Welcome back to the 5th instalment of my breastfeeding guest series. This week Mini Mummi Blogger shares her painful initial experiences of breastfeeding little J, and how she sorted out the problem.
Mini Mummy Blogger’s breastfeeding experiences
Even before becoming pregnant, I just assumed that I would breastfeed my baby. For me, that seemed like the natural choice. Not once did I consider the alternatives of formula or exclusively expressing breastmilk (not that there’s anything wrong with either of those), although I did have plans to express for emergencies. That is, until after little J was born and I actually started breastfeeding.
At first, he had trouble latching, so the midwives helped me express colostrum to feed to him using a syringe. (It’s amazing how practically your entire body is poked and prodded during pregnancy and in those days following the birth, without a second thought.) He didn’t have a tongue tie or anything that would physically prevent him from latching; so the first couple of times, he was given colostrum with the syringe, until he more or less worked it out. I fed him on demand, unless three hours had gone by and the nurses brought him in to wake up and feed. It seemed like our feeding rhythm was improving by the time I went home five days later.
By the time I’d been home for a fortnight, it had started to hurt when I breastfed. A lot. And it only got worse. It wasn’t just that he was feeding every 1.5-2 hours all of a sudden; something just didn’t feel right. I knew beforehand that breastfeeding was supposed to be painful at first, as the nipples take a while to get used to it. But as the weeks went by, it hurt more and more, to the point that I’d cry from the pain every time he fed. My family would wince along with me each time he latched. Whenever I fed J in the middle of the night or early morning, Christian would hear me crying and wake up to comfort me. His support boosted my determination to continue breastfeeding despite the pain.
I’d started off using a nipple shield in the hospital, just to help J latch on better in the early days, and this helped him get the hang of things. However, it didn’t dull the pain at all, as the midwives said it would. When the child health nurse came around to our house to measure and weigh him, we talked about expressing as an option. I’d already planned to start storing expressed breastmilk for emergencies, but she agreed that giving J a bottle once a day might give me some relief. So I started expressing just before the final feed of the day and giving it to him in a bottle instead. This brought a huge improvement in my experience, as the last feed of the day was always the most painful. As I got used to breastfeeding, I also started expressing before his first feed of the day and using the bottle for the last feed of the day, as I produced more milk overnight than I could express before going to sleep. This kept him full overnight, so he started to sleep longer (which was great, since he’s not much of a day-napper!).
Still, the pain persisted. I used balm to soothe the raw skin; I used heat packs to help open up the blood vessels before feeding. In combination, these things had a small impact, but it felt like lots of effort for very little relief. I went to see a lactation specialist, and this is where the experience really started to improve. She helped me find a better way to hold J when I was feeding him, so that it was easier for him to get a better latch. She also suspected I might suffer from vasospasm (https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/vasospasm) (where blood vessels spasm and prevent the blood from flowing properly), and recommended I get special breast pads designed for alleviating the pain. This also helped a bit.
Finally, after weeks of trying this and that, I started to feel genuine relief. Today, seven months on, breastfeeding is virtually painless. Except when my little man decides to chomp down while he’s feeding, that is! I am so grateful to everyone who offered sympathy or advice that contributed to me continuing to breastfeed. More than once I felt like throwing in the towel – I couldn’t see how I could possibly continue resisting the pain for a year (my planned breastfeeding timeframe). But I am so happy that I persevered. Overall, it has been a positive experience. I have learned a lot about myself and what I will go through for the benefit of my son. And, the physical closeness required for breastfeeding has helped strengthen our bond. I still express for convenience when we have a longer car trip or to make it easier for me to get errands done without having to find somewhere I feel comfortable feeding him. But I’m happy that I don’t have to express. I know J prefers to breastfeed – it gives him comfort as well as nourishment. But when he drinks from his bottle, it delights me to see him holding it himself, like a little boss!
Thanks so much for sharing this. I think it highlights just how important proper support is, and also knowing when to ask for help. Sometimes seeing a specialist is the best thing you can do! I was also a big fan of giving a bottle of expressed milk before bed after a while—it’s good to have a bit of a break.
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Mini Mummi Blogger is a first time mummy to a beautiful baby boy. Currently on maternity leave, she is looking to put her writing/publishing experience to good use through her blog, helping other mummies navigate through the wealth of often conflicting (and, sometimes, even discouraging) information out there about pregnancy and motherhood. She believes that every mummy knows what’s best for her own baby – even first time mums!