As I have mentioned before, I’m not a fan of breastfeeding. It wasn’t something that conjured warm, fuzzy feelings for me. My plan was to pump and then bottle feed my son. Feeding directly from the tap (the boobies) was something I was prepared to do long enough to establish my milk supply, but that’s it. I do not have any desire to breastfeed.
That being said, my plans have changed. I still do not remotely enjoy breastfeeding, but I can’t pump enough milk to meet my son’s needs. So, from the tap it shall be!
I will start from the beginning:
In the hospital immediately following my c-section, a nurse helped me breastfeed. I had lots of colostrum and my son was born a pro. He had a perfect latch and the nurses called him ‘Hoover’ because of the strength of his suck. Such a wonderful nickname to make my nipples cringe in anticipation.
My boobs were numb from the c-section anesthesia for the first several feedings. The first feeding, the nurse helped keep my son latched until he fell asleep and wouldn’t continue. That was a 50 minute feeding. The next feeding lasted somewhere around an hour. The next one was around the 40 minute mark, and so things went every couple of hours until the next day. A lactation specialist stopped in to check on us and every nurse I had asked to watch him eat to make sure everything was going well. Each proclaimed his latch to be perfect.
Day 2 of breastfeeding began with bloody nipples followed by scabs and lots of tears. I had zero pain from my c-section at this point. I was only saying yes to pain management drugs because of the agony that came every time my son latched on, or anytime anything touched my nipples or boobs.
By that evening, I was sobbing every time he latched and for the duration of each feeding. If he needed to re-latch during a feeding, I had to employ pain management techniques I had used during labor just to keep going.
The next day, I saw lactation consultant number 2. She also said his latch was perfect. I had her, the house pediatrician, and a nurse all check him for a lip and tongue tie, just in case. Nothing, which was a relief, sort of. I was hoping for a fixable solution to make breastfeeding less painful, but I was also hoping we wouldn’t have to decided whether we would have to have a tie clipped.
After shift change that night, I got to meet a fantastic nurse. She brought me gel soothies for my boobies. She was also a huge source of encouragement. I don’t think I will ever forget her! She was the only nurse to address the obvious pain I was in while breastfeeding.
Around 4 am and another weigh in for my son, she encouraged me to try to let him eat as long as I could stand it. She then gently said that after that, maybe I could think about supplementing just a little to get a break and give him some extra nourishment. My milk had come in, but my son was spending more time screaming than anything else because he just wasn’t getting enough to make his belly happy. She approached it so gently, obviously not wanting to discourage me or undermine my breastfeeding, it made me want to give her a big hug.
Looking back now, I feel so foolish for not bringing up supplementation on my own. I knew we needed it around 4:00 am the previous night, but I wasn’t going to be the one to bring up supplementation. I already felt like I had given in to pain when I got the epidural, and I shouldn’t do it again so early. My baby boy was so unhappy and there was no doubt that his cries were hunger cries. Still, I didn’t ask for a bottle and some formula. The stress and pain of it all was only further compounding the situation. My supply was never going to respond if I didn’t get a bit of peace and sleep, which is why I am so thankful to that nurse for knowing what was needed.
My husband got to feed our son for the very first time on the third night. We limited this feeding to 10 mL, but I think our son could have easily drank all 40 mL of that bottle. We were all very much relieved at the end of those 10 mL. We supplemented a couple more times the next day as well after breastfeeding until I was obviously empty.
We spent one more night in the hospital before heading home. On our last day there, I realized when I went to shower that I had a giant lump in my right arm pit that was painful when pushed on and slightly warm. It was the size of a golf ball.
Oh yay. This should be fun.
I called my nurse. She brought lots of wash cloths to be used as warm compresses. She also demonstrated how I should massage it while breastfeeding to help get things moving. The compresses and massaging didn’t seem to make a difference.
Once we were home, the lump got bigger. I continued to put warm compresses on it and massaged from arm pit to breast while pumping or breastfeeding (which hurt intensely). I also pumped my arm like I was a chicken trying to take flight. The more you flex the muscles in that area the more lymph and such gets circulated. I knew this was all related to my milk coming in, but I was terrified I was going to end up with mastitis.
This is where things get awkward, but bear with me. Not only was my arm pit lumpy, but now my breasts were getting lumpy and I started to feel achy all over. I knew I needed to massage while pumping or breastfeeding to get the lumps out, but it was so painful I couldn’t bring myself to do it with enough pressure to get anywhere. So, my husband came to the rescue. He massaged while I pumped (couldn’t handle the pain combo of breastfeeding AND massage simultaneously). We did this for two whole days, pumping every time after nursing. My lumps all reduced and eventually vanished.
My husband couldn’t let the opportunity pass to make jokes, though, comparing the situation to milking a cow.
Ha ha. I’m laughing on the inside.
My nipples were shedding scabs only to build new ones every time I fed him for the first two weeks. I sobbed every time I fed him. I was still limiting his feedings to 12-20 minutes on each side for the sake of my sanity, which is why I pumped after every feeding.
I was pumping or feeding him every two hours in an effort to increase my supply. I knew the real answer to increasing my supply was to let him nurse as long as he liked as often as he liked, but I just couldn’t do it. Pumping hurt much less, thankfully.
I began taking Fenugreek and trying to drink Milk Maid tea. The tea was about the most disgusting stuff I had ever tried to force down my gullet, and that’s saying something. Did I mention I have been to the Philippines a couple of times and ate tribal cuisine?
OK, I might be exaggerating slightly. I drank the tea for a couple of days. My supply improved around the second week.
I also got a bit of advice from my son’s pediatrician. When I told her I was struggling to produce enough milk but I was pumping or breastfeeding every two hours, she suggested instead that I sleep. She said to get some rest for the next couple of days and she would bet my supply would increase.
She was right.
At the second week mark, my nipples started to toughen up and I began to cry less during feedings. The initial latch was still awful, but it was getting better. By the third week, I was only crying during night feedings. My nipples were much better, but now let down was another issue.
In the hospital when my milk came in, I felt a fiery, stinging sensation in my breasts. This feeling continued to manifest every time I fed my son. It seemed to coincide with let down. The wonderful nurse in the hospital told me it is just something some people experience and there really isn’t anything to be done about it. She also encouraged me by saying that I would probably get used to the sensation and not find it quite so painful after a couple of weeks.
Also with let down came a headache and a super weird sensation that felt like something was being tugged from my shoulder blade area every time my son sucked. The stinging sensation was very intense at each feeding, and my boobs were intensely itchy during each feeding as well.
We are getting close to week 7 now. I’m glad to say I don’t cry anymore now from breastfeeding. My nipples aren’t bloody or scabbed. They are frequently bruised looking, though, and this week my right nipple is tender. I attribute this tenderness to supplementing and bottle feeding less this week and letting him eat a little longer just to make sure my supply stays up. But, everything is manageable these days. The stinging sensation is still there, but it isn’t so overwhelming anymore. I believe I had gotten used to it. The itching still happens when let down initially occurs, but it lessens and disappears.
I am also proud to say that I have managed to get my son down from 40 minutes for each session to 20 minutes or less. He can completely empty both sides so much quicker now which makes such a difference in nipple wear and tear.
If I hadn’t resolved to stick it out for two weeks minimum prior to my son’s birth, I think I would have quit before we hit one week. I would have rather labored all over again than continue to breastfeed, or at least that’s how I felt about it three days in.
Things I learned that might be helpful to others:
1. Bring two of the softest, stretchiest nursing bras you can find.
2. Ask for the lanolin and gel soothies right away; don’t wait until you’re sore. Start using them ASAP.
3. Nipple pain does not necessarily mean a bad latch or a problem.
4. Some people just have extra sensitive nipples. I am one of them.
5. Breast milk really is the best for helping your nipples heal.
6. Babies that drink primarily breast milk have the best smelling poop. Well, I mean their poop doesn’t smell as bad as babies who drink formula only.
7. Most nurses in the hospital are very adamant about you feeding your child every two hours, from start of one feeding to the next. So, like the 50 minute feeding meant I only had about an hour break before I was supposed to feed him again. I adhered to this until our last day. He was much better at eating if I waited for him to be interested.
8. Partner involvement in breastfeeding is such a big deal! I don’t think it gets stressed enough. A shoulder/neck massage from my husband while I was feeding my son (and sobbing) made it so much more bearable. It didn’t really take any of the pain away, but it kept me from feeling alone or ignored. It made me feel like he empathized with my pain, and it made me feel so loved. He would also bring me water and have me drink sips while I was breastfeeding, like holding the straw to my lips even. Or if I was breastfeeding at our meal time, he would feed me bites. His involvement and supplementation saved the day. I don’t know I could have stuck with it without him.
9. Side-lying position while breastfeeding is the best way to breastfeed ever! It was especially nice to use when I was still stuck in bed and my arms weren’t all that reliable yet after my c-section.
10. Breastfeeding isn’t more of a bonding experience for me than bottle feeding.
11. My nipples randomly have insufficient blood flow due to some spasms of the blood vessels. When the blood flow returns, it is enough to make me want to rip them off and stomp on them and light them on fire! And there is no fix for this problem!
12. If the pain hadn’t lessened significantly by the 6 week mark, I would have switched to formula and never looked back. I would have been completely guilt free about that decision. I didn’t want to continue to cringe every time my son wailed out his hungry cry. For the first couple of weeks, I had wanted to hide under a rock every time he was hungry because I knew how much I was about to hurt. Luckily, things did improve for us.
All the moms out there who beat themselves up for not being able to or choosing not to breastfeed for whatever reason–knock it off! My son (breastfed) clings to mom just as much as my daughter did (formula fed). I feel just as much love for both of them. Both are equally healthy (thank you, God!). Being a mom is all about knowing what is best for your child at that moment in time. No book can give you that answer. Hats off to you, Mom, for listening to your mommy brain!