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How to breastfeed through obstacles and difficulties. You can breastfeed even when it is hard.
Breastfeeding didn’t start out anything like I had ever imagined it would. I had idealistic visions. My beautiful little newborn would be brought to the breast and would nurse perfectly. Why wouldn’t the baby do so? Sure, there might be a bump here or there, but I would lightly laugh them away and we would continue forward with ease. Breastfeeding would be easy. Breastfeeding wouldn’t hurt. It was the natural thing to do and the way God designed the body, so of course it would be simple. It would be natural. It would be second nature. It would be a beautiful thing that bonded my baby to me.
Ummm…reality is different than our dreams. Despite the books all assuring me that breastfeeding would be simple, it was anything but. My firstborn had NO IDEA what he was doing when it came to breastfeeding. As a first time mom, neither did I. He was not a natural and I was not experienced.
Of course, they have people for that. There are people paid to help you learn to breastfeed your baby. I worked with a lactation consultant each day we were in the hospital. We ended up needing to do SnS to try to get some food into him (SnS is a system where you use a little tube to get the breastmilk or formula into babies mount while baby breastfeeds to encourage baby to realize breastfeeding means food). I would pump, put what I got into the SnS, and need someone with my while I fed him every feeding. This continued for a few days even after I was discharged. So every night feeding required two adults. Every daytime feeding required two adults.
This was not the idealistic picture I had in mind. I was assured he would soon figure things out and breastfeeding would be easy.
But he didn’t.
I utilized the lactation consultants for several more visits over several weeks. They couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t nursing well. They recommended a nipple shield.
I had many, many feedings I privately wished he would just quit all together so we could stop that breastfeeding nonsense. Things were anything but ideal. I am stubborn, however. I had started my motherhood journey with a goal to breastfeed my baby for a year, and I was not quitting unless he did first.
He never did.
And we made it more than a year. He was 13 months old when he breastfed for the last time. I went on to breastfeed my three subsequent babies for at least 12 months each, despite facing many of the same difficulties along the way (though not one of them had the large number of the troubles like my first-born did).
Breastfeeding isn’t easy. To be perfectly honest, I was never sad when that 12 month mark hit, the goal was met, and we could be done. Breastfeeding was difficult. Sure, there are perks, and yes, I had moments of that idealistic vision I had before my first baby was born (and let’s be honest, that is the story of motherhood. We have moments of ideal surrounded my many moments of real life).
I don’t write this to guilt you. If you are facing these difficulties and just can’t continue on, you don’t have to. I write this to encourage anyone who really, really wants to to continue to breastfeed even when it seems like everything is stacked against you meeting that goal. You can press on. You can keep at it. You can make it work. It is a rewarding thing to look back on at the end or your breastfeeding journey with an immense sense of accomplishment. Here are some of the difficulties I faced and how I pushed through.
Breastfeeding Difficulties I Pushed Through
Just about nothing bothers me more in discussing breastfeeding than when people say, “Breastfeeding does not hurt if you are doing it right.” I have written an entire post dedicated to this topic because it bothers me that much. Sometimes breastfeeding is painful. If you have pain, it is good to try to find out why. Explore the list of common reasons for pain (tongue-tie, lip-tie, improper latch, mastitis, yeast…), but know that sometimes it just hurts.
I had a whole lot of stitches inside of me after my oldest was born. It hurt to walk and it really hurt to sit. I carried an inflatable donut with me literally everywhere I went for several weeks. I had no shame. There was no way I was sitting anywhere without one.
But nothing compared to the pain I had when my milk first came in! Excruciating! I believe it hurt more than it usually would because of all of the pumping I had been instructed to do. My body probably thought I had just had quintuplets. The pain is real, the pain is there, and it can be enough that you want to walk away from the idea and stick with bottles from then out.
In my experience, the pain goes away. Engorgement dies down (and I was never that engorged again. Whew!). If you address other causes of pain, the other pain will go away.
There are some things to help with pain. One is the soft shells (affiliate link) to help prevent sore nipples from rubbing against your bra or clothing. There are also packs from lansinoh to help with engorgement. Lanolin (affiliate link)is a great way to help prevent the nipples from getting too sore.
Breastfeeding twins? Read this breastfeeding twins resource guide.
I did not realize my oldest had a tongue-tie for years and years. This was not something I was necessarily able to push through, but it is something I am passionate about moms being aware exists. Always check for a tongue-tie or lip-tie if you have pain breastfeeding or your baby has a poor latch. No one checked Brayden’s. That was more than a decade ago, but even today, many doctors and even lactation consultants do not know to check the tie. Some may recognize one is there, but down-play the negative impact a tie can have on breastfeeding.
A tie can prevent baby from latching correctly, which can cause baby to bite down on your nipple (check. I had totally flattened nipples). It can also lead to supply being compromised because the breast is not draining appropriately and is not being stimulated like it should to keep supply up. Please read more about tongue-tie and lip-tie if you suspect something is wrong. If your baby dose have one, I have heard it is best to have a pediatric dentist look at it.
If we had known about the tie and had it corrected, so many of the subsequent issues wouldn’t have even come up.
Because my oldest could not latch well, I was told to use the nipple shield (affiliate link). I was then of course also told to get off the nipple shield as fast as possible–no pressure, right? We tried to get off several times, but my baby would not latch without it (I am sure the tie was a big reason, if not THE reason, for this). So we used it for the FULL time we breastfed. It was annoying, yes. Any time I fed him, I had to use the shield. It was something to constantly wash. But it was a tool that got us through.
I will say, Kaitlyn and I got a horrendous yeast infection when she was about 4-6 weeks old. I got to the point of bleeding severely. I was told by lactation consultants to use a nipple shield to help take the pressure off the nipple. I avoided that path because I did not want to have to worry about the shield again. So it can be a great tool for you, but it is kind of annoying and not the ideal long-term breastfeeding issue.
Another very difficult obstacle we faced for breastfeeding was inverted nipples. An inverted nipple is when the nipple is flat or basically pointing back into the breast instead of pointing out. This makes a latch very difficult.
After I had my first baby and was in the hospital with my second baby, I found the Latch Assist Nipple Everter (affiliate link, and pictured to the left). I didn’t get it because my second was actually a very natural breastfeeder and we weren’t having issues, but I SO WISHED I had known about it with my first baby. Also, after breastfeeding for a year, the nipples are much less inverted.
Mastitis is not in any way fun. According to WebMD, as many as 1 in 10 women get mastitis. This happens when your ducts don’t get drained as they should. That can happen because your baby isn’t latched correctly (you can start to see how it is common to have many of these issues since they are so closely connected). It can also happen if you don’t feed often enough or let baby eat primarily from one side so the other doesn’t get drained. It can also happen if you have cracked nipples and bacteria enters there.
Because I had never had mastitis before, my first case got pretty bad before I realized what was going on. My doctor was very passionate about helping women with mastitis because his sister let mastitis go too far and ended up in critical condition. I had been warned and yet didn’t realize I had it until it was rough.
Mastitis feels like the flu. It is not fun to be taking care of a baby all day and all night when you feel like that. I got mastitis with each baby, but caught it much earlier. I also learned how to massage clogged ducts to help prevent mastitis from taking hold. It is not as bad when you catch it early. So know what to look for and pay attention to your body. Call your doctor if it takes hold.
Forever Long Nursing Sessions
My my goodness. There was a time when Brayden taking only one hour per nursing session was a great day. He took forever to eat.
I was a first time mom. I didn’t realize that most of the time, in reality, he was actually sleeping instead of eating. This meant long nursing sessions AND it meant short naps all day long. He was napping while “nursing” instead of at nap time.
I will say, however, that it wasn’t just that he was sleeping. He was a slow drinker. All people can drink at different speeds, and babies are people, too. So, while you can expect a baby to stay awake while eating (or aim for that), you can’t expect all babies to eat in the same amount of time as each other.
While there were perks–I read the entire Harry Potter series while breastfeeding my oldest–I learned my lesson. Learn from me. Read these posts to prevent yourself from repeating my mistake:
This is the one issue I didn’t have with my first, but it was a familiar visitor with my three daughters. Yeast. To put it plainly and crudely, yeast infections suck. They just suck. This often happens when you or baby was on antibiotics. Then the good bacteria is compromised and one of you gets yeast, and pretty soon you both have it. It is painful and miserable for both of you.
For some reason, this can really go undiagnosed. The first time I had yeast, with my second child, I saw lactation consultants who did not realize what it was. I spent some time in the ER and no one knew what was going on (long story not relevant to the post–essentially, the yeast infection had progressed so far that both nipples were split straight down the center and bleeding. That meant Kaitlyn was drinking blood (ew). She also had reflux…which meant she was spitting up blood. We were sent to the ER by the doctor on call to get her checked out. So everyone knew I was split and bleeding, but no one realized that meant yeast). It wasn’t until I did a Google search that I figured out what was going on. This was long enough ago that we didn’t all Google our symptoms. It was my first time Googling my medical issue.
So, just like with mastitis, it is super helpful if you know the signs and common causes of a yeast infection in your breasts. That way, if it happens, you are more likely to put it together quickly and get treated quickly.
Sometimes baby can’t tolerate a food you eat and you have to cut it. That happened to me with two babies, both with chocolate. So I went for a year with each baby with no chocolate. I have a friend who couldn’t have any dairy at all while breastfeeding. If you find something your baby can’t handle, you might be giving up on a favorite food.
On the bright side, when I couldn’t have chocolate, I discovered other deserts I didn’t even know I liked but have become my favorites.
If you want to breastfeed but you find yourself pitted against obstacle after obstacle, don’t feel like you must quit. You can press forward if you want to. It might prove too much and you have to quit, but it might work out. These issues are more common than you might think. They really should be at least in the wings of what we imagine when envisioning our upcoming breastfeeding journey. There are sweet moments, but there are also hard ones. This post doesn’t even discuss the feelings of isolation that can come with breastfeeding nor the feeling of being tied down and unable to leave the baby ever. It doesn’t cover the physical, hormonal, and mental changes your body goes through that might be difficult for you to handle.
While breastfeeding can have its sweet moments, it is real life with real challenges. You aren’t a failure for having them and a challenge isn’t a sign that you shouldn’t even bother. Hang in there mama! You can do it!
- Lip-Tie and Tongue Tie
- Sometimes Breastfeeding Hurts
- Thrush/Yeast Infection
- Breastfeeding in Front of Older Siblings
- Fussy Newborns and Mom’s Diet
- Fussy Newborns and Mom’s Diet
The ladies of the BFBN will all be talking about breastfeeding this week. Check the blog daily to see the talk of the day and where to read it.
- Monday: Valerie at Chronicles of a Babywise Mom
- Tuesday: Christine at Christine Keys and Kimberly from Team Cartwright
- Wednesday: Katrina from Mama’s Organized Chaos and Natasha from Let’s Be Brave
- Thursday: Caitlin from Twin Mom and More and Carrie from Wiley Adventures
- Friday: Emily from Journey of Parenthood
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