A couple of weeks into breastfeeding my first baby, the pain started. Scratch that, "pain" is too soft a word. It was excruciating, like razor blades to the nipple. Each time my baby latched, for about 10 seconds, I couldn’t speak and just endured until the agony ebbed and I could nurse comfortably. If this was how every breastfeeding session would begin, how was I supposed to do it eight to twelve times per day?
Luckily, I live in a neighborhood where lactation consultants are as plentiful as soccer coaches, so I made an appointment. It turned out that nothing was especially “wrong” with me or my baby, who was feeding well, but until my nipples toughened up, I needed to try a more comfortable position. Instead of the cradle hold demonstrated in the hospital, the lactation consultation encouraged me to lay on my back and put the baby on top of me. I can’t explain exactly why— gravity?—but this position was painless for me. And within a few weeks, my body adapted and I could nurse in any position.
I’m so grateful for that intervention. I mean, what if I’d given up? Instead, my baby and I enjoyed 15 months of nursing, and today I’m happily breastfeeding my second baby.
So in honor of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I reached out to other moms and asked them to share the realizations, advice and tricks that saved in them in their darkest hours and made breastfeeding finally work for them. Here’s what they want you to know:
About the early days…
“That it gets easier! The first few weeks and months, you feel like you are just stuck on the sofa feeling like a constantly milked cow. Then all of a sudden, a pattern develops and you even feel comfortable feeding while you're out and about, rather than timing any trip out to make sure you're home again within three hours.” – Deb Stevenson
“It's going to hurt—a lot. You'll cry from the pain of your cracked nipples and engorged breasts, and wonder what the point of all of this is! But just push through. It WILL get easier and it will stop hurting and soon enough, it'll be second nature.” – Katie Michelle Reyes
“I thought that the first couple of weeks would be tough because I had watched my sister go through two tough weeks before she settled into it. I did NOT expect eight difficult weeks where I basically felt like quitting every day. It's important to keep it in perspective, that though it may feel like forever when you are in that early stage, that it's actually a very small part of your breastfeeding relationship with your child and you will eventually come through to the other side.” – Leah Gallo
I wish I had known that the amount of breast milk I got from pumping was not an accurate way to measure my supply.
About nursing positions…
“I wish I would have known not to worry so much about perfect positioning and latch. Laid back nursing in those very first days with my second child made ALL the difference.” – Carla Wiking
“At six weeks, my daughter was pulling off because I had a super fast letdown and it was choking her, so I had to feed laying down—something the lactation consultant told me and I wouldn't have thought of by myself." - Lynette Howell Taylor
"That the position of the baby's head is as important as the latch itself when it comes to nipple pain. So much emphasis is put on the latch but it's as important that the baby's head is situated in a way that he/she is not pulling the nipple at an angle while nursing." - Leah Gallo
About milk supply…
"Nurse all the time at the beginning. This will build up supply. And drink lots and lots of water.” - Lynette Howell Taylor
“Nurse whenever your baby seems hungry. Or whenever you feel like it. You can't overfeed a breastfed baby.” – Risa Kerslake
“I wish I had known that the amount of breast milk I got from pumping was not an accurate way to measure my supply. I stressed about producing enough milk A LOT, and I pumped all the time to increase my supply. Getting a small amount of milk from a pumping session could reduce me to tears, because I thought that was how much my daughter was getting when she nursed. It isn't true! Babies are much more effective at nursing than machines, and your body knows the difference.” - Sarah Yahr Tucker
“The knowledge that the thick cream that comes at the end of the feed has enzymes that help your baby digest the fore-milk. If they don't get the hind milk, they will have a painful tummy later.” - Emma Cameron
“That hyper lactation can be an issue. You always hear about people struggling to have enough milk but rarely about the other end of the spectrum.” – Leah Gallo
About products that help…
“I really struggled to feed my son for the first four days. He just wouldn't latch on, and so followed a very stressful first four days of constant two-minute feeds. I was close to giving up before I'd begun. On day four a midwife suggested we try a nipple shield and the clouds parted! I regularly used the shield from then on and was able to give my son a full feed every time. I was annoyed at my own midwife for not suggesting this when she had seen how stressed and upset I was. Her reply was that shields aren't ideal as they go against a natural latch and can disrupt some of the bonding. Who cares! Feeding my son myself was so important to me and to think I almost gave up. ” – Kate Parle
“The breast shield—a plastic nipple cover—helped my son latch on. Saved us until he got stronger muscles. I used it for about a month. It may have been a crutch for us both, but when I learned that he could latch on without it, that was it. He breastfed for three years. – Monique Ruffin
“My pediatrician told me to get a Milkies Milk Saver. it helped me to save up milk before I started pumping. Basically, it would catch the let-down on the other side as baby was drinking. Great advice to save every drop of liquid gold.” - Ilda Diffley
About medical intervention….
“I spent six weeks in agony before I finally broke down and hired a consultant who immediately diagnosed a tongue tie—essentially, a piece of tissue under the tongue, connecting the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth, that restricts the tongue from stretching/elongating. It was snipped and problem solved. Wish I had figured that out sooner! – Emily Ziff Griffin