Learning to breastfeed kind of sucked.

This is the truth and I’m sticking to it.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about nursing my wee one for some time now, but it never feels quite right.  People are so funny about the whole breastfeeding topic.  Some people think it’s awesome, but a lot of people act like the subject should be kept hush-hush.  Which is kind of ridiculous.  I mean, I’m not going to nurse my kid until she’s 4 (and even if I did,would it be anyone’s business but my own?), and I’m not going to expose myself on purpose in the middle of a public area just because my baby is hungry.  But for goodness sake, I should be able to mention the terms “nursing” or “breastfeeding” on occasion.  It shouldn’t make anyone’s jaw drop if I discreetly nurse in the corner of a room with a nursing cover, and if I happen to be pouring some pumped milk into a bottle or something I should be able to do that without “grossing someone out.”  It’s breastmilk, not the contents of a dirty diaper!  Geez!

Anyway, the reason I wanted to blog about it was because it is such a natural act that did NOT come so naturally to me.  In fact, it was just plain hard, miserable, and tortorous for the first little bit and I did NOT want to continue.  I was actually just about to stop and throw in the towel a few times, but now I’m so glad that I did not. I love nursing my baby now.  I really do.  It makes me feel so close to her.  It is something that requires me to stop what I’m doing and just focus on her.

And the entire reason I did not quit was that I had SO much support.  I had so many people I could talk to about it, and so many good things to read that made me feel more confident and encouraged.  I cannot imagine if I hadn’t had friends that had also experienced this, and I also don’t know what I would have done without good resources such as www.kellymom.com and The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

I know a lot of girls who have said, “Oh my gosh, it is so hard in the beginning.  I quit or I almost quit because I just didn’t feel like I could talk about it, I didn’t have any support.”  That makes me so sad.  It’s a hard thing because some women find it very challenging and feel guilty when it doesn’t work for them.  I hate to think that girls quit trying because they feel frustrated and alone.

So, in a nutshell, if you are a new mom learning to breastfeed and just NOT loving it, this is for you.

If you are anyone else, please go away now, because there is no way this is going to be the least bit interesting to you.  Please, spare yourself!

So here goes… this is gonna be a long one.

You see, I never questioned why I wanted to breastfeed.  Pick up any book or talk to any pediatrician and they will tell you that it’s the most natural and complete form of nutrition for a baby.  But I still read the books and took the classes.  I even talked to other moms who BF so that I could get a real life take on it.

All of the books said the same thing – “breastfeeding should not hurt.”  Ha.  HAHAHAHAHA.  HAHAHAHAHAHA.  Yeah, more on that later.

So I went to the hospital and I gave birth to my baby.  She was so skinny and teensy!

I had heard all of these horror stories about babies born who did not want to latch on to their moms, so I even went as far as to have a natural birth so that me and baby would be completely coherent and ready for this first little milestone.  (Please feel free to roll your eyes if you are a mom who BF without having a natural birth – believe me I know how the last sentence sounds!  But what can I say, I was trying to do EVERYTHING I could to have a baby who latched!)

And latch she did.  Right away, and with a vengeance.  I was so proud.  So proud, in fact, that I didn’t really say anything when it, well, started to hurt.  I figured, “Hey, no big deal, I’ll get used to it!  It’s best for baby!  And she’s sucking, and content, why would I stop her?”  I asked a few nurses there who said they were lactation consultants if the latch looked good.  They all knodded, praised me for my natural birth and successful latching, and left me to my own devices.  I tried to enjoy it.

But, um… it hurt.

By the second day in the hospital, I couldn’t pretend anymore.  It didn’t hurt a little.  It hurt a LOT.  We had decided to keep Poppyseed in the room with us so that she could truly eat “on demand.”  This way she would always have me nearby when she was hungry, and we wouldn’t have to worry about someone in the nursery giving her any other type of nutrition such as formula or water.  I had talked to all of my sisters and friends who had successfully breastfed, and they had all told me that the more I let the baby suck after birth, the better and faster the chances of my real milk coming in.  (You only make a thick colostrum after birth, but a few days later your milk actually comes in.)  So, I was happy to keep her close so that she could nurse anytime she needed to, and thus trigger my body to make that precious liquid gold.  The nurses kept offering to take her to the nursery so that I could get some sleep, but we were adamant that she stay with us.  I slept very light with her all curled up next to me in the hospital bed. You can’t see it in the picture, but there was a really big bar next to her to keep her from rolling out of the bed, I promise!

So each hour the nurses would come in and check on us (likely making sure I wasn’t sleeping on top of her or something) and also ask how often she was breastfeeding.

“Has she eaten recently honey?”

“Yes, she is nursing now.” 

“And how long ago did she start nursing?”

“She’s been nursing since the last time you came in here to check on us, which was an hour ago.”

The nurse would look quite surprised, make a note on the chart and be on her way.

Well that was the problem.  My little Poppyseed was such a fan of sucking and nursing that she pretty much latched on and never let go.  Ever.  And poor me, I was so set on demand feeding that I just let her go to town.  So I’m pretty sure that over the course of the first 2 days of her life, she was attached to me about 75% of the time.  She had such a strong and intense sucking reflex, and I had no idea that when she was sucking she was also sleeping.  Now I know that I can unlatch her after 20 minutes and she is asleep and just sleep-sucking.   I just didn’t know it then!  I thought she was really eating, for like, an hour straight!  And my poor boobies were just not ready for all that friction.

Another main problem (other than the length of time she spent nursing) was that, as it turned out, I had a not-so-great latch.  I finally confirmed that this was the issue when a lactation consultant who also taught my birth class came to visit me in the hospital.

You see, the latch should look something like this.

As you can see the lips are sort of phlanged out.  The bottom lip especially.  You can see the entire bottom lip, even the fleshy inner part of the bottom lip.  Well my Poppyseed was sort of gripping me with her lips.  I couldn’t see the bottom part of her lip at all.  Even though I kind of knew that was the problem the whole time, I could never figure out how to correct her.  I’d try to get her to latch properly so that her lips would stick out and she’d be taking in more of my nipple.  But… it would hurt to constantly unlatch and relatch and so I’d eventually just think, “Fine, just do what you want to do little baby, as long as you’re nursing I guess I can take it.”  By about 36 hours of doing this, well, the damage was not good.

I was cracked and bleeding.  Nursing hurt like hell.  The same nurses who told me, “Oh your latch looks great!  She’s such a great eater!”  were now giving me very worried glances and throwing around terms such as “infection” and “mastitis.”  I got worried and called a really reputable lacation consultant.  (This was about the 5th lactation consultant I’d spoken to.)  She kept asking me to rate my pain scale on a 1 to 10.  I’d say 8 or 9, we’d try several different things, and nothing would work.  She started talking about how perhaps my baby had a slightly different mouth, tongue, lip, etc.  She thought that maybe my baby could not anatomically match up with my nipple.  This was all very stressful to hear, plus I was in so much pain by this time.

She asked me if I liked to treat things naturally or medically.  I thought about it said, “Well naturally at first, but if I can’t make an improvement then I would try a real medicine next.”  She told me in that case perhaps I should try using a homemade saline solution (boiled water and salt) to clean my nipples after each nursing session to avoid infection.  She also recommended that I use organic unrefined coconut oil on my nipples before and after feedings, as coconut oil is a natural antifungal and antibacterial agent.  She did comment that my nipples looked so horrible, however, that I may need to use a really hardcore steroid cream if that didn’t work.  It made me really worried to think of my 6 pound baby ingesting steroid cream, since of course anything that goes into my body would go into hers.  I vowed to only use the steroid as an absolute last resort.

She also mentioned that if it got really really horrible to the point that I just couldn’t take it anymore, I could nurse her while wearing a nipple shield, but that most studies showed that mothers who used nipple shields were unsuccessful in the long term.  (I’m not sure why that is, but I told her I would not use them unless I was on my last leg.  Or, er, on my last… nevermind.)

I checked out of the hospital on day 3 of Poppyseed’s life and we went home.  The next day, my milk came in.

OH DID IT COME IN!  Oh my gosh.  Imagine someone rips your skin off and stuffs a cantaloupe into each side of your chest, that is what it feels like to have your milk come in for the first time.  My poor boobs got SO huge, and the skin was so stretched!  It literally hurt all the way into my armpits.  The next few days are a blur of pain, I’m talking toe-curling pain, and soaking through tshirts and sheets with milk.

2 days later we had our 1 week appointment with our pediatrician.  I’d been demand feeding the whole time, taking motrin and using the coconut oil/saline regime and just trying not to cry every time she ate.  I was so scared to death that I’d get to the appointment, put her on the scale, and have the doctor say, “Oh, sorry, your hard work is for nothing, she’s lost too much weight, you’ll have to supplement.”

When we did put her on the scale – HOORAY! – she was already at her birth weight again.  Big victory!

My pediatrician asked me how breastfeeding was going.  I gave her some details and she immediately advised me to give her a pacifier so that she didn’t feel the need to suck on me all day and night.  I was SO hesitant.  I’d heard of babies getting nipple confusion and whatnot.  Well I decided to just go ahead and try it, as it certainly did not seem that Poppyseed had any hesitation to suck on really anything.  It took several days, but she did eventually learn to love her pacifier.  We had to try about 10 brands, but it was nice when we found one she liked.

Oh – here is one side note.  The morning of my pediatrician appointment I was so engorged with milk and uncomfortable.  It hurt to put on a bra, it hurt to move, of course it still hurt to nurse.   I remembered a box of tea that a friend gave me.  It was some kind of breastfeeding tea, and so I decided I would drink it.  Maybe it will help, right?  It’s a tea just for breastfeeding!  I brewed a cup and gulped it down.

WRONG!  It was fenugreek.  Fenugreek is an herb that is supposed to INCREASE milk production.  I’m not going to go into any more detail here, but let’s just say it was a very, very bad idea for me to drink that tea. I will not be making that mistake again, ever.

Well, even though the pediatrican appointment went well, the next few days were torture.  I stayed engorged and my nipples became so much more damaged.  They looked awful and any type of pressure or contact on them would hurt.  Tshirts would hurt, taking a shower would hurt, it literally hurt so much that I felt like if I were to stand topless on the porch when the wind was blowing, the WIND would hurt them.  By this time it would be an understatement to say I was down in the dumps.  I was a haggard, bleeding, exhausted, depressed mess.  I was dreading feedings.  I was crying a lot.   I wanted nothing to do with feeding that baby.  I had called a few pharmacies about that steroid cream, but as it turns out no one carried it.  (In hindsight I’m glad they didn’t carry it, because I ended up healing without it.  But at the time I’d look at myself in the mirror and think, “There is no way in hell I will heal.  Not with her eating as often as she is.  It is a physical impossibility.  It would be like cutting myself with a rusty knife and then rubbing the cut with a brillo pad every hour and expecting it to heal.  No way.  Not happening.“)

Well, I did heal.  I don’t know how, but the body is amazing.  But first, it got worse.

I was nursing her on day 6 or 7 and one side just started to hurt like the dickens.  I suspected a plugged duct.  I nursed Poppyseed as usual but the pain was pretty rough and she did not seem very satisfied during that part of the feeding. I pulled out my pump and tried using it for the first time.  Pretty much nothing came out, especially on the more painful side.

This pain went on for about a day.  I read on www.kellymom.com and in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding that if you suspect a plugged duct, the best thing to do is to breastfeed on that side as much as possible.  So I would always start Poppyseed on that side, even though it hurt and even though I cried the whole time she ate.

And then… she unplugged me.  (Brace yourselves, as the next part is not pretty.)

I don’t really know what happened, but she was eating on that bad side and then she stopped eating and burped.  Her entire burp was red.  I don’t mean pink, or light pink, or pink-tinged, I mean straight blood.  My poor little sweet baby had just literally expelled a huge chunk of blood about the size of my thumb.  I screamed for my husband and started sobbing.  I was certain it was going to hurt her.  We called the doctor and I consulted Google.

What do you know.  They told me that this type of thing is normal.  Are you freaking kidding me.

They told me that even if there was blood in the milk, it is still best to continue breastfeeding.  I have learned that pretty much no matter what, it’s always best to keep breastfeeding before you resort to only pumping or using formula.  But that is a hard pill to swallow when your baby burps blood, so it took a lot of willpower and stubbornness on my part to actually do it.

As it turned out, I probably did have a plugged duct.  And I’d been sitting on the pump trying to unplug myself with no luck.  Well, nature is pretty amazing, and my baby was a much better vaccum than the good ole electric Medella.  If it hadn’t been for her, I probably would have pumped and pumped and further damaged myself and ended up with a pretty bad infection or worse.

Soon after that, I gave up on “demand feeding” and started feeding her on a loose schedule during our second week.  It was just to the point where if I didn’t give myself some time between feedings, I felt like I’d never heal and I’d give in and supplement or start to depend on the pump too much.  I’d feed her for 15-20 minutes on each side (20 if I could bear it), and then wait 3 hours before feeding again.  This enabled me to heal a little bit and also rest some.  So I was feeding from 9am-9:30am or so, and then having a break until 12pm.  Oatmeal would take her after I was finished feeding her and let me get some rest.  If she started to cry before the 3 hours had elapsed, we’d try our best to get her to stop crying for a good 15-20 minutes before I’d feed again.  I was worried about making her wait, but I knew I was sort of on my last leg mentally.  I told myself she was already at her birth weight and was producing plenty of dirty diapers a day, so I knew that she should be getting enough milk.  As it turns out, it worked for us and she is a very chunky and happy baby today.

I did follow a few rules though.  Since I wasn’t following all of the breastfeeding rules by demand feeding, I made sure to follow a few other rules.

  • Never let her go more than 5 hours without eating (I followed this until 5 weeks) even if it means waking her
  • Always feed a minimum of 8 times daily
  • If she isn’t making a dirty diaper every day, increase feeding

I can’t tell you how many people gave me shit for “waking a sleeping baby” but by following these guidelines I was able to heal and I still had a thriving little baby.  I never had to resort to only pumping or any type of formula supplementation.

This picture was taken at about 3am one night.  She slept in her bassinet next to our bed and I was about to wake her up to feed her.

Why not just give her formula or pump into a bottle and feed her that way?  Lot of people asked me that.   As far as the pump was concerned, I just never produced a lot of milk at the pump.  I would sit on it forever and get just about nothing.  Whereas if she breastfed directly on me, she would get milk.

And why didn’t I just supplment a little formula, to give myself a break?  Well because of good old Oxytocin.  You see, oxytocin is a pretty neat little hormone.  It not only gets you pregnant, but it helps you feed your baby.  When a woman’s nipples are stimulated, her brain releases oxytocin and that can lead to arousal, which of course can lead to pregnancy.  Once the baby is born, the baby stimulates the nipples again.  Once again the brain is triggered to release oxytocin, which now acts on the breast tissues to produce milk.

Well, if your baby has a belly full of formula or water, then that baby isn’t going to have very much motivation to nurse.  Therefore, the nipples are not stimulated and the brain has no way of knowing to release oxytocin, and no milk is produced. This is how a lot of women can end up losing their milk or not making quite enough milk.

Understanding this concept was key for me.  Even now, when she is in a growth spurt, I can sometimes tell I’m not making enough milk.   She will want to feed more frequently, or she’ll act really unsatisfied during or after feedings.  But I do know that if I just let her suck more than usual, even if she isn’t getting much in that moment, she is still triggering those hormones to do their work.  It may take a few days, but I always end up making more milk eventually.  And she is just thriving.  Totally growing like a little weed.

To anyone who says that nursing your baby on a schedule can cause insufficient weight gain or failure to thrive, I’d like to show them this picture.  You don’t get a double chin like this from starving, people.

So, all in all, here is the summary.

  • Week 1:  Had a baby, she latched, demand fed around the clock, lots of damage done, lots of frustration and crying and pain.  Poppyseed reached her birthweight by day 5 of life.  Worked on getting a good latch.
  • Week 2:  Continued to practice a good latch, endured lots of pain and tears, plus that whole blood thing.  Poppyseed maintained her birth weight.  Began feeding every 3 hours in order to allow healing.
  • Week 3:  Things started to improve, meaning I started to see slight signs of healing and the pain level decreased.
  • Week 4:  More blood.  More tears.  Talked to many other fellow breastfeeders and really relied on their encouraging words.  Took baby to a feed store and weighed her on a certified scale to make sure she was still gaining.  She was!
  • Weeks 5-6:  I was almost healed.  Nursing did not hurt much at all by this time, but there were good and bad days.  At week 5 I stopped waking her to eat at night and just let her wake me up instead.
  • Weeks 7-8: Hey!  This isn’t so bad.  Another pediatrician visit – she was in the 90th percentile for weight!
  • Weeks 9 – Current:  Oh my goodness, I am good at this now!  I got this!  I am SO glad I stuck with this!

So, in a nutshell, it was an uphill battle for me at first.  If I had it to do all over again, I would just change two things and I think it would go so much better.  (1) I’d check her periodically to see if she were truly eating or just sleeping, and give myself more breaks between feedings, and (2) I’d perfect the latch instead of just thinking I could get used to the discomfort.   Because I can honestly say I’d rather go through childbirth with no epidural again before I’d go through the first two weeks of breastfeeding.  If you are one of those women who just gives birth and pops your baby on your boob with no problem, I’m SO jealous of you.

But I’m so glad I stuck with it.

So glad I told everyone in the hospital not to give my baby any supplements at all, even if it meant I barely slept.

So thankful to my husband and family for holding her so I could get some sleep.

So glad for my friend, J, who had a baby on the same day as me because I could text her and say, “THIS HURTS!” and she’d write back and say, “OMG I can barely stand it!  It’s awful!”  What can I say, misery loves company and just feeling like someone else out there understood was what got me through it.

It was so hard at first.  SO hard.  It was painful, it required SO much time, it felt odd to do it in front of people, it dictated the clothes I could and couldn’t wear.  It was NOT natural.  It was NOT rewarding.

Until…. it was.

And now I love it.  I love nursing her.  I feel so thankful that I make enough milk to support a nation of babies, and my next big hurdle will be to nurse her while working full time.  After that I’ll have to hurdle through teething.  Thankfully I have so many friends and sisters to help me out while I do it.  I really do think having support is 90% of the battle.  So I hope this post didn’t gross you out too much, and instead made you feel a tad bit better if you just aren’t loving the whole breastfeeding thing just yet.

Toodles.

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Comments

  1. I could have written this post!!! My daughter is 4.5 months now and I’m so glad I stuck with it!!I wrote a little on my blog about how unnatural it was for us also. It was so hard at first and we had so many road blocks but now it’s so easy! btw I write this as I pump in my little pumping station at work 🙂 I’m glad you had a happy ending to this post!

  2. dou tank says:

    Dear lord! Who cares? BF or FF, nobody wants to hear the gory details and decent people dp not want to see you nipple or breast.

    • Hello there, I am sorry that you are so confused, but there is not a picture of my nipple nor my breast. You can stop reading my blog at any time if you do not enjoy what I have written.

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