lot we don't yet know about resolving breastfeeding positioning issues, we can't help, or else we can't help 100 per cent. But probably 9 out of 10 of the women I see with latching difficulties/pain experience significant improvement, and in about half of them the pain goes.

Very few of these women have had decent help at the beginning - they have not been encouraged to hold the baby skin to skin and to enable self-attachment (both things encourage the baby's natural instincts to position comfortably) and when they have encountered problems, they have worsened when someone has tried to push and shove the baby on.

I am not going to tell women 'it hurts for the first x days/weeks and this is normal' - because it is not true!

OrmIrian Wed 17-Sep-08 13:26:04

Perhaps "bfing may hurt but it is 99.9% likely to get better within week or so, so please don't give up because you think you aren't any good at it and are doing it 'wrong"

I had 3 babies and I successfully fed them for a long time. And each time, regardless of how they latched, it hurt to start with. But not for long. ANd if you know that it will pass and you aren't doing anything wrong, you are more likely to stick at it.

tiktok Wed 17-Sep-08 13:30:04

But OrmIrian, that's not true, either! I would be a fraaud if I told women pain in the first days was '99.99 per cent' likely to get better after a week.

Initial twinges are normal. Real pain that gets worse as the days go by after birth is not normal, and someone who knows what to look for needs to check the way the baby takes the breast...continued trauma to the nipple because of poor positioning can lead to serious damage as well as excruciating pain.

SoupDragon Wed 17-Sep-08 13:30:04

I wish I'd been told that it was likely to hurt right at the start. Or rather that it was very easy for it to get to the point of hurting. Even with both DS2 and DD it only took one dodgily latched feed to screw things up for a good 5 days or so. With DS1 I honestly thought it was hurting because I was useless, mainly because I'd been told "it won't hurt if you're doing it right" and not a mention about how easy it was for it to hurt and how long it could hurt for once the damage was done.

As an aside, do you think it would hurt less often if we didn't have such a long break between feeding children? Once I'd been feeding for a while, it pretty much didn't matter what the latch was like - is this because the baby and I had got so good at it or is it because my nipples weren't "fresh to feeding" IYSWIM

mummyclare Wed 17-Sep-08 13:31:45

I do dispute the 99% can breastfeed statistic. In societies where there is no option but breast milk the idea that some women can't feed is accepted and there is the concept of milk siblings where other mothers wet nurse the baby who would otherwise die.

I think there is a lot we don't understand about breastfeeding because of lack of research. The demand/supply thing is cool wants it's established and increasing demand by pumping helps to establish it. But trotting out demand and supply endlessly to women who can't make enough milk is not helpful.

I pumped like crazy, took fenugreek to increase prolactin levels and used a bizarre plastic gadget called a supplemtenary feeding system to increase my supply and it was still measly. And I am not alone

So I do not believe 99% can breastfeed if only they tried a bit harder...

tiggerlovestobounce Wed 17-Sep-08 13:35:37

Ive BF 3 babies, and I also found it hurt each time. The worst time was the first time when it hurt for about 9 weeks, got better as soon as I got advice on the latch. With the other 2 it hurt for 3-6 weeks.

I had also read about how it wasnt meant to hurt. I'm not sure how realistic that it though. IMO its a bit like never having run much before then doing a marathon and expecting your feet not to hurt.
Though having good positioning and latch did make an enormous difference.

PinkTulips Wed 17-Sep-08 13:38:18

when i was having dd and ds in my last hospital the advice was indeed 'it only hurts when you're doing it wrong' angry

luckily my pHN after the birth was a bit more realistic in her advice but by god if i hadn't had her telling me it was normal and would get better i don't think i would have gotton through those first few weeks of agony. with dd it was the fact that she had a horrendously strong suck and reflux which meant she puked so much she fed constantly. she ripped my nipples to pieces. with ds he just had an odd latch, there simply didn't seem to be any way at all to get him to open his mouth fully so no amount of help in that respect could fix it, it stopped hurting as he got bigger but he still doesn't open his mouth properly at 2!

and with dd i had let down pain..... rare so they don't tell you about it at all but fucking miserable. it felt like my entire breast was on fire for the first 5 mins of every feed for about 2 weeks.

tiktok Wed 17-Sep-08 13:41:30

mummyclare - who is talking about 'trying a bit harder'???? You had a really difficult experience and clearly went through a whole load of not-very-easy 'remedies' to tackle it - you are putting words into people's mouths and it is not fair. I am sorry that people have 'trotted out demand and supply' in a way that wasn't helpful - but the basic principle of the way milk supply is 'driven' remains the same.

All infant feeding is emotionally, culturally and socially mediated. In societies where breastfeeding is accepted and there is no formula, the concept of 'not enough milk' may be accepted, too, but that does not prove anything. Some societies have cultural strictures which affect breastfeeding and make it less likely to succeed; mothers everywhere worry about their babies and whether they are doing things right.

I think it's highly believable that a small no. of women everywhere will have difficulty in producing enough milk to sustain a baby (or babies) for 6 mths - and this difficulty may be exacerbated if there are peri-natal issues that undermine bf. Some women overcome huge challenges and make gallons; other women don't.

But the vast majority of women, whatever their underlying capacity for milk making, have the physiological means of bf, and the vast majority of difficulties encountered can be relieved.

mummyclare Wed 17-Sep-08 13:41:42

tiktok, I should have been clearer. Pregnant mothers are told that if it's hurting you're not latched on properly - i.e. you are doing it wrong. The early feeds were of varying degrees of pain depending on how good each latch was - but never painless.

The problem wth bfc's response was that she was the same person who gave me all the false reassurance before hand.

Sorry - slow at typing as trying to bottle feed at the moment smile

policywonk Wed 17-Sep-08 13:41:44

My experience is like Fio's, Romy's and a few others on here - it hurt quite a lot (like wearing in a new pair of too-tight shoes) for about six weeks, and then was fine. I was lucky that I had people around me (mother and MIL) who had successfully bf-ed and were very helpful in advice and encouragement. Had I not had them, I'm not sure whether I would have persevered.

I agree that midiwives and HVs tend to be the problem (with useless statements like 'if it hurts you're doing it wrong) - but unfortunately, these are the HCPs that most women go to for advice about bf-ing. Most women are simply not aware of professional BFCs. They think that if the midwife or HV can't help, they're buggered.

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