When I had my first baby, I was determined to breastfeed. I knew it was what God had intended for my child’s nourishment, and as a stay-at-home mom, I felt it was really my number one job. Not everyone feels that way, and that’s ok. I’m just letting you know where my heart was at the time.
Before the birth of my first, I had been way more focused on having a natural birth than on breastfeeding. Sure, I’d read up on different nursing holds and our birth class covered the basics, but I wish I would have spent more time researching breastfeeding, complications, and solutions before I actually had C. Once you give birth, your mind is on overdrive and it was really hard to think clearly and know where to look for answers to questions.
C nursed easily in the hospital. I had wonderful lactation consultants regularly helping me out and answering questions, checking her latch, etc. But once I got home from the hospital, things went downhill. Breastfeeding was incredibly painful and C’s latch changed. I visited the lactation consultants, who told me C was getting enough milk and made good suggestions for changing her latch. But it was still excruciating. I’d been told it would be painful, but it was to the point where I would literally have to rip C off of me because my body felt like it was going to explode when she nursed (more on that later).
At 3 weeks, after failed attempts at using nipple shields, the lactation consultant suggested I pump for a couple days to let my bleeding, cracked nipples heal. That way I could still give C breastmilk, but without the intense pain for a day or two. She told me to give C the pumped milk in a bottle. I remembered having read that you shouldn’t give a baby a bottle until they were at least a month to two months old, as it can cause nipple confusion, especially if nursing isn’t well established. I asked if it would be better to use a Supplemental Nursing System (basically the pumped milk goes through a tube into the baby’s mouth while they are on the breast. This helps them continue to establish nursing while ensuring the baby gets enough milk). The lactation consultant said that that wouldn’t really help me heal, since C would still be nursing and it would still be painful. That made sense to me, but I still wish I’d listened to my mommy instinct that wasn’t quite sure that giving my 3 week old a bottle would actually help the nursing problems.
After 2 days of pumping, my breasts started healing, but C had no latch left. The bottle was so much easier to get milk out of, it had made her lazy and she didn’t want to nurse. I tried to get her back to nursing until she was 3 months old, but nothing worked. Luckily I didn’t have a problem with supply, and was able to exclusively pump breastmilk for C until she was 14 months old. Yay! But let me tell you, it wasn’t easy by any means, and I learned a lot by trial and error. Hopefully, I can pass on a few tips I wish I’d known before my breastfeeding journey began that can save you some tears and grief!
Breastfeeding will hurt. For some, a little bit. For others, it will be excruciating. It can take months for some women to get to a pain-free place in their nursing journey. It can be really discouraging and tear down your confidence if it doesn’t come easy. But knowing about the possible pain ahead of time and having a bunch of tools in your tool belt to combat the problems that may arise will definitely help you stay confident.
Intense emotional stress can manifest itself in ways you might not realize. How is this related to breastfeeding? A few days after getting home from the hospital with C, I was thrown into an incredibly intense, emotionally stressful situation completely unrelated to the birth of my child. Vague enough for you? Good. 🙂 My problems with breastfeeding began right at this time, and I mentioned earlier that it became so painful that I felt like my body was going to explode, remember? It wasn’t until C was a year old and I was doing some research relating to the situation that I had been dealing with that I read about the different ways people react to intense stress. The book described some people manifesting their stress physically, and some described feeling like their skin was ripping off them, or their body felt like it was going to explode. I started sobbing immediately, because I knew exactly what they were talking about. It was such a relief to know that I wasn’t the only one, but I wish I had known earlier why I was feeling that way. All this to say, yes, breastfeeding can be incredibly painful, but if you have other things going on in your life, they can contribute to the problems you might have breastfeeding. Try to make things as stress-free as you can and know that talking to a counselor or friend about what’s going on can really help.
Latch is crucial. Don’t let a bad latch continue. It will become a habit for your baby and is the biggest cause of cracked nipples and pain. If your hospital doesn’t automatically provide you a lactation consultant, insist they send one in as soon after giving birth as possible. And multiple times throughout your stay, as many times as you need to feel confident that you’ve got it down.
Do not let your baby have artificial nipples of any kind! A lot of hospitals or relatives will give babies bottles or pacifiers if you’re asleep, in order to help you rest. That may seem helpful when you’re exhausted from giving birth, but it isn’t! Milk supply is based off supply and demand. Nurse as soon after birth as you can and as often as your baby wants! Each time your baby feeds or soothes at your breast, it triggers you body to produce more milk. If people are giving your baby formula or pacifiers, your body is missing the signal that your baby needs milk and won’t know to keep up production! I know it may seem like you are a human pacifier, but that’s because you kind of are! 🙂 I’m not saying don’t ever use a bottle or pacifier, but wait until your supply and nursing routine are set, a good month or two after baby’s born.
Nursing on demand and still having supply issues? Try taking Fenugreek capsules. A lot of them. I recommend getting a bottle of Fenugreek before you give birth to have on hand so you or your spouse don’t have to run out in the middle of the night when you’re freaking out that baby isn’t getting enough to eat. Because I was exclusively pumping, I didn’t have the same natural trigger for my body to produce more milk when C had a growth spurt. Fenugreek was a supply-saver. I almost lost my entire supply several times during my 14 month pumping saga, and within a day or two of taking 6+ capsules a day, I was back to producing enough. You’ll know you are taking enough when it makes your sweat and urine smell like maple syrup. Odd, I know, but I swear it works wonders!
If your baby continually has a poor latch, there may be an underlying issue. I didn’t find out until C was 3 months old that she had a tight frenulum (tongue-tie) that needed to be clipped that was affecting her sucking ability. She also had a tight upper lip that needed to be clipped, too. I wish I had known to ask about these things sooner, because at 3 months, it was too late to get her back to nursing. Some pediatricians can clip tongue-ties, but I really recommend going with a specialist if you can. I was really lucky that my midwives recommended we see MaryAnn O’Hara at Seattle Breastfeeding Medicine. She literally helps write the textbooks on frenotomy, and was wonderful! She is actually the doctor that discovered C had Torticollis, a condition that can also affect the jaw muscles and how a baby’s sucking mechanism works. We were able to get into physical therapy, and when treated early, Torticollis doesn’t have lasting side effects.
If you are committed to long-term breastfeeding, invest in a high-quality double electric pump. It will make your life so much easier. (And a lot of insurance companies will cover pumps, so check with your insurance to see if they will!) Pumps are great for pumping milk for the occasional date night (what are those? :)), but they are also a great tool for helping you successfully breastfeed! If you have to deal with Mastitis or plugged ducts, pumping with the flange in all sorts of odd positions can help relieve the pressure. If your baby is going through a growth spurt, nursing on demand will help trigger your body to produce more milk. But adding in a pumping session or two can also help you have a backup supply in case you need it. When I first started pumping, I had way too much milk (I know, what a problem, right?). I ended up having a few hundred ounces of frozen breastmilk as a backup in my freezer. I was able to donate a lot of it, but it was really nice having some peace of mind knowing I had a backup if for some reason my milk supply tanked. Which it did! This leads me to my next tip…
Certain medicines, even if they are ok for nursing moms, can affect your milk supply. I had a nasty cold when C was 4 months old and had tried everything I could think of naturally to kick it. When that didn’t work, I used an over-the-counter cold remedy that my doctor said would be fine for me to take while nursing. What I didn’t know was that the decongestant in that particular OTC medicine zapped my milk supply to almost nothing. I went from overproducing by many ounces a day, to barely making half enough to feed C. I’m glad I had the overstock of frozen breastmilk to pull from, because it took a good week of downing Fenugreek and pumping every 2 hours to get my supply back to the “safe zone.”
Make a list of lactation consultants and La Leche League leaders in your area BEFORE you give birth. You don’t want to have to worry about doing this research in the midst of your newly sleep-deprived life! I went to the lactation consultants at my local hospital, but there are plenty of independent ones who will come right to your home! All this to say, do your research BEFORE you give birth. If you’ve got the list before hand, you’ll be ready to call as soon as a problem or question comes up. Which leads into the next tip…
Get help sooner rather than later! Don’t wait until the problem is more complicated than it has to be. Simple as that 🙂
Create a “Nursing Station.” Make it a comfortable place to sit, like a rocker or cozy chair. You will want your knees to be above your hips slightly, so if you don’t have a glider chair and ottoman, a nursing stool can be a great alternative!
Be prepared! Gather up breastfeeding supplies before the baby arrives and have them ready to go at your nursing station!
What are those supplies? Check out my post Thrifty Family Finds’ Breastfeeding Essentials List + Freebies! I outline the essentials and offer up some freebie opportunities you can take advantage of as well!
You might also like to check out my post *Updated* Pregnancy Freebies Roundup, which is a whole list of free items you can get for yourself or other pregnant moms!