We are inundated with images of breastfeeding -perfect images where a smiling mother is looking down at her perfectly latched baby and her hair is usually kempt and all is well with the world. Breast is best, as they always say.
And yes, while breast is great (if you can) it is also so much harder than the ads talk about. Than the nurses are honest about. And it can take you by surprise when you’re home with that newborn babe and feeling overwhelmed and then breastfeeding woes kick in and you question your ability to do this.
One. You CAN do this. You’re a bad ass who just gave birth and you’ll be fine.
As for breastfeeding, that’s a choice. A choice a lot of us choose to make or at least WANT to make for our babies. The cost and benefits make it a great choice, but at the end of the day fed is best, so if your breastfeeding journey comes to an abrupt halt or never really got off the ground in the first place, then THAT IS OK.
You’re not a failure. That is something I wish someone had told me.
Going into birth all I had read about breastfeeding was 1) You should do it. 2) You can “toughen up your nipples” ahead of time.
I didn't really understand what that meant.
It was suggested to rub them aggressively with a towel after showering.
For a woman with admittedly sensitive nipples, who really doesn’t enjoy nipple play of any kind, this was uncomfortable and fairly tortuous.
I did a half assed job at this if I do say so myself.
Fast forward to birth. The nurses plop this tiny, gooey creature on my chest and when he started to root they all seemed to think that was wonderful and then he ‘latched’ so no one assumed there was any issue. Rejoice! Your baby knows what to do, and your boobs will do the rest. Ummm. Ok. Cool.
Latching is a huge thing. And its so frustrating if your baby can’t. Which can be because of a tongue tie or numerous other issues like engorgement or thrush.
It was assumed my little guy latched so everything was good to go. I also gave birth on a Friday and there was no lactation consultant in on the weekend so I stayed in the hospital till Monday.
Latching is one thing. Latching correctly is another. Over the weekend my milk still hadn’t come in, which is devastating when your baby is screaming with hunger. All I was told was that ‘he’ll be fine’, my milk would come in the next day or two and if I was really desperate they could give me some sugar water for him.
When you’re already new at this, you start to feel awful because your body is seemingly not giving your baby what it’s supposed to be giving your baby. Fast forward to Monday when my nipples are now cracked and bleeding from the attempted feedings when my boy latched, but he just latched onto nipple.
I tried lactation consultants and breastfeeding clinics. Some of the nurses at the clinics told me, as I gritted my teeth through the pain that ‘they’d toughen up’ [in regards to my nipples] and while it may be true, that was not what I needed to hear in that moment.
I needed reassurance that this wasn’t just hard for me but that it was a normal experience.
The lactation consultant was wonderful and got my boy latching properly. She also gave me advice about using something like coconut oil on my poor nips BEFORE pumping. Wish I had known that the first time. I wont regale you with the tale of the first time I pumped and ended up pumping an ounce of blood mixed with milk. No. You can probably just use your imagination.
But as wonderful as those ladies were, its like leaving the salon with amazing hair and never being able to recreate it at home. That which was seemingly easy surrounded by experts, seemed pretty much impossible once home.
Every time my baby started to cry to be fed, I would cry too. Because feeding him was painful and excruciating and I felt like I was a failure. It wasn't until talking to other breastfeeding moms long after the fact, that I realized I wasn't the only who experienced issues. Just no one had prepared us for it.
Some things you don’t feel prepared for:
No one talks about the pain of engorgement. My already double D’s were so large and swollen that when trying to feed my kid it resembled a baseball trying to latch onto a watermelon. Its really hard for a baby to latch on properly to something that has the consistency of a bowling ball. You might find like I did, that cold cabbage leaves work to soothe your hot swollen boobs.
I also needed to reverse massage them to soften them in preparation for my baby to latch. Learn more about that here.
I found that I didn’t hear much about the constant leaking you might experience (I learned the hard way that disposable breast pads on cracked and bleeding nipples are DEVASTATING to take off). Lil Helper Breastpads are a great alternative, because the stay dry liner material doesn’t stick, and they are a more natural shape.
Eventually my husband sat me down with some formula and gave me a pep talk. He let me know the formula was there if I wanted to supplement or take a break and heal and try again but that no matter what, that I wasn't a failure. Kind of a keeper that one.
So despite feeling like a bit of a failure, regardless of my kind husband, I started supplementing my little dude with formula about 3 or 4 weeks postpartum (which in the throes of exhausted new parent time feels like approximately a billion years or so).
My nipples healed and I continued pumping for another 9 months. As is common with exclusively pumping, my milk supply became less and less and I found I had to supplement with more formula as time went on.
Fast forward to my second child. Knowing that there was some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, I found it much easier to breastfeed the second time around. I preemptively had coconut oil ready to go - so great for those cracked and bleeding nipples.
I also made sure to buy a big tube of Polysporin with the numbing stuff. Oh sweet relief. This was the BEST for healing my battered breast, that at that point shared a strong resemblance to hamburger meat. This was recommended to me by the hospital's lactation consultant and because of the numbing agent was best to apply after a baby’s feeding. Talk to your doc about it just to be sure its right for you.
I don’t say these things to scare you off of breastfeeding but to inform you so you’re better prepared than I was. And to reassure you. Sometimes a little reassurance goes a long way. Your feelings, frustrations and pain are valid.
If you’re currently experiencing any issues and are looking for support, reach out. Having a quick (or long) conversation with anyone who has experienced the issues you have is so comforting. Breastfeeding really can be a wonderful and the benefits are numerous, but if its not working for you and your family for whatever reason it is ok. Fed is best. How your baby gets their sustenance will not affect them being a good human and us raising good humans is the ultimate goal right?
Share your breastfeeding story. We’d love to hear it. Did you experience any issues? Did you decide to formula feed?
Looking for additional resources? Check out La Leche League https://www.lllc.ca/
About the Author
Heather is a STAHWM who lives in St. John’s NL. where she’s raising two humans, two dogs, a cat and a fish. In between chasing her hooligans and waiting for her Hogwarts letter, she enjoys knitting, crocheting and campy 80’s horror flicks.