I wish that I could say that breastfeeding comes easier the second time around, but it doesn’t. I successfully breastfed my son for 14 months, but for the first 14 weeks I wanted to quit every single day. I had only not been breastfeeding for 7 months before my daughter was born and one would think that my body would still be in the groove. I learned the hard way that each breastfeeding relationship is truly unique.
The first time around, my son was in the NICU for the first 2 weeks of his life. At 2 days old he was diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s Disease which required bowel surgery at 5 days old and a colostomy for the first 6 months of his life. Needless to say our first adventure in parenting was not an easy one, breastfeeding proved to go right along with the trend.
Breastfeeding was horribly painful, it felt like he was sucking broken glass out of my breast for the first 8-14 weeks. I won’t rehash all of my breastfeeding nightmares here, but I will tell you about a handful of things I’ve learned between the first and my current tour in the breastfeeding ranks.
Don’t Give Up on Your Worst Day: I’ll never forget the day my husband came home to me sitting on the couch in a puddle of tears, sobbing with my 4 week old son attached to my breast. He sat down next to me and for the 100th time told me “you don’t have to do this, let’s just try formula. Take a break”. I refused and got mad at him for suggesting it. I told him that I promised, I would give up tomorrow if it was as bad as today. Little did I know that little promise would get me through to the promised land. I think I told myself almost every day that I would give up tomorrow. What I found is if you take it one day, sometimes one feeding at a time, you’ll get through it. The best way to psych yourself out is thinking about a year, 6 months or even a week sometimes. Just get through today.
Find a IBCLC in Your Area: and physically go see her! With my son, I toughed it out. I spent countless hours googling, watching you tube videos on how to get a proper latch, hundreds of dollars on ointments, soothing gels, lactation teas, fenugreek; you name it, I tried it. With my daughter, we were in a different situation. Breastfeeding was similar, excruciatingly painful. She cried all day long unless she was on my breast and she clearly wasn’t getting enough nourishment. At 3 weeks old, she was losing weight, still almost a pound below her birth weight. Due to potential interactions with a medication she is on and dairy allergy concerns, I had no other choice in my mind than to make breastfeeding work. And I didn’t have time this time to mess around on google, you tube and with supplements. I left the pediatricians office and the first phone call I made was to the hospital lactation counseling office I found in my discharge paperwork. They connected me with a local lactation consultant covered by my insurance, Dana at Motherborn, and she changed my breastfeeding life. All I can say is that I wish I had seen her with my first child. It would have saved me a lot of pain, stress, worry and heartache.
Don’t Be Afraid to Supplement: I know, I know you’ve heard that supplementing will hurt your milk supply. Well, reality is that swollen nipples, lack of sleep, general stress and babies who are inefficient also reduce milk supply. With the help of an educated lactation consultant, supplementing can be the key to keeping your nursing relationship going. Get help to learn how to do it right.
The first thing Dana did with me was weigh my daughter, then she had me feed her on both breasts and then weighed her again after her feeding to determine how much she was getting in a feeding. What we found is that she was not efficiently removing milk from the breast. She was sleepy (probably because she was so weak from not getting enough) and while she had a strong suck, she wasn’t latching well, which was causing pain for me and lack of transfer for her.
The first order of business was to head to the local Babies R Us to rent a hospital grade Medela Symphony breast pump. I started pumping exclusively and bottle feeding. 1 – to make sure we knew exactly how much she was getting and that she was getting enough and 2 – to give my sore, cracked, swollen, traumatized, purple nipples some time to heal. For a week, I pumped every 2-3 hours and she started gaining weight!
My milk supply had dropped off or never really picked up due to her inefficiency, so this was the perfect solution to help her gain the weight she needed and help me to heal and build up my supply to where it should be. Dana eased my mind and assured me that even if I had to supplement for one or two feedings, it didn’t mean I couldn’t get my supply up to get back to 100% breastmilk and if I had to supplement, it did not mean our breastfeeding relationship was over. I am happy to report that within 3 weeks we were back to breastfeeding full-time and at her 8 week pediatrician appointment she was back to exactly where she should have been on the weight curve and I am nursing with zero pain.
I won’t sugarcoat and say that it wasn’t stressful, it was. Pumping every 2-3 hours with a needy newborn and active almost 2 year old was a full time job. I needed help to make it work. I had a meltdown here and there. My mother-in-law came and spent a whole week to help with the kids. On the weekends when my husband was home, my only job was to pump and feed the baby, he handled the rest. And in the end, it was so worth it!
Ask your OBGYN for a prescription for “triple nipple cream”. Triple nipple cream is an all purpose ointment made up of an anti-bacterial ointment, an anti-fungal ointment and a steroid ointment. It is perfectly safe and it will kill any bacteria or yeast that may be breaking down your skin, causing pain and cracked nipples and the steroid will promote healing. It’s good to have on hand in general when you are breastfeeding and especially in the early days when you’re just figuring everything out. I used this with both babies and it works wonders.
Buy yourself a My Breast Friend nursing pillow and a nursing stool: Posture is everything! With my son, I used the typical Boppy pillow that my sister in law gave me as a hand me down. It never occurred to me that the position that my babies were in was contributing to their poor latch and inefficiency. The first day I went to see Dana at Motherborn, she used this pillow. It is a lot more firm. It wraps around your waist and clips on, almost like a swimmy tube for the pool. It has back support and it has 2 little humps on the pillow to elevate babies head into the proper position. I always had to roll up blankets to create a little pillow with my Boppy. It supports your posture and positions the baby perfectly to encourage a good latch. I immediately felt the difference, simply from proper positioning. I went straight to Babies R Us on my way home and bought one (I already had a nursing stool)! This will be a go to baby shower gift for me in the future.
I am sure there are plenty of additional tips I could give, but these are the ones that made the most difference for me. If you are up right now in the middle of the night googling or sitting on your couch in pain, praying for a solution, don’t give up. Try these ideas and I cannot stress enough how helpful a good, well trained lactation consultant can be. You may think you can’t afford it or wonder how it works. As part of the Women’s Healthcare Act, “health insurance plans must provide breastfeeding support, counseling, and equipment for the duration of breastfeeding. These services may be provided before and after birth.” Learn more about breastfeeding benefits at healthcare.gov. In addition, organizations like the Nursing Mother’s Alliance and the La Leche League may be able to offer you free breastfeeding counseling and support.