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The One Piece of Advice That Completely Changed Breastfeeding for Me

Photograph by Twenty20

So far, breastfeeding, and everything that comes with it, is by far the hardest part of newborn care.

With my first baby, for instance, I battled cracked and bleeding nipples for weeks. I left the hospital confident in my ability to feed my daughter, but by hour 24 I was in tears on the phone with a lactation consultant begging for help. Things improved with my second, but I still was forced to supplement with formula while at work and dealt with my fair share of toe-curling pain for the first several weeks of her life.

I learned, early on, to just be OK with how hard it is to breast. I expected it to come naturally, but it was anything but easy. As the arrival of my third baby grew near, I had no reason to expect things to be any different but then a delivery nurse gave me a single piece of advice that completely changed breastfeeding for me.

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Late in labor, after I had finally given up my dream of an unmedicated birth and begged for an epidural, a nurse was chatting with me about my children and my plans for the new baby. She asked about my breastfeeding experience, and I disclosed just how difficult breastfeeding was for me but that I planned to give it another try this time around.

She empathized, as a mom of two she knew all about the trial and error that comes with learning to nurse a baby. She turned to her computer to get back to charting and then added, almost as a second thought, “But, ya know if it hurts you might be doing something wrong.”

I must admit, at first I brushed her off.

The most important lesson from all of this? Never ignore your mother’s instinct.

Every mom I had ever talked to about breastfeeding complained of nipple pain during the first few weeks. Maybe she was a special snowflake, who didn’t experience pain, but I didn’t believe for a second that pain was abnormal. If pain was abnormal, why were so many moms putting up with it? Why hadn’t my lactation consultant told me my nipples shouldn’t be cracked and bleeding instead of handing me prescription nipple cream?

After my son was born, he took to the breast right away. He seemed like an expert at breastfeeding, eating every two hours like clock work and transferring plenty of milk. Still, I was uncomfortable. By hour 24, I was confident he was eating well but my toes curled every time he latched onto my breast. I couldn’t help but think about what my nurse had said about pain being a sign I was doing something wrong, so I started researching the countless possibilities that could be causing my pain.

By day three of my son’s life, I had diagnosed the problem and fixed it. I was lucky to discover it was a small issue, his latch was too shallow and I only needed to teach him to correct his latch. My pain disappeared almost immediately and my nipples healed within a few days.

In the end, that small piece of advice from my labor and delivery nurse completely changed breastfeeding for me. In the past, I had always brushed off pain with breastfeeding as an unfortunate part of the experience but her comment motivated me to see it as a sign that something could be wrong. If she hadn’t said that, I would have never started the hunt for a solution to my son’s latch problem, because I wouldn’t have known there was a problem to begin with. Thanks to her, if I breastfeed anymore babies, I will approach the experience completely differently, with the belief that it is possible to be comfortable while nursing a brand new babe.

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After this experience, I had to ask a lactation consultant, and friend, about the advice I was given in the hospital. Could she possibly be right about pain being a sign I was doing something wrong? If so, why did no one say something to me as I struggled through pain while I nursed my first two babies? Basically, she said there is a big difference between discomfort and pain, and sometimes the line between the two gets blurry and moms or practitioners ignore symptoms when they are signs that something is wrong.

The most important lesson from all of this? Never ignore your mother’s instinct. If something seems off, whether it’s pain while breastfeeding or weird behavior from a sick baby, it is better to seek out help or insist on a second opinion, just in case, than to ignore what could grow into a bigger problem.

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