My Breastfeeding Story: My Breastfeeding Struggle with Painful Nipples

Next in our series of real mums’ breastfeeding stories, we hear from Gemma, a first-time mum to daughter Ola, who struggled through breastfeeding with painful nipples, and despite setbacks, went on to continue pumping and feeding her daughter breastmilk, now for over 8 months!

Throughout my pregnancy I was determined to breastfeed. I told myself it wasn't a choice, if other women could do it, so could I. 

Once my daughter was born, we immediately struggled with finding the right latch in the hospital and I experienced cracked nipples right from the start, but we were told this was normal and would go away once we'd got the hang of things. 

After being home for a week and still experiencing pain I called the health visitor. Ola & I were diagnosed with thrush and my GP prescribed us treatment. Nothing changed. By this point my nipples weren't just cracked they had deep gashes in them and the pain was excruciating. 

We were given more thrush treatment and when this didn't work, I spoke to a lactation consultant who suspected tongue tie and referred us to a specialist. This was going to take up to 4 weeks on the NHS! However, we were lucky to have the option of going private which we did.

Having her tongue released helped but my nipples still weren't healing. Our GP wouldn't see us due to Covid-19 but she suspected Raynaud's syndrome and prescribed treatment. It didn't help. I spoke to the lactation consultant again and sent pictures of my nipples this time, she said it was definitely thrush and not Raynaud's and I needed stronger treatment. 

By this point breastfeeding was unbearable and I decided to switch to exclusively pumping for a few days to allow myself to heal. I pumped every 2 hours around the clock to keep my supply up and after a few days my nipples were healing but Ola was now refusing the breast. 

I was devastated but didn't give up, she eventually accepted the breast again and now even refuses a bottle so we switched back to exclusively breastfeeding. Since those first few weeks of feeding, I have had two cases of mastitis because of an oversupply from pumping so often, but we fed through it and now we both love the bonding time we spend together during feeds. 

Breastfeeding figures in the UK are some of the lowest in the world and I fully believe that this is due to a lack of support and knowledge. At one point my GP openly admitted to me that they were not trained in breastfeeding issues and that I would have to speak to a specialist. 

As women, we are told during pregnancy that breastfeeding should be a pain-free experience that will come naturally to us and our babies. This is simply not true for the majority of women. When breastfeeding doesn't happen the way it "should" we tell ourselves that we have failed, our bodies cannot do what they were designed for and we are incapable of providing our babies with the nutrition they need. 

I cried and cried throughout the hard times in our journey because I thought that I wasn't the mother my baby needed. My story is not intended to scare expectant mothers, I absolutely love breastfeeding now and I am so glad I chose to persevere, but I wish I had been more prepared for the journey. 

As a society we need to be more open about the issues surrounding breastfeeding so that women don't have to feel the sense of failure that I felt, and they can prepare themselves to have to work hard to establish breastfeeding rather than expecting it to come naturally. 


Thank you to Gemma from @iamgemmatolley on Instagram for sharing her breastfeeding experience with us. If you would like to share your breastfeeding story please email