The Not-So-Pretty Side of Nursing: My Breastfeeding Story

My Breastfeeding Story

Starting from day one, breastfeeding was a horrible, horrible experience for me. I was in so much pain that tears came to my eyes every time my baby latched on. And the pain didn’t stop after the latch. It continued and continued. The nurses and the lactation consultants at the hospital all said her latch looked good yet it was still excruciatingly painful.

The breastfeeding was so painful that I decided to try to pump. I had just had a c-section and had never taken the pump out of its case. I guess I just didn’t think I would be using it so soon. So there I am, recovering from major surgery, trying to pump milk. And what do you know? The milk comes out pink…from blood. This is on about day two or three home from the hospital. A day or two later my little baby spit up on a white pillow case and I noticed a tinge of pink in it. Can you imagine? I didn’t know what to do. It was 11:30 at night. I called the nurse line and they said it was probably my blood coming from the nursing. I wanted to cry. I was at my wits end.

I went to a lactation consultant available through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program who showed me a way of allowing the baby to crawl up my stomach to latch on. Nice in theory but not very practical and it still didn’t make things much better.

Over the course of the first couple of weeks, I got gashes on the external sides of both nipples. I had a peer breastfeeding counselor through WIC and I called her frequently. No advice made any difference. I tried different positions, different approaches and always got the same results. Pain, pain, pain. Over time I developed a theory that she was latching on well for the first few seconds but then pulling her mouth out, or her tongue back, so that she was actually nursing with her gum which is what caused so much pain.

I told a visiting nurse who had come by for a newborn visit that I was having pain and she advised me to use a nipple guard. She dropped it off but didn’t show me how to use it. When I went to see another lactation consultant at a local hospital, she told that I had been given one that was too big and that as a result my baby was not getting milk properly and that my milk supply had dropped as a result of having an ill-fitted nipple shield.

I ended up trying to pump and nurse at the same time just because I felt that I needed to give my breasts a break. I’m pretty sure that my milk supply dropped simply because I did not know what I was doing.

On top of it all, I was doing all of the nighttime care by myself. My baby’s father would come over until about 11:00 a few nights a week but would then leave. She often wouldn’t fall asleep until around midnight and would then wake again around 3:00 for a feeding. I was sleep-deprived, completely stressed out, suffering from postpartum depression, and trying to hold it all together. I can’t imagine that any of this was making the breastfeeding go any better. Preparing and giving her a bottle was an easy alternative given all of the stress that I was under.

Nonetheless, I continued to try and nurse.

I am writing this because no one talks about the fact that breastfeeding might be difficult. We have this image of something beautiful and natural and, of course, pain free. That is not the case for all women.

Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby but it’s definitely not the easiest.

If you are considering breastfeeding: 

  • While you’re pregnant make a list of friends or relatives who have breastfed and would be willing to help.
  • While you’re pregnant make a list of lactation consultants (more than one) with whom you can consult in case you need one. Write down their phone numbers and their addresses. Don’t wait until you’re postpartum and having to do this leg work.
  • If you do seek the help of a lactation consultant, keep making appointments with different people until you find one who can identify what the problem is and help you fix it.
  • Learn how to pump BEFORE you have the baby. If you do decide to pump for some reason after the baby comes, the last thing you want to be doing is taking apart the pump and trying to figure it out, especially if you’ve just had a c-section.
  • Be patient with yourself and with your baby. Breastfeeding is something that you’re both new at and it takes time to learn to do it properly.
  • Use the creams on a regular basis; they will help.
  • Know that the side-lying position is an advanced skill! Don’t fret if you don’t get that one right away!

Looking back, I wish that I had known how to use the pump before the baby came. I wish that I had put the baby to my breast more frequently so that my supply hadn’t dropped. I wish I had known how hard it might be.

In the end I found a lactation consultant through the hospital who was able to help me. In her office, she would position herself just right and slap the baby’s face into my breast with the right amount of force and at just the right angle that I wouldn’t feel any of the pain that I had previously felt. At those times it felt good and it felt right. More so than when things weren’t going well, at those times I wanted to cry. My baby was sucking and was getting the milk she needed. It was a beautiful thing.

Over time, things got better. I learned how to help my baby latch on better and I got a nipple shield that fit properly and helped reduce the pain significantly. The lactation consultant would weigh the baby before and after feedings and show me that the baby had taken in milk. Most importantly, I felt like I had a support system and someone who was there to encourage me and work with me until I got it right.

When the baby got a little bit bigger, the nipple shield was no longer necessary. At the end of it all, I probably nursed her about half of the time and supplemented the rest. I just wasn’t able to pump enough at work to keep her fed throughout the day.

The take home message here is that breastfeeding might not be all that you imagine it will be. For some it may be, but for others it can be a challenge and a struggle. If someone were asking my opinion, I would say give it the best shot you can. It’s important enough for your baby’s health that it’s worth a little extra effort. On the other hand, if a woman decides it’s just too much to handle, I can completely understand. I’ve been there and I know what it’s like.

My girl has just recently given up the breast completely and she is about to turn three. She went on to nurse for a good two plus years and she enjoyed every minute of it! Can’t say the same for myself, but that’s okay, it was more for her than me anyway..!

8 comments

  1. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. A good lactation consultant can really make all the difference. Sadly no all LC’s are created equally. It is important,as your story clearly demonstrates, to find the right one.

  2. Thank you for this important article. I am sorry that you had to go through such pain in breastfeeding. Other woman have told me, secretly, in hushed voices, “i was not able to breastfeed”. There is so much pressure these days to breastfeed, that women feel like failures if they cannot.

    I understand that the pressure is because the previous generations had pressure not to breastfeed, and to buy formula so the formula manufacturers could make money. And the commercially available formulas generally contain bad ingredients. Even if commercial formulas had better ingredients, they could never be as good as breastmilk.

    Knowing in advance that breastfeeding can be painful and difficult, will help. Knowing to find a good lactation consultant right away, will allow more women to be able to breastfeed. But for a variety of reasons, there will be women who will not be able to breastfeed.

    It takes a village to raise a child. In a village setting, if a woman couldn’t breastfeed, another woman in the village could help. In the US, that rarely happens. There are some wetnurse services, but it is not the same as getting help from someone you already know and trust. There are sources of donated breastmilk too, but once again, since you often don’t know the person donating personally, it can be hard to trust that the breastmilk will be safe.

    So for those women who can’t breastfeed, or who have to supplement with formula, we need to find a way to make formulas that are as healthy for babies as possible. Perhaps homemade recipes, with vitamin and mineral powders and probiotics that could be added?

  3. Sheryl – If you’d like to, you could write a piece called “What to do when nursing isn’t an option.” That would be a very nice contribution. You’ve already written half of it in your response. Some bullet points, some links to breast donation sites….some reasons why a woman might not be able to nurse. Some validation of that….I’d LOVE it!

  4. Thank you for the offer. I don’t think good research has been done to determine most of the reasons women can’t breastfeed. I am trusting individual women to make that determination.

    Perhaps”can’t” isn’t the right word for every situation. For example, a woman who adopts a child can sometimes breastfeed, but is it worth all the extra effort to make it happen? And how many drops of breastmilk make it worth the effort? The same question for women who have a c-section. A c-section, and in particular an early c-section may mean that a woman will have a very difficult time breastfeeding, and will not produce enough milk to sustain a baby.

    If a woman has to be in terrible pain each time she breastfeeds, is that good for the bond between mother and child? Yesterday I learned of an ointment that can be put on the breasts and suppresses some of the infections that cause severe pain during breastfeeding. It contains and antibiotic, and antifungal, and a corticosteroid. But what harm, if any, is done to the baby by consuming the medications on the breast? Some woman are taking medications that enter breastmilk in sufficient amount to harm the baby. Or a woman has an illness that could be passed to the baby through breastmilk. Perhaps in those situations, a woman shouldn’t breastfeed.

    In my own situation, I would have only accepted donated breastmilk from someone I knew personally and trusted. I would not have wanted someone else to actually breastfeed my child, because, perhaps selfishly, I would want to reserve that bonding experience for myself.

    Ultimately, I would like to see every woman be gently instructed on how to to breastfeed, and help to overcome the challenges they face. But I would also like to see powdered formulas made healthier for situations when a woman needs to supplement or substitute for breastfeeding.

  5. I’m glad to see that you wrote this. I haven’t really written anything about breastfeeding primarily because I worry that in writing about what can go wrong and make it difficult, it will discourage mothers from even trying. But you also wrote about how you overcame the problems and included a number of concrete steps and expectant mother could take to get help if she needed it. I don’t know if I could have gone through several lactation consultants to get the results you did. I’m glad that someone was able to help in the end!

    1. I think it was more a matter of tenacity in the end. I just kept trying and kept trying. I think it’s important to know what the possibilities are going into breastfeeding rather than having the illusion that is going to work well for everyone automatically (which is what I assumed would happen). Why wouldn’t I? I hadn’t heard any differently. At least if you know there are issues you can be prepared for what lies ahead rather than being hit by a ton of bricks unprepared like I was.

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