The appropriateness of breastfeeding in public is often questioned. Women sometimes feel forced to breastfeed in restrooms, while the difficulties of a working mother pumping at every opportunity are often frustrating.
To address this issue, the New York City Council recently passed a law requiring private “lactation stations” in certain city centers.
But one seldom-discussed problem is the shame experienced when breastfeeding is too painful and the mother must balance her own well-being against that of her newborn.
“I felt so embarrassed. My son was only eight days old and I was in agony,” Rachel from Brooklyn recounted. “At his brit [circumcision] ceremony, my friends all gave me creams and told me how important it was to feed from the breast. I felt so guilty even considering stopping breastfeeding because of the pain I was in.”
Breastfeeding pain can be excruciating. Unlike the transient soreness that generally peaks three days after birth and disappears within two weeks, some new mothers experience intense pain during and after feeding that doesn’t appear to pass.
“It is well recognized that breastmilk provides optimal nutrition and immunological protection for infants. However, many women experience nipple pain or soreness, which is one of the most common reasons they stop breastfeeding,” say Dr. Sody Naimer of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev’s (BGU) Department of Family Medicine and Zeev Silverman of BGU’s Department of Physiology and Cell Biology.
“Prompt evaluation and diagnosis is crucial for identifying the cause of this pain so that a new mother can resume breastfeeding,” the researchers say, adding that a superficial breast exam “is clearly inadequate for this task.”
Naimer and Silverman have come up with a novel use for a widely available diagnostic tool to help mothers who suffer from breastfeeding pain.
Utilizing a dermatoscope, a small portable device that dermatologists use to distinguish benign from malignant lesions, primary care doctors can diagnose the cause of nursing pain. The device provides 10-fold magnification and a 3-D image without distortion.
“Dermoscopy offers improved resolution … enhancing the speed and reliability needed to identify pathological events interfering with nursing,” the researchers explain. “It enables the non-specialist to distinguish normal from abnormal tissue, and thereby to quickly reach a specific, timely and clinically useful diagnosis.”
The patient may be suffering from a bacterial or fungal infection, or even nipple trauma, that can be resolved with non-invasive treatments. What would traditionally take a trip to a specialist and a long wait for test results can be diagnosed within the first visit to the physician. The patient can leave the doctor’s office with a prescription or recommendation in hand.
Breastfeeding is a natural and beneficial procedure linked to the perceived image of being a good mother, so having trouble with it can make the new mother feel shame, embarrassment and guilt. Removing the stigma, improving access to rapid diagnosis and enabling treatment of painful nursing will allow improved bonding with the baby and provide rapid relief to the brave women giving birth to the next generation.
Together with supporters, AABGU is helping Ben-Gurion University of the Negev foster excellence in teaching, research and outreach to the communities of the Negev, sharing cutting-edge innovation from the desert for the world. Visit aabgu.org to learn more.