Breastfeeding. What can I say that’s not already been said?? First off, this isn’t meant to be a comment on formula feeding vs breastfeeding. This is just one woman’s story. I know many of us go into motherhood wanting to breastfeed but it’s not a reality for everyone. No judgement here!
I want to start off by saying breastfeeding was a million times harder than I ever dreamed it could be (and I had heard a lot of stories about its difficulty). I found myself angry that my beat up body had to endure more discomfort so soon after giving birth. I found it unfair that all the pressure for his gaining weight post-birth was placed on my shoulders. And I had glamorized breastfeeding in my head as a lovely way to connect with my son but it wasn’t that. Not at first anyway. Being his only source of nutrition and being available every two hours was so much more defeating and life-draining than I could have imagined. Time goes by so fast in between nursing sessions and you soon realize it’s ALL you will do those first few weeks. It gets better as time goes on, but initially the schedule is daunting to say the least. I’m finally getting to the point where I look forward to nursing and can focus on how adorable he is instead of the excruciating pain.
Here’s our story:
Our journey started strong. The Wee One latched on in the very first hour of life during our skin-to-skin time. Fun fact: when babies are first born their stomachs are the size of a single teaspoon. In the days before your milk comes in you produce colostrum in tiny amounts but it’s still plenty of nourishment for your little one. The Wee one and I had a good first day at the hospital.
I found this interesting and illustrative image online that demonstrates just how small a baby’s stomach really is!
On the second day we were told that The Wee One had a slight case of jaundice. (PS Is there anything sadder than watching your baby get their heel pricked for blood??) Jaundice is pretty common these days due to the popularity of breasteeding because if babies don’t get enough food right away they can’t break down the bilirubin in their bodies. Because of his jaundice The Wee One was placed in a bilibed for 24 hours to help decrease his numbers.
Poor guy hated the eye patch cover thingy and had trouble falling asleep while not swaddled. The only time he was allowed to get out of the bed was for nursing. Lots of breastmilk would help with the jaundice as well so we fed diligently every two hours and then I pumped afterwards so The Scottish could feed him more colostrum with a eye dropper and help him fall asleep easier.
Unfortunately during the middle of the night, The Wee One got really frustrated with latching and when one of the nurses suggested using a nipple shield, I accepted it blindly. It definitely worked to help him latch better but in hindsight, I wish I hadn’t taken it. I wish I had tried a little longer without it and I wish they would have offered more information about it or we had asked more questions because I didn’t know it would be difficult to get rid of later on. I didn’t know a nipple shield limits the amount of milk he gets. I didn’t know I’d experience pain during weaning.
In case you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about:
I found out more information the next morning when the lactation consultant freaked out after hearing we’d started using one. You could tell she was against them because she said, “Why did they give you one? You guys were doing fine on your own! Over half the women here are leaving with a nipple shield.” I have to point out she was Scottish too, not that it matters, but it’s always fun for The Scottish to meet someone from his side of the pond. (As far as Scots go in Minnesota he knows the tire guy at Wal-Mart and the lactation consultant at our hospital, haha.)
Overall we liked her but she made me feel terrible about taking the nipple shield. Not sure how shaming me was going to help the situation but I got over it once I heard how many people use them.
By the time we left the hospital nursing was tiring but doable. I was feeling positive.
The first week continued to go pretty well. My milk came in the Thursday evening after his birth on Tuesday and I spent all of Friday and some of Saturday painfully engorged. UGH. At exactly one week I saw a different lactation consultant (on the request of the first one) who told me not to worry about using a nipple shield. She said some women use them for weeks or months and she was happy with how much milk The Wee One was getting during a nursing session. That was reassuring and I pushed the thought of weaning out of my mind.
After about ten days I started to feel a burning, stinging feeling in my nipples. It was intense and AWFUL. It lasted from the start of nursing to about 15 minutes after I was done nursing. I knew that wasn’t a good sign, so I turned to Google like a noob mother tends to do. All signs pointed to thrush. Thrush is a yeast infection that occurs in an infant’s mouth and is passed from baby to mom and back again. It’s difficult to get rid of, can affect how much milk the baby gets (not in our case), and it’s extremely painful for the mother’s nipples (definitely in our case). I found it difficult to tell if the white stuff in his mouth was milk residue or yeast but I had my suspicions.
I woke up one Saturday morning completely fed up with the pain and made an appointment for The Wee One that same day. I had to trust my mom instinct and it turns out I was right! The ped could tell right away it was thrush and I was so thankful the burning wasn’t just in my head. The worst part of thrush is that since it’s hard to get rid of they make you give your sweet newborn medication for two weeks. In our case, the first type of medication we tried didn’t work and by the time we’re done with medication number two, he’ll have been taking something (it’s a liquid) for 4+ weeks. 🙁 I also use a topical cream on my breasts to make sure I don’t end up passing it back to him.
Luckily the thrush pain went away after a few days and as I sterilized the nipple shield after each feeding I got more and more annoyed with it. When I left the house I would worry that I had forgotten it at home and I quickly decided the shield was more stress than it was worth. So I decided to wean off it about a week after getting our thrush diagnosis (3ish weeks after he was born)..
And boy oh boy was that painful. It was essentially like starting over and my nipples were pretty angry about it. At this point The Wee One is 5 and a half weeks and the pain is starting to fade…finally! The nipples build up a tolerance and time really does help heal. The pain is much less on my left side and I’m working really hard on getting him to latch better on the right side to minimize the “lipstick effect” and it’s related pain.
I know I’m lucky to have avoided some of the other painful parts of breastfeeding (like mastitis and clogged ducts) but I’ve had my fill of setbacks. In our first month I spent many nursing sessions crying, yelling, whining, begging (the pain to stop), and clenching my teeth but despite all of it, I never once thought of giving up because the positives continued to out weigh the negatives.
1. The Wee One passed his birth weight in one week! The pediatrician gives you two weeks to make this happen so we were pumped with his quick growth.
2. My milk supply has always been steady, full, and abundant.
3. Breastmilk continues to help boost his immune system and all that good stuff.
Since The Wee One was doing so well I knew I could suck it up for him. I will keep you guys updated on our progress but for now things are looking up! And while I haven’t thrown out the nipple shield just yet, I plan to do it soon. 🙂
Finally, here are my two breastfeeding recommendations:
I use the My Brest Friend breastfeeding pillow and it works like a dream! I highly recommend it! Obviously I can’t take it in public but for nursing at home or at a family member’s or friend’s house, it has been a lifesaver. I ordered mine from Babies R Us but I’m sure it’s available other places as well.
Another product I love and use liberally is the Mother Love brand nipple cream. It’s soothing and all natural. I found mine at the nearby health foods store. I use it after each feeding and it helps minimize painful sensations.
Wow, this was quite the lengthy post! Anyone struggle with breastfeeding or just feeding in general? Do you have tips for dealing with the pain?