Coping with Jaw Fatigue and Gaining Suckling Stamina

If a medical condition known as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (sometimes referred to as TMD) sounds quite painful, you’re correct. It is. The temporomandibular joint is actually a hinge that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, which are in front of each ear. This joint allow you to move your jaw up and down and side to side so you are able to talk, chew, and yawn.
Although at this point there is no known cause for TMD, although medical professionals believe that the disorder’s symptoms, which may include, but are not limited to, pain or tenderness in the face, jaw, neck, or ear, swelling on the side of the face, and difficulty opening the mouth wide, arise from problems with the jaw or, specifically, the joint itself, due to injury, grinding or clenching the teeth, and even stress. Unfortunately, suckling can exacerbate the condition, and this makes it very difficult to fully enjoy the nursing experience. Nursing should never be painful–for either partner. Jaw
 fatigue and discomfort can be very discouraging, and often a hindrances  to everything that is wonderful about the loving nursing relationship.
 The art of suckling takes a lot of dedicated work. Drawing milk from the breast, or even suckling within a dry nursing relationship, requires a strong latch that forces the nursing partner to open his mouth rather wide to ensure that he is taking in as much of the breast as he possibly can. As he begins the rhythmic motion of suckling, the jaws flex, sometimes quite rapidly, as he stimulates the areola and nipple to encourage the let-down reflex. This is done in a series of short, rapid pulls, what I often refer to as pacifier sucks, that can last from 3-5 minutes before milk begins to flow. Once the milk has been released, the nursing partner will often remain on the breast for an additional 10-15 minutes, so you can understand why suckling can be quite taxing. I often feel that the process of drawing milk from the breast is just as much a labor of love as making that lovely milk can be.
Even without the diagnosis of TMD, jaw fatigue is often a common problem within the dedicated adult nursing relationship, and building stamina can take time and concentrated effort. If you read PURE SERENITY, then you’ll remember that Mrs. D and her husband, Mr. E, openly discussed the challenge of facing this concern within their own long-term ANR. When preparing to write this post, I turned to this wonderful couple once more to ask Mr. E if he could give a bit of insight on the subject, and this is what he generously shared with me:
“My fatigue was brought on by the new experience of suckling. There was no previous condition of TMD. My symptom was mainly a tired, overworked feeling in the joint of my jaw, and that was the only discomfort I felt after about five minutes into the suckling experience. Fortunately, it didn’t lead to anything else, such as headaches, neck pain, or earaches, and once I stopped suckling, the tired feeling in my jaw subsided. 
“As far as remedies go for working through this? Practice, practice, practice! Seriously, just experiment with different positions. We came to the realization that I was more comfortable nursing in any position that allowed Mrs. D’s breast to fall naturally into my mouth as oppose to positions that forced me to do more work by pulling in or suckling upward. One device we did come across is a half-moon nursing pillow by JJ Cole that we use for alternate positions, and it helps a lot. Since we’ve made position adjustments and began to consistently nurse, I haven’t had any further issues.
“I would say that I have grown accustomed to the art of suckling. I don’t think it is something that anyone could automatically know how to do from the start. I think what someone is trying to accomplish, and the motivation and determination behind it is going to play into how long it will take to improve stamina. I’m quite sure it will happen sooner for some than others. It truly depends on the couple.”
Another tip that may be helpful is to nurse in sets. Suckle just until you begin to feel the onset of jaw fatigue, and then rest for a moment or two until your jaw feels relaxed once more, and then proceed with suckling. Mr. S often uses this technique during our own nursing sessions, and it is really helpful–providing that he doesn’t doze off between sets! 😉
To prepare the jaw for the impending suckling experience, it can often be beneficial to begin with a short series of jaw stretching exercise to loosen and relax the temporomandibular joint. They’re very simple to do, and quite effective. Just open your mouth as widely as you possibly can, as if you’re yawning, and then slowly bring the lower jaw upward without allowing the upper and lower teeth to meet. Afterwards, apply a warm, moist towel to the jaw for 3-5 minutes to sustain the loose and relaxed feeling of the joint.
To ease post-nursing discomfort, you can take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, such as ibuprofen, to ease muscle pain; if you’re unable to take ibuprofen, acetaminophen may also help. Cool compresses or moist heat applied to the jaw are also helpful, and remember to relax! Stay focused while suckling, but don’t concentrate so hard that you begin to tense up and clench the jaw. Keep your jaw loose and relaxed to ensure a beautiful and pain-free nursing experience!
While theses are just a few tips and tricks offered to you by long-term nursers, remember that you can always visit your healthcare provider if the problem persists, or you feel that you may be suffering from TMD. He or she will be able to provide proper treatment for your condition.
If you have experienced jaw fatigue, and possibly have some advice for others who suffer from nursing discomfort, please send me an e-mail, or leave a comment on this post. You may just have a tip or trick of your own that will be valuable to other dedicated nursing couples!