Monday, August 04, 2008

Nipples that hurt

A mother who welcomes her newborn child to her breast is filled with a surge of love, a surge which is repeated each time they engage in this intimate act. The mother feeds her baby, and the baby feeds from her mother: a dance that takes two people working harmoniously.

Our nipples are beautiful, important, and highly sensitive parts, essential to mother-baby bonding and nurture. And because they are so important, they are also points of vulnerability in the establishment of strong mother-baby attachments. And when nipples become grazed, blistered, and cracked the relationship between that woman and her baby is truly tested. There is no easy option - a newborn baby needs milk from her mother every time she indicates interest or hunger. The act of giving and taking the milk is part of the life struggle that forges a strong bond between them.

Breastfeeding unites mother and baby in a health and wellness cycle. As in birthing, there should always be a 'valid reason to interfere with the natural process', and any interference carries a potential cost. Sometimes there is a valid reason. Bleeding, severe pain, horrible, deep pain. It's the antithesis of that serene Madonna and Child image that has been passed down over many generations.

Breastfeeding experts can list off many reasons why a mother's nipples are hurting. Often the mother gets advice from a variety of caring and concerned people, including family, friends, neighbours, and health professionals.

Damaged nipples usually present in the early postnatal days. There is no single solution to this problem. No matter what caused the initial damage, the process of recovery will require careful and consistent management by the mother, who needs strategies for healing as well as for ensuring that her baby is fed. The mother needs consistent advice from a midwife who she trusts, and who is competent in advising and making interventions that protect nature's goodness in providing the breastmilk for the baby. It's essential to keep the interests of both mother and baby in mind - baby needs frequent feeds that are sufficient to send her off to sleep. Mother needs the milk removed from her breasts, establishing the supply-demand cycle, and protecting the breasts from engorgement.

I have seen many mothers and babies struggle through the early days with painful nipples. My heart goes out to each one - each mother who feels the pain and the distress, and each baby who does all she or he can to get that precious milk from mummy. And I have seen them come through, days or weeks later, proud and confident, with healthy nipples, healthy lactating breasts, and healthy happy babies.

1 comment:

Juniper said...

Joy, I just wanted to comment that I love reading your blog!