**Each Friday for the next 7 weeks, we will be posting a new blog post about breastfeeding and several different journeys our team has experienced.**
I feel like I should start this post with a warning. The stories you are about to read are 100% true, but are NOT meant to discourage you from breastfeeding your child if that is what you want to do. They are also not meant to judge you if you faced some of them and made the decision to stop nursing. I’m mainly sharing them to encourage those moms who find themselves going through a rough patch of nursing and need to know they aren’t alone. I’ve been there, done that, and bought the nursing t-shirt!
Adventures of the Nipple Shield. Of all the classes I took, books I read, and friends I had who had nursed, I had never seen or heard of a nipple shield. When my daughter would not latch on to my breast in the hospital a nurse (NOT a lactation nurse; I should have waited for her help) literally just threw one on the tray in front of me and told me to try it. Even with the lactation nurse’s help and a supplemental nursing device (it took three of us with six hands to hold the baby, hold the boob, hold the devices) my daughter still would not latch on. I actually stayed in the hospital an extra day because I could not get her to latch without that shield or the help of a professional. We tried for months to not use it, but the frustration usually wasn’t worth it, so the shield was with me at all times for the first 8 months. Then one day she started getting teeth and kicked that habit like she never needed it! Nursing got LOTS easier after that!
Why eat when I could sleep? Another issue we faced in her first few months was falling asleep at the breast. She slept through the night from the moment we brought her home and while that SEEMS like a blessing, it’s actually a curse for a mom whose milk is coming in. I was instructed to wake her…wake a sleeping baby?! What?! I had to strip her down, wipe her with a cool washrag, hold her upright, flick her foot. Nope, nothing. As soon as her mouth met my nipple she snoozed. I was glad I was such a comforting presence for her but my chest was aching!! After a few weeks she grew out of this but it definitely was a struggle to have over an hour long nursing sessions….only to have to do it all over again in another hour!
Mastitis = the flu with sore boobs. I believe I got mastitis in the second month of my motherhood journey. I had heard about mastitis and knew it was a common occurrence among nursing moms, but I did not realize it was more than sore boobs. It was sore boobs, with aches, chills, fever, on top of your hormone changes and sleep deprivation. I already had the two challenges above to face so when this happened I about threw in the towel. If it weren’t for my husband and friends offering support, I would have been an even bigger wreck than I was. But I wanted to nurse and therefore we trudged our way through to the other side!
Big Boobies are normal right? Some moms have an undersupply and some have an oversupply. They each come with their own own set of problems and while I was glad that I had enough to feed my baby, I was not thrilled that I probably could have have fed all her friends too! I thought my porn star boobs were normal, but I was informed by a lactation specialist that I was actually engorged. “Oh, you mean they aren’t supposed to always be hard as rocks?” Apparently not. After a few months I finally tapered off the milk factory mode but it was uncomfortable for awhile.
Thrush, the fungus among us. When my daughter was 8 months old I started having shooting pains when she latched on. She also had some white patches in her mouth. I thought after all the other issues we’d been through surely we didn’t have thrush?! But yes, yes we did. I wanted to try a more natural approach so we tried to use gentian violet, a natural anti-fungal which I knew stained things. I wasn’t sure if I should apply to her mouth, or apply to my nipple then feed her. We searched online and then just made a decision. Well the result was this purple-faced adorable baby! We got through it too, but not without a lot of hot water, sanitizing, vinegar, and purple stains!
Lacerated Nipple…It can happen. We had just reached an easy point of nursing. No more infections or engorgement or shield, and then came the teeth. She really only bit me once or twice, but it was the night time wakings that did us in. She was cranky and in pain from cutting teeth so I would let her sleep with my breast in her mouth for comfort (AKA a teething ring) I didn’t even notice until I saw some blood in my bra the next morning, but her little razor sharp tooth bud had lacerated my nipple! Yes let’s add nipple laceration onto the list of my breast feeding woes! It didn’t help that we were going out of town that day. I thought it would heal fast and I’d just not nurse on that side. Well I was wrong. If I didn’t nurse I got engorged, if I pumped or nursed, it reopened the wound and was VERY painful. It got infected and I had to go to a doctor for antibiotics. My daughter was cranky from teething and ONLY wanted to nurse. I was cranky from my nursing wound and literally could not feed her without crying. I was on the phone with my nursing mentor several times long distance and even tried this weird method where you milk yourself using a glass jar heated with HOT water, and placing your breast at the lid to create a vacuum that would “milk me” without reopening my nipple wound. It didn’t work that well but was kind of a cool science experiment that I could never share with anyone….until now…. so in the end I wound up hand pumping myself. It took weeks to heal but I’m happy to say it did heal and we continued to nurse up to a year after it happened!
A lot of things happened during my labor and birth that were out of control, but the one thing I felt I did have control over was how to nourish and bond with my child. Though we had a rough start and many speed bumps on our journey, I am so glad that my daughter and I were able to have a breastfeeding bond for those first 18 months of her life. The positive benefits far outweighed those challenges. It sounds like only negative things happened, but this post did not give the highlights or blessings that came from our experience. That will be a different post! I could not have done it alone though (which sounds weird because they are MY boobs right?), it literally took a village to get us through at times and I thank my husband, friends, family and mentors for never pushing me, but offering a positive attitude and comforting shoulder (or breast pump!) when needed. I think that’s the main message in this post. Most women are physically able to nurse a child and if you are one of those women out there who are going through a challenging time of nursing but want to continue to try, find people who will encourage you! There are support groups and lactation nurses and friends out there who can do just that!
Some breastfeeding friendly groups and links:
Milk Moms (meets at Green Bambino, see website for schedule)
KellyMom (Best nursing website I know of)