Silencing without helping Or “Don’t tell me my latch looks good, when I know it hurts.“

I have this pair of favourite shoes. But when I wear them, I get a really sore bit under my foot. It hurts. It distracts me, makes me hobble and want to take my shoes off. It’s annoying because I really want to wear them. I do love them. My friend also has a pair of the same shoes and they don’t hurt her at all, in fact she says they are comfiest shoes she’s ever worn. But people do tell me they look really good.

So… they look good and they are comfy for my friend, so it must just be me, so I’ll keep wearing them – and limping. Or more likely, I guess I’ll end up ditching them.

If they look good, they must fit perfectly. Right? Tell that to any breastfeeding mother who is experiencing the frustration, disappointment and pain of breastfeeding when it is hurting. And who finds that when she asks for help, she hears ‘Well it looks ok’ or ‘The latch looks good’. What does that say to her?

That she’s making a fuss?
That she’s just doing it wrong?
That maybe she’s just ‘one of those women’ who can’t breastfeed?
That breastfeeding is supposed to hurt, so hush up and get on with it?
That there is no point in asking for any more help if this is as good as it gets?

At our breastfeeding drop-in, some of the mothers we see are finding breastfeeding painful, and they have damaged nipples, or their baby is not gaining weight. Breastfeeding isn’t going as smoothly as they hoped. And often we hear, that when they asked for help, they were told that “the latch looks good, just keep going”.

It’s really not unusual for a mother to tell us they are finding it a little bit sore, but ‘not too bad’ and then she pulls up her top to show a nipple that makes us wince. But she’s been told the latch looks good. Where does that leave her?

Baby latched on

There is only one person who knows if the latch is good. And that’s the mother who knows how it feels to her. Only she can say if her nipples are comfortable while her baby feeds, and after he has finished.

Yes, we know that in the early few days, it can take a little while to finesse a completely comfortable latch while both mother and baby learn to fit together and master the art. But pain that makes you hold your breath and hunch your shoulders, or that causes cracks and blisters on your nipples – that’s never OK. Persistent pain and damage means they need help – NO MATTER what the latch looks like.

At its simplest, breastfeeding is going well if it is comfortable for the mother, and baby is getting milk efficiently. If either of those aren’t happening – then no matter what the latch looks like, she needs skilled breastfeeding support both for her and her baby. A mother needs to hear “How does that feel for you?” rather than “I think that latch looks good.” That focuses the support on being about her – which of course it needs to be. Then she knows she is being heard and her experience valued, rather than her pain and discomfort being dismissed.

So as a mother, if someone says to you that the latch looks good, but you know it is hurting: Speak up. Don’t suffer in silence because you think it must be you, or because you are wondering if maybe that’s just how breastfeeding is meant to be. If it’s hurting, get help and support and see how you can move to a place where you are enjoying breastfeeding and your baby is getting breastmilk effectively.

And who you get help from can make all the difference: not everyone is equally trained, experienced and practised to the same level of breastfeeding support and knowledge – and it’s possible you might not know the level of ‘expertise’ you are getting. You can check the different ‘levels’ *here and make sure you are getting what you need.

Oh by the way – my shoes.. turns out there was a stone in one of them. I’ve taken it out now and they are so much more comfortable now. AND they look good. I love them.

(This article originally appeared on the Cambridge Breastfeeding Alliance website in 2019)