This is a post that I have been wanting to write for awhile, but I have somewhat been avoiding. I’m not really sure why. Maybe because it makes me feel really vulnerable to talk about my struggles. Maybe it’s because it means I have to talk about nipples on the internet.
Regardless, this post has been weighing heavily on me lately, so I felt like maybe this was the right time to share it. I really hope that this can connect with someone who is potentially experiencing the same difficulties and give them hope.
And if you aren’t interested in hearing rather personal details about my nipples, this might be the post to skip. I won’t be offended, I promise. Just thought I should give you fair warning. Here goes nothing.
When I was pregnant, I knew that I wanted to try to breastfeed once Colton was born. I had heard so many things about the “wonders” of breastfeeding and all of the “breast is best” hype and was adamant that I was going to do everything in my power to exclusively breastfeed. I mean, how hard could it possibly be? Women have been doing it for millions of years. I was pretty confident I could handle it no problem.
Well you know what they say about assuming…
Breastfeeding has not been an easy experience for us. In fact, it has probably been the biggest struggle for me as a new mom, which was something I never, ever expected. It took us several months to even start to get the hang of things, and I lost count of how many times I thought about quitting.
I know that everyone’s experience with breastfeeding is going to be completely different, and there are probably many moms who have struggled more than I have. But I wanted to take this opportunity to share my breastfeeding journey with you all, just in case there are any other new mamas out there who are starting to lose faith (like I nearly did 1000 times when I was crying at 4am). Know you are not alone, and that it does get better. And that you have to make whatever choices are best for you.
My Breastfeeding Journey
After Colton was born, breastfeeding was probably the least of my concerns. Those first few days were such a whirlwind of doctors and nurses and just staring at my new baby that I didn’t really think too much about how breastfeeding was going. Yes, we had a lactation consultant visit us a few times in the hospital, but at that point everything looked like it was going OK. Colton was latching on, and while it wasn’t the most comfortable thing, I just chalked it up to it being a new experience.
Except that after a week, things weren’t really getting any more comfortable. In fact, they got less comfortable. My nipples were cracked and bleeding and just seemed to get worse after every feeding. Everyone kept telling me to get to the 2 week mark. That after that, your nipples adjust and everything just becomes habit.
Well, 2 weeks came and went. And still no relief. One of my nipples started to heal, but the other one looked horrible and I literally had to mentally prep myself before getting him to latch on each time, because it was so painful. I can’t even tell you how many tears were shed in those early weeks, both in frustration and in pain.
After 3 weeks I put in a call to my hospital’s lactation consultant and explained the issue over the phone. After going through a series of questions (was Colton eating, gaining weight, no inflammation or fever, etc), she suggested that priority number 1 was to get my nipples to heal, and number 2 was to get checked out for latch issues.
She was also really worried about the possibility of getting an infection or clogged duct, which can lead to problems like thrush (in both baby and mama) and mastitis. While there are some prescription creams, she suggested a DIY method. My first trip out of the house alone with Colton was actually to my local CVS to pick up the ingredients.
The week was a constant cycle of heal and re-injury. The ointment would help me to heal, but then every time he fed on that side it would reopen and we would be back at ground zero. Cue more tears. Not only from the pain, but also from feeling like a failure and wanting to quit (and then feeling guilty over wanting to quit). Postpartum hormones are no joke, especially when you are dealing with additional stress!
A second call to the lactation consultant suggested that I come to one of the local breastfeeding mama groups hosted by my hospital, where there was always a lactation consultant available to answer questions. Contrary to the fact that I post about my life on the internet, I am actually an introvert, and the idea of showing up in a room of strangers and popping out my boob was completely terrifying.
It was actually Chris who convinced me to go, if for no other reason than to get out of the house for 2 hours on a Wednesday morning. So I went. And let me tell you, I’m pretty sure it was the best decision I made in those first few weeks of Colton’s life.
Not only was this group a chance to talk to other adults for a few hours, which was a welcome change to my normal diaper-nap-eat routine, but it was also reassuring to hear so many other moms talk about their struggles and successes too. It made me feel like I was not alone, and that all new moms experiencing a learning curve.
I also got to talk one-on-one with a lactation consultant, which was a huge help. After running through her list of questions and watching him eat, she guessed that the most likely source of my pain was that I am an overproducer with a fast letdown (a great/terrible problem to have) and it was causing Colton to have a shallow latch. In simple terms, the milk was coming out too fast for his little mouth to handle so he kept pulling back to keep from choking. And taking my nipple with him in the process.
So on the positive side, I definitely did not have a milk issue, which was a common problem in our group and for that I feel very blessed. On the negative side though, there isn’t much you can do to fix a fast letdown other than to a) pump a little bit before feeding him and hope it slows down the flow, and/or b) wait until he grows into being able to handle it.
At this point we were probably 5 weeks in, and I felt like all of a sudden I had this huge ray of hope. Some of the other moms in the group told me to give it until the 3 month mark, and then it would be all smooth sailing from there.
Well 6, 7, 8 weeks passed, and we were still running into the same issues. Some days it would be fine, and then others I felt like we were right back at the beginning and I was in so much pain. I put a smile on my face when we went out or spent time with other people, but inside I was really struggling with everything and wondering if this was the right decision for me.
Around 8 weeks we moved to Atlanta, which meant that I had to leave my moms group. At my last visit I talked to the lactation consultant again who took a look at things and basically just told me that things had been pretty damaged and were unfortunately just going to take awhile to fully heal (complicated by the fact that that area was constantly being used and thus healing was going to be a slow process).
I can’t even tell you how many times I repeated “3 months, 3 months” in my head. While I had been so incredibly gung-ho about breastfeeding exclusively, there was a part of me that was starting to accept the idea of throwing in the towel if things didn’t get better.
Then we turned a corner. Somewhere right around the 11 week mark, I noticed that there wasn’t as much pain, and my nipples no longer looked like they had gone through a shredder (sorry for that visual). It wasn’t comfortable, but it no longer made me tear up every single time.
So I guess the other moms were right. It took 3 full months for things to even become remotely “natural,” if you could even call it that. Something that I just assumed would happen right from the start.
Now here we are, my baby is almost 6 months old (how is that possible?) and I have managed to stick with it and exclusively breastfeed him this entire time. Even now, we still have our ups and downs. There are days when I am still in pain, or when he’ll choke while feeding. He has even been known to throw up all over me mid-feed from getting too much at one time (not so fun for anyone involved). But we are still working at it, because I’m confident that we are going to get through it.
I do not say that to brag or imply that moms who don’t breastfeed are doing something wrong. In fact, if I have learned anything from this experience, it is to not judge moms who make a choice that they feel is best for them. Because breastfeeding is not always easy, despite the fact that everyone makes it look that way.
So what is my point in all of this? I just want other new moms out there who may be struggling with the early days of breastfeeding to know that they are not alone. For some people, it is hard and emotional and one of the most difficult things you’ll do in those first few weeks. And there is so much pressure since it is something that falls on mom entirely.
But have hope. Have hope that it will get better if you are able to work through it, or have hope that you’ve done the best you can if you decide it isn’t the right decision for you. And have hope that you are not the only mom out there who is struggling with this.
If you ARE having issues, I highly, HIGHLY encourage you to reach out and seek some support. I know that I personally have a very hard time accepting help from other people, but this is something that you really can’t do on your own. And there are so many people out there who can help.
Here are some potential options:
Call a lactation consultant from your hospital. They can often answer questions over the phone, or may be able to set up an appointment with you (at the hospital or at your house) to check things out and see where the problem lies.
See if your hospital offers any kind of moms group. They are great for both information and moral support.
Check out La Leche League and see if they have any group meetings in your area. They also have great resources online!
La Leche League also has some great facebook pages you can check out, with tons of info!
Talk to your OB. If you are really at a loss for resources, your OB’s office may have some connections for you.
Talk to other mamas! While they may not be able to diagnose your problem, you’ll be amazed to find how many other mamas will share their struggles with you once you open up that line of communication. Realize you are not alone!
I know that this experience is going to look different for every single mama. In fact, this could even look different for me when we have our next kid. But as a new mom, I think it is really easy to feel extremely alone. And I want other moms out there to know that you’re not alone. Everyone makes breastfeeding seem easy, but the reality is that it is not always that way. And that is ok.
You are not alone.