The first month or two of breastfeeding my first baby was one of the hardest things I’ve done. Way harder than labor and I went through almost 2 days of labor with him.
I had no idea what to do. I tried to put him to my breast and he didn’t really latch. And when he did, it was painful. Really, really painful. I asked for help from the lactation consultants and nurses in the hospital, and while they helped a little I was still lost, and it always kind of felt like they were on a schedule and needed to get moving. They gave me a nipple shield to help a little with the latch, and were gone. I ended up with severe neck pain from both pushing and working so hard at breastfeeding that also complicated things.
When we got home, the latch did not get easier. It was so painful every time, and I was starting to develop some damage and cracks. At his 3 day check up he had lost a bit more weight than he should have, and my pediatrician gave me the most helpful advice of anyone so far. She told me expect pain – toe curling, excruciating pain – for the first 30-60 seconds, and then it should start to subside.
Up until this point I thought I was doing it all wrong. Not one of the nurses or lactation consultants talked about this pain. None of the pregnancy or birth books or classes talked about this. They all talked about a little discomfort at the initial latch and then it should be pain free or you’re doing it wrong. Not true!! After the first few weeks, maybe, but those first few weeks of breastfeeding are painful! It should not stay painful, and the pain could definitely be indicative of a latch that needs some help, but there will still be pain.
The other thing that happened around day 3? My milk came in. What felt like gallons of milk all of a sudden filled my breasts and then came pouring out at random times in massive quantities. It felt like I was turning on a fire hydrant. Something would trigger a let down, and then I would be soaked!
I started feeding more and got him back to birth weight. I was dealing with pain which was getting slightly better while my damage was getting worse. About a week in my whole breast was red, painful, and I felt like garbage. I went to see my midwife and found out that I had mastits. I had no idea what this was but was informed that it was a painful breast infection. She prescribed antibiotics and all purpose nipple ointment for my cracked nipples. She checked my latch here as well, and said it was great.
I continued to try everything I could until my nipples were so damaged with one being completely gone and the other having a Grand Canyon size crack down the middle. I finally decided I needed to stop and just pump for a while to allow them to heal. I did this for probably 2 weeks and even contemplated just continuing to pump exclusively. I ended up slowly getting him back on and we successfully breastfed for a year.
These early days are crazy hard, but it’s totally doable. I wish I would have had more resources and educated myself a little more a head of time, but I learned so much in those early days. Some tips:
Find a good lactation consultant and work with them until you get it. The lactation consultant I worked with the second time around was amazing and incredibly patient, and my experience was so much different. Just like there is more than one OB or midwife, there is more than one option for an LC. Don’t stop trying.
Use a good nipple cream from the start! From feeding #1 slather on the cream Every. Single. Time. I screwed up and didn’t do this with my second, and ended up with some cracking because of it. I recommend Earth Mama Natural, and I hated lanolin.
For those cracked nipples – Breast milk and sunlight (the nutrients and antibacterial properties in the milk plus the vitamin D from the sun help to heal), tea bags (tip from a British midwife and helps with pain), Lansinoh Soothies, All Purpose Nipple Ointment.
Just feed your baby! Don’t worry about a schedule, newborns eat all the damn time, it’s just what they do. You are going to feed around the clock. You can’t overfeed or spoil them. Also, don’t get so wrapped up in having to breastfeed that you are miserable or your baby isn’t getting enough to eat. If you have to pump, pump. If you switch to formula, switch . Just feed the sweet baby, and don’t miss out on this beautiful time.
The early days of breastfeeding are so difficult and special all at the same time. In the thick of it