“If breastfeeding hurts, you’re doing it wrong. It should never hurt!”
Then why when I searched high and low on the internet for answers as to why I was having so many issues and pain with breastfeeding, were there so many women also suffering? During pregnancy, I pinned many articles about how easy and natural breastfeeding was, and saw that phrase over and over again. “Breastfeeding should never hurt.” I was so cocky going into breastfeeding. I even gave Odin the chance to crawl to the breast when he was born because, ya know, science! I gave that a chance but he was never good at it, so we ended up feeding with him in the cross cradle position and he latched on pretty well. “This is easy” I thought.
When my midwife made the home visit 2 days after I had Odin she asked how breastfeeding was going. “So much easier than all those crazy scary stories made it seem! And my milk already came in!” I was overjoyed. The next day my perspective changed. When Odin would latch on the left side I began to sweat in pain. My heart would race before I latched him on, and when I did it was so unbelievably painful. “Maybe we should get a lactation consultant” Carlos suggested. I wanted to handle it myself. I’d done SO much research, read the books. “I can handle it.” After a few nights of dreading feeding him due to the pain, and suffering from lack of sleep, we decided to research lactation consultants. We’d been referred one by our midwife so we looked her up and the price to see her was over $100! I sobbed. How was I supposed to get help when the cost to see someone was so expensive? I turned to google, Kellymom, and my books for help instead.
I noticed a lump in the breast which I discovered in my research was a clogged duct. To cure this, I would massage the area while sharing and “feed frequently” (anyone who has nursed a newborn knows they already eat every 1-2 hours without you even having to ask!) I also attempted to feed him while leaning over him, pumping, heating pads and ice packs. You name it, I tried it. Then I noticed I have a crack in my nipple. I lathered constantly with Earth Mama Angel Baby’s Nipple Butter and felt some relief.
One day it would be the crack causing pain, the next day it was the duct. It seemed I couldn’t catch a break. Not to mention I’d started to get a cold just before I had Odin and that became a full blown sickness once he was born. Just imagine that: sleep deprived, mushy bellied, snotty, coughing, engorged leaky boobed new mama sobbing as her infant nurses. It was definitely something!
When I found no answer, Carlos suggested seeing the lactation consultant on base he’d met during his rotation in the mother infant unit. I finally agreed after a week and a half of suffering.
The lady was blunt, “Lets see what you’re doing wrong” she said in a harsh tone. Immediately I regretted coming. This was so scary for me- turning to someone I don’t know with help on a sensitive issue. I felt that it should be easy for me but it wasn’t and this embarrassed me. Her repeating that phrase “breastfeeding should NEVER hurt” made it even worse. “Show me your breasts please.” I flushed and pulled up my shirt, then unhooked my nursing bra. My larger breast was the one causing me pain and the smaller one felt fine, which was strange to me because in general people assume that larger breasts = more milk and better for breastfeeding. The reality is that smaller breasts work just as well to produce milk and are easier for tiny newborn mouths to latch onto. She placed a nursing pillow on my lap and put my feet on a stool, then showed me how to grab my breast to better help him latch on. Holding the baby’s head, she easily and quickly latched him onto me.
I felt zero pain.
I’d intermittently experienced painless or minimally painful nursing sessions over the days since the pain started so I wasn’t too surprised when it was painless after she’d helped. “Just place your hand behind his neck, nipple to nose, then scoop the breast into his mouth, just like I did. Now, can I go to lunch?” I nodded and was happy, but knew when I got home I would have to attempt to recreate this exact scenario. “I think I have a crack on my nipple” I remarked before she left. “Its tiny, it’ll heal just fine” she said and left. Alone with my husband, I felt so much better. Being a new mom is terrifying, it feels as though everyone is criticizing what you’re doing.
When it came time to feed Odin again, I was nervous. Before latching him on I thought to myself “I got this, just repeat what she did.” As I pulled him in to feed him, I immediately felt that familiar, raw pain. I waited a moment to see if it would subside. No luck, so I pulled him on. With tears in my eyes, I attempted again to do what the consultant said and latch him on. The same thing occurred so I pulled him off again. Odin became agitated having been so close to eating but not getting what he wanted. I tried once more and the same pain occurred so I once more pulled him off. This time he responded by crying a tired and irritated cry. As I tried and failed once again, I burst into tears. Why is this happening? Why is this so painful? I wept as I fed him but let him remain because I would rather have been in tears than let him feel any hunger.
I decided to attend a La Leche League meeting in hopes of receiving some support and the women I met were so lovely and encouraging. It was a few days before a hurricane was due to hit so only the leaders were in attendance. I told them what I was experiencing and got some interesting advice. Have you taken him to a chiropractor? Does he have a tongue tie? A lip tie? Whatever you do, don’t give up, we know you can do it! It was funny to me hearing that because despite the pain, anxiety before feedings, racing heart and beads of sweat, I never thought to myself “maybe this isn’t for me” because to me it was the only option.
In the days that followed, I continued to experience mostly painful feedings with intermittent tolerable ones, but a new symptom developed. When Odin nursed, it felt as though there was a string attached to my armpit and when he suckled he was pulling it. My nipple also felt sunburnt and was shiny. Odin had a great, deep latch and ate like a champ, but no matter how I positioned him or how great he latched, I felt shooting, pulling pains in my breast and burning pain in my nipple. I would wail as he happily snacked hardly able to bear the pain. I couldn’t handle it anymore.
I called my midwife and told them what I was dealing with and that I thought I had thrush in my breast (according to my research). My midwife called back and asked about my symptoms, and said yes it did sound like thrush. She suggested some natural remedies (if you’ve had breast thrush you will LOL at this!) and with tears in my eyes, knowing how persistent thrush is, I agreed to give it a try. I had my 2 week appointment the next day anyway. I’d already started applying apple cider vinegar to my nipples after every feeding, never reusing breast pads, air drying my nipples, applying the nipple balm and taking probiotics. So I agreed to just continue doing those things in hopes of it clearing up. I had all of these items in a basket and I carried them around with me as I moved from the couch to my bed and back along with my nursing pillow.
The next day, I saw the midwife who delivered Odin and told her what I was experiencing and that the other midwife suggested some natural remedies which at times seemed to be helping and at other times did not. She immediately told me not to worry and that she was going to provide me a prescription. HALLELUJAH! You have NO idea the excitement I felt! She provided that she too had thrush when she had her son 7 years earlier and STILL shuddered at the memory of the pain she experienced. I was finally going to get some relief. I raced off to the pharmacy to give them my prescription. “That’ll be $100.”
Yeah, $100. Now I’d like to say I just keep $100 around for occasions such as this but I’d be lying. With Carlos at work I went to my mother crying. “I thought I was going to fix this problem today and now I have to wait until we get paid. I can’t believe this.” My mama being the lovely woman she offered to pay for the prescription for me until we had the money. When I went the next day to get my $100 prescription, I was told it was actually only $15 (-_-) and that my insurance just had to be updated. THEN they thought the prescription was written incorrectly because the dosage for vaginal yeast infection is different from breast yeast infection dosage and they just assumed it was the first. Therefore I had to wait for the pharmacist who apparently was not present in the pharmacy to confirm that the dosage was correct. Luckily I texted my midwife and she told me that she hadn’t made a mistake and they should just give me the darn meds already!
Within a few days, the infection in my breast cleared and nursing became easier and easier. Around 5 or 6 weeks postpartum, I began to have completely pain free feedings. I remember reading online in the earlier weeks that it would get easier around 6 weeks and not to give up, but 6 weeks seemed so far away. Now looking back, it was really such a short period of time and I’m so thankful that I set my mind of breastfeeding and stuck to it.
There are so many incredible benefits to breastfeeding but the absolute best part of it for me is the bond. I love looking down at my boy as I nourish him and see him smile up at me. It really is incredible! Women are so beautifully designed to carry, birth and feed their babies it just blows my mind.
Some of my other fave benefits include not having to make/ clean bottles, not spending money on formula, or having to carry milk with me because I always have fresh warm milkies ready on standby 😉 Lets not forget that if you exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months you have a birth control that’s 98% effective!
I have some tips that I have learned in my 5 short months of experience for any one out there who could use some boob knowledge!
- Read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding to educate yourself on the process of breastfeeding, different holds, etc.
- Find your local La Leche League group. You can even go before you have your baby to get some extra tips!
- Educate yourself! Watch YouTube videos, documentaries (there is one on Netflix), and read books.
- Educate your partner. Carlos learned so much about breastfeeding from hearing what I’d learned and was able to help me by being a supportive and encouraging partner through my struggles.
- Buy Earth Mama Angel Baby nipple balm! Its the best. Its natural and apparently a lot of babies have reactions to Lanolin (which is also not vegan)
- See a lactation consultant early. Even if you don’t have any issues yet. I think this would have saved me a lot of grief because if Odin had latched on better, I wouldn’t have gotten a cracked nipple, if I hadn’t gotten a cracked nipple I wouldn’t have gotten thrush.
- Get the My Breast Friend pillow! Its the best. It has a pocket for nipple balm, chap stick (a must), breast pads, phone etc. It also wraps all the way around you and clips shut to keep it close to your body and is more square instead of round. The best!
- Get a Milkies Milk Saver! I exclusively breast feed and am not working so I just saved the milk I collected in the freezer for when we go on dates or I want to do anything by myself for more than 3 hours and I’ve never really pumped!
- Utilize Kellymom.com and LLLI’s website- there is a lot of really helpful information
- Understand that not having engorged breasts or not pumping a ton does not mean you have low supply. The only indicators of low supply are 1. your baby is not having wet diapers or 2. your baby is not gaining weight (after the first week). Once my breasts were no longer engorged/ stopped leaking/ got softer I panicked thinking my supply was low. But Odin was happy and fat so there really was no need to panic. Most women think they have low supply but in reality your breasts just change as your baby changes. Women are made to breast feed so as long as your sweet bebe suckles there should be milk! (http://kellymom.com/hot-topics/low-supply/)
- Some things I did to encourage a healthy milk supply:
- I fed on demand. Even if Odin finished nursing 10 minutes ago I would feed him when he showed his nursing cues.
- Lots of skin to skin.
- Bedsharing. DON’T PANIC bedsharing is safe if done safely 🙂 Once I learned how to nurse lying down my life changed forever. I wake up in the morning with my boobs out but hey, I sleep great and Odin gets to cuddle his mama all night long!
- I eat oatmeal almost every morning. Maybe it helps, maybe not. But I do it anyway!
- At the beginning, I woke up Odin every 2 hours to nurse for about the first 2 weeks. And by this I mean from the start of one feeding to the start of the next, This means even if he ate for 45 minutes I would wake him up an hour and 15 minutes later to feed him. He woke up on his own at night for the most part.
- I fed him (for example) on my left side, then right, and on the next feeding he started on the right, then went to the left. I think this helped even out my supply.
- Let your boobies be free! For real this is the best especially when you’re engorged. I rotated between a sleeper bra, braless, and regular nursing bra (when I needed structure). My actually lived in nursing tanks and still wear them almost always so I don’t show my belly when I nurse in public
- Get a nursing poncho. I’ve used covers that just cover then front and Odin could easily pull it off to expose me which I’m not a huge fan of so these are great!
- Empower yourself! This is SO important. The more you trust your body and believe you are making enough milk, the easier it will be to stick with it. I never thought I couldn’t do it and that’s why I believe I was able to do it.
I’m so thankful I’ve been able to overcome the difficulties I faced to continue breastfeeding Odin and now that it’s easy I dread the day he wants to wean! It really is an incredible experience and so worth it in the long run.