The Mom Files – Breastfeeding

I promise every time you hear from me in the next 20 years it will not be about baby town USA. I swear! But a lot of baby-related things (like having one) happened in the last few weeks, so it’s on my mind more than usual.

Also: boobs.

Also: nipples.

We are going there. If this is a TMI moment for you now is your chance to run, run far away. For the rest of you us (because I am a TMI-loving freako) continue on into the world of early breastfeeding and the mountain of lies that this time period involves. (Mountain might be exaggerating, there are like two real lies, but they are pretty major.)

I really had no idea what I was getting into with breast feeding. This seems to be the theme of my whole pregnancy/labor/delivery/wow-I-made-a-human thing. I wasn’t breast fed and I really don’t have any overly strong feelings about it either way. So this post is not anti or pro anything. I like the idea that I am fully capable of making and feeding another human. It fascinates me that my body can do something so basic and yet so incredibly important and I wanted to see what it was like.

So! We went to a breastfeeding class, watched some videos, learned some different holds with doll babies, and learned about pumping and storing and the stuff that comes in before  your milk that sustains the baby in the first 3 days, etc etc. I was also told repeatedly that breast feeding, if done correctly, shouldn’t hurt. It is only when baby’s aren’t latching right, when all the sucking happens on the nipple and the baby isn’t taking more breast tissue into his mouth, that it will then hurt.

This is a big fat motherfucking lie. If you, by some magic gene-pool and/or fairy dust can breast feed for the first time without it feeling like your sensitive little nips are being chewed off by a wild animal, then I tip my hat to you madame. But there is nothing relaxing about (early) breastfeeding. I can’t speak to breastfeeding later down the road… I’m into my 3rd week right now… but, don’t let anyone convince you it is a pain free experience. The problem with this lie is that I thought I was doing it wrong when I wasn’t. We had lactation specialists who helped us with latching and holds and such while we were in the hospital and every time I would tell them it hurt they would look at me concerned and say, “It shouldn’t! You have a great latch and everything is positioned perfectly!”

My nipples had to get used to the constant demands placed upon them. For the first two weeks little scabs that would come and then go and then come again formed on each nipple. I also had a big bruise-like hickey around my right nipple because newborns are sucking for their LIVES. I never bled, nothing gross every happened – but I wish I would have been told a few things before I started breast feeding that would have saved me a lot of pain.

During our breast feeding class they told us that the little bumps around your nipple (they appear during pregnancy) naturally lubricate the area so you don’t need nipple cream. Nature is amazing, but it sure as hell isn’t nipple cream! So I didn’t bring any to the hospital and I didn’t bring breast pads either because I had read that it is a waste to bring them. Two major mistakes that cost me in the long run (or short run, but weeks of pain while feeding 8-12 times a day feels like a long run to me). While I was in recovery I would breastfeed, then put my tank top back on, then when I went to breastfeed again my tank top would be stuck on my nipples so when I pulled it off it created little cuts. If I had brought my breast pads and cream my nipples would have had some relief and the vicious cycle of having a hungry baby attack my sore sore sore sore nipples would have had moments of reprieve. But instead! I was just making it worse, but by the time someone told me that, it was way too late. So let me save you – even if you aren’t leaking milk, use a breast pad.

Also… nipple nipple nipple nipple nipple. I swear to god I never thought I would be writing that word so much on this blog ever in my LIFE.

When I got home from the hospital my milk started to come in and I became engorged. This means my boobs suddenly grew to the size of bowling balls (no exaggeration… none.) and became hard as cement. Everything I had been told was that engorgement was bad and could be prevented with consistent feeding, or using a warm washcloth to hot pack before nursing. Untrue!! Untrue untrue untrue. It just happens! And it goes away after a few days, but in the mean time, that latch that my kid had perfected was now totally fucked up because my boobs were now 5X the size of his head and incredibly hard. Like wrecking-ball hard. So the fist week that he was home we had to re-learn latching. Feeding was insanely painful because engorgement is like the worst sore-boob PMS you have ever experienced and then some and my nipples were still all fucked up. I really thought during that week that choosing to breastfeed was the biggest mistake of my life. I literally had to fight the urge to yank poor Gabe off of me every time he tried to eat, and it was very very difficult to sustain his eating because I could only handle the pain for a short amount of time. I was delaying feedings because the thought of having him yanking on my sore sore chest was too much to handle.

I fully realize and respect why women try to breastfeed and give up. It is incredibly difficult, time consuming, and in this social landscape, very very inconvenient (I wish I had a stronger word than that, but I can’t think of one).

So when we went to Gabe’s check up after bringing him home from the hospital and he had continued to lose weight, I knew that it was mostly my fault. Some of it was because babies just lose weight after they are born. They aren’t being constantly fed, this is normal. But I also knew that it was because I was dodging feeding times and rushing him through when he was feeding. I had 1 week to fix the problem or the doctor was going to have him start supplementing on formula. So I fed more, I pumped to make my boobs softer so Gabe could latch easier, and engorgement ended after about 3 days. By the end of the second week my nips were totally healed, feedings were much easier, and though breastfeeding is not cozy, it doesn’t make me want to cry. The discomfort is totally manageable especially if I have something to distract me, like The Amazing Race on Hulu.

I’m figuring it out, week by week. And to anyone who is thinking about giving this a shot – it’s ok to say it sucks. It’s ok that it doesn’t feel magical. I do not find it at all to be a “bonding experience” with my kid. He doesn’t even look at me when he is eating. His eyes are closed or he is looking elsewhere. Don’t be shocked when it hurts, but don’t feel like a failure either – this is hard and new for everyone involved. And if you say fuck it and throw in the towel, do it with gusto. And if you stick it out, know that for me it got way better and totally manageable after a few weeks. In April I’ll start pumping more and Kamel will be able to take over some of the feeding duties. This is just how we chose to handle things this time around. The whole thing has been an experiment and an adventure.

32 thoughts on “The Mom Files – Breastfeeding”

  1. Ah yes! The lies!!! The toe-curling pain and trying anything to soothe your baby except feeding. Reading this made me cringe as i relived those days. My doc prescribed a “magic cream” (some old school pharmacy concoction their pharmacy mixes up) and it was truly magical and 1000 times more effective than anything else on the market. I can find out what was in it if youd like that on hand for those upcoming growth spurts 🙂

  2. Laruren, long-ish time reader, first time commenting: THANK YOU for this. I must admit I squirmed through the entire post, but as a woman of child-baring age who is currently childless, it is so totally refreshing that you are so honest about some of the more… unpleasant aspects of being a new mom. For some reason, having someone tell me that some parts can suck (pun!) and NOT sugarcoating everything with the “oh, but your GIVING LIFE and it’s SO AMAZING oh and by the way you just made a LITTLE ANGEL so why would you even care about your scabby nipples” nonsense makes me more comfortable with the idea of having a baby. Maybe it’s the “if she can do it, I can do it” aspect of this, but.. keep it coming. You are awesome.

    1. I showed Kamel this comment before he popped into the shower this AM, and I said “I never thought I would ever write anything that got comments like this.” It is amazing to me and I so appreciate you reading and being so kind. Thank you for taking the plunge and commenting!! I would not be able to leave it all out there without readers like you!

    2. Ditto! Thanks for being so honest and normal about all this baby-stuff. I’m 6 months pregnant, and it’s been so great to read your perspective. I am super excited to be pregnant and all that, but it’s still hard sometimes and weird sometimes and stressful sometimes. Your blog makes me feel a little less crazy! I’ll definitely be rereading this post as I get closer to my own baby being born!

      1. Ditto exactly what these two ladies said. My first baby is due in September and while so excited, I’m also so scared and nervous and you make it all seem normal and doable.

        1. I was also so scared. Especially about what happens after delivery with the healing and what that big mystery is blahblahblah. I was SO AFRAID. But it really is doable. It is! I am still shocked at how not horrible it was. I guess it CAN be horrible. Shit does happen. But even the people who have a really hard time – they survive it and get a baby at the end too. My experience wasn’t SO easy but it wasn’t so horrible… It was… middle of the road? I guess? But I promise, it’s going to be ok. I don’t know how it happens! But it all turns out.

    3. DITTO DITTO DITTO!! I think so many of us think this-appreciates the brutal honesty, no sugar coated, what works for you and what doesnt-info, but doesnt actually SAY it in the comments. So im so glad Sarah did! So THANK YOU from all the future mommies who will very much appreciate having this to reference to in the future and yes, KEEP IT COMIN!!

  3. Lauren you are a champion! Thanks for the honesty and the balance and the “I’m telling it exactly like it is”. It is refreshing. And I hope it will keep getting better. But I am sure of that, you will figure things out or find a way. Thinking of you.

  4. Yes! I’m five months in now and it has gotten infinitely better but man, those first few weeks? HOLY SHITBALLS. The constant searing pain. It was terrible. It was everything you said. And I worked with LCs and IBCLCs and went to support groups and still THE PAIN. I ended up at urgent care on Christmas Day after contracting mastitis because I too tried to postpone feelings and had to shorten them to keep my sanity. I cried through more feelings than I’d like to admit. My little one had a fourth degree lie tip that I think aggravated the problem so I’d definitely suggest all mamas who have super pain while breast feeding have their little ones checked for lip ties and tongue ties. But I also think that despite what we’re told, sometimes it just hurts for a bit. And that (no pun intended) totally sucks. You’re doing great, mama!

    1. Oh my god I am terrified of mastitis! I can’t handle any more issues with my poor poor boobs. Also I have no idea what the signs are. I just try to massage our any hard parts and pump if I know a super hard boob won’t be emptied in a reasonable time. But there are still several “mysterious” words when it comes to postpartum stuff. Also – I am paranoid about white spots in Gabe’s mouth. I am always checking like a crazy.

      1. Mastitis is the pits. If the sides of your boobs suddenly become red in patches, if there are hard patches, if parts feel sore (rather than just general sore), if you spike a fever and start shivering – it’s probably mastitis. I got it twice in 6 weeks.

        I think you’re doing an amazing job with the breastfeeding. Our experience with it was a bit of a horror show. You know you’re not really in for a good time when a midwife comes and syringes colostrum from your nipples (look, I said it too! Nipples!). I was guilted into continuing breastfeeding (or pumping and feeding because we never got a proper latch and a few other issues) even when it started affecting my emotional health. So I’m now an advocate for doing what’s right for you and your family. I’m also now here to say that formula isn’t the ‘worst’ or a ‘bad’ option just because ‘breast is best’. It just feels like that from all the boob propaganda. I wrote about all that here: http://lilybettandboy.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/formula-fed.html

        1. Thank you so much for sharing that! Even though this was something I wanted to explore, I was really put off by the way our breastfeeding class went down. Everyone in that class was obviously interested in breastfeeding and planned on breastfeeding… and yet! There was still all of this stupid guilting about formula use. And I left feeling like “what if I or someone else in that class was unable to breast feed, as many people are? Then that class pretty much told them their kid was going to be sick, stupid, and start off life behind all the other babies.” And that is a fucking shame.

          1. That’s just … terrible. Clearly the people who are going out of their way to take a breastfeeding class place a value on breastfeeding. Why the need for the fear mongering and shaming people who *already* agree with their point of view? It just alienates people.

  5. Isn’t it so funny how you are inadvertently convincing all of us to have babies by telling us about all the sucky parts?! You are demystifying one of the most mysterious experiences we can anticipate. Love the honesty. Can’t wait to meet this little animal! 🙂

  6. Extra dittoiing on everyone about the honesty and the demystifying and descarifying. I’ve been slowly coming around to the idea that I want a baby at some point (you know, when life and space and money align) and eavesdropping on your experience has definitely alleviated some of my (very premature) worries and questions.
    Though this part sounds horrible to me. I’m already normally kind of nipple-sensitive and ANYTHING makes me want to run away and cut them off. So, while I think breastfeeding is an ideal route, perhaps it won’t be for me. Eesh.

  7. I am filing this post away for future reference. Thank you for being so honest! I still have no idea what breast pads are, and I’m sure the image of medieval armor that I have in my head is far from reality, but these are things I’ve never even thought about! Thanks for cluing me in.

  8. I love love love reading about other people’s less than glorious experience, it makes me feel guilty about not finding breastfeeding this wonderous bonding thing. When I was pregnant, I wanted someone to just come out and say it, admit that’s it’s kinda weird and hurty but good for the baby so just do it. I said I’d do it until I or the kid hated it. One week into blistered nipples, screaming hungry baby, c-section-delayed milk and I was close to hating it when my husband suggested I just start pumping. And that’s when I became an exclusive pumping devotee. Everyone got the benefits but others could feed the kid and I didn’t have to jam sore nipples into anyone’s mouth. Giving up actually nursing and just pumping was the only way my baby got breast milk for as long as he did. Ladies, keep this option in mind!

  9. Other things nobody tells you (or they tell you, but the lactation consultants warn you that it’s just a myth to discourage you from breastfeeding): EBFbabies don’t sleep as long/take longer to sleep through the night. When babies don’t sleep, maternal depression increases. At six months in, I love breastfeeding and do find it incredibly rewarding. But if I ever have another child, I won’t breastfeed again.

    1. I have very similar feelings. I don’t really know how you can breastfeed with all of the time it takes and be a good mom to your first child all at the same time. It makes me fully understand how much of a village family’s really do need to make it all work the best. But then I also (already) have a lot of guilt at the thought of breastfeeding #1 and not breastfeeding #2, even if it is irrational….

      I wish it wasn’t so complicated and filled with societal pressures/feelings/blahblah.

    2. I know people say this because breastmilk is more easily digested, but I don’t know that this is true. Just from my stupid sampling of me and people I know who nurse/don’t nurse/sometimes nurse the sleeping thing doesn’t seem to correlate despite hearing from many people that it does. I do think that perhaps there is something to nursers maybe being more likely to respond to cries a bit more quickly (partly because, you know, you don’t have to make a bottle) which I DO think seems to make it harder for babies to sleep longer because they need to learn some self-soothing to get through sleep cycle shifts on their own.

      Also, on bonding by nursing, I found that nursing didn’t feel like that for me until my baby was several months old and generally more interactive and expressive. Nursing got a lot more enjoyable for me then. Also, I and many others I know found that 6-8 weeks was a big shift where nursing got a lot easier, and again at 3-ish/4-ish months, when feedings start to get a lot shorter.

      One thing I think people don’t talk about enough around nursing is that it absolutely does NOT have to be all or nothing. Lots of people combine nursing with bottles of breastmilk and/or of formula at various points along the way and it’s FINE. I did supplement with formula for my weight-losing baby in the first month or so, and I also have supplemented with formula for the last several months because I don’t get enough when I pump at work to feed her all day. But after the first couple of months I exclusively nursed her in the times that I was present with her. I wish I hadn’t stressed so much about having to be exclusive about it.

      1. It might not be true at all, but I’ve been seeing it pretty consistently that you can expect formula-fed babies to start sleeping through the night around 4 months and breastfed babies around 5 months (my 6-month old breastfed baby is getting closer but is still not sleeping through the night, and not even coming close consistently). What I do know is that when I’ve read summaries of studies on sleep training (so lots of room for things to be lost in translation, but it made sense to me), it seems that more babies who have had sleep problems were breastfed. Which is not to say that formula-fed babies may wake up at night for other reasons–my son will nurse whenever he wakes up if I offer, but he doesn’t seem like he’s hungry every time anyway so I’m sure it’s the same for non-breastfed babies. But that extra month would have been nice to know about ahead of time.

  10. I just had to come back to this post to reassure myself that it gets better. My little man is only on his fourth day of life, but I feed and then pump. He latches well, but won’t maintain and now I have a nipple shield to help out. So many strange things about having a newborn. The feeding has improved since getting the shield yesterday, but my nipples are still adjusting to the demands. Thanks for the heads up on what I was in for (and for reassuring me that it does get better.

  11. I know I’m like…a year late to this party, but I just have to chime in here and agree. Holy shit. I am a month in and the first two weeks were pure hell. “Toe curling hell.” I just wanted to cry everytime he was hungry. My left nipple was destroyed and there was no skin left. Just an open, bleeding sore. Now I’ve resorted to feeding only one the right side and pumping the left to give it a break to heal. It’s been almost a week and it’s still not healed. Anyhow, the point is. Breast feeding is NOT as easy as they would lead you to believe and I agree that the classes should be more open and honest about how incredibly hard it is at first.

    1. nipple cream! breast pads! It will all turn out ok, I promise. But fuuuck. I the little wounded nubbin of a nipple. It’s crazy to think this – but in a month it will be like the ouchies never happened.

  12. Thank you so much for this post! I have been breastfeeding for nearly six weeks and have nearly given up at least ten times. More people need to tell the truth so that new mamas don’t feel like failures! My boy is a serious cluster feeder so my boobs are constantly sore and nipples hurting even though he has a “perfect” latch. Loved reading this!

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