A lot of mommas struggle with breastfeeding at the beginning before mastering the latch and entering the bliss filled part of nursing. Some babies have low tone and can’t suck properly. Some babies have tight jaws and latch too tightly or can’t open their mouths wide enough at first. Some mommas have flat or inverted nipples, meaning there’s nothing protruding for baby to latch onto easily. Latch issues can turn your once beautiful bosom into a pain riddled nightmare left bleeding and raw, adorned with blebs and cracks. From nipple shields and shells to pumping to even just time to practice together, various solutions exist to relieve the pain and heal the carnage from early nursing battles. Today’s Nursing Tales focus on a few different mommas who struggled at first before finding their strides after getting sufficient help from lactation consultants, doctors, or even just friends in nursing groups.
When I gave birth to my daughter, Marilyn, we had decided to do everything we could to breastfeed. We had a beautiful, peaceful birth, and my midwife encouraged me to nurse her right away within minutes of her birth- before we even got out of the tub! She was a trooper and latched right away and nursed happily. We stayed at the birthing center for several hours, and I expressed concern that it truly hurt when she latched on my right breast. The birthing assistants said that it was normal and would fade with time- however it didn’t.
I continued to nurse her on both sides- literally crying the whole time she nursed on right breast. I felt horrible. I was able to give birth to her naturally and unmedicated, but I couldn’t nurse her without wanting to scream! Slowly over the next few weeks, I began to offer that side less and less until the milk supply in my right breast basically dried up. I was, however, still determined to breastfeed my daughter. Through both our hard work, I was able to exclusively breastfeed until 6 months when we then introduced solids. She continued to nurse multiple times a day, and while I was away at work, I would pump 4-5 times so that I could send her with enough milk for the next day. I nursed and pumped to provide her with milk until her 1st birthday with just my left breast! After her 1st birthday, she nursed whenever we were together and had water when we were apart. This beautiful nursing relationship continued until she weaned around 18 months.
I really struggled with Leah. She didn’t have a good latch, and she tore me up really badly. I felt like such a failure because I had gone to breastfeeding class and had seen a lactation consultant and even went to local La Leche meeting, and they all told me that her latch was fine, but it hurt so badly to breastfeed her. For the first 3 months, I would breastfeed all I could and then pump the rest of the day. It was exhausting, and I was so ready to give up. Then one day, it hurt less and less. Every now and then when she was having growth spurts and would nurse more, I would get sore again, but it would be fine by the next day. I was able to breastfeed her until she was 13 months when she self weaned. By then, we were already expecting our next bundle of joy!
My breastfeeding journey with Lucas, though challenging, was always enjoyable. He was born via cesarean section, and we were delayed for several hours before I was able to nurse him for the first time. He also had an undiagnosed lip and tongue tie until 19 months of age, and as a result, I battled 6 rounds of mastitis and countless plugged ducts prior to the revision. When he was born, I had hoped to nurse until he was 6 months old. That goal soon turned to 12 months, then 24, now here we are at 33 months and still going strong; perhaps stronger than I would prefer at this point. I feared that he would stop nursing when I got pregnant with Hazel, but no, my little comfort nurser kept right on, though I had little-to-no milk for several months.
One of my greatest breastfeeding memories was sitting in my birth pool in our master bedroom in labor, nursing my sweet boy for the last time as an only child. When Hazel was born and Lucas walked in, he gently touched her hand and asked to nurse with baby. Hazel has been a champion nurser despite a horrible few weeks of reflux due to an immature sphincter. After her birth, I dealt with post-partum depression like I could’ve ever have imagined, and though I felt less than present at the time, I am thankful that I was able to continue breastfeeding my sweet babies and building relationships with them despite my emotional struggles. I believe that tandem nursing has bonded my two loves so greatly as I have never seen siblings so close in their stages of life. I will be forever grateful for these moments, though exhausting and overwhelming at times; they will be over ever too soon.
When my second daughter was born in 2012 I was determined to make breastfeeding work. With my first daughter a couple years earlier, I had latch issues due to inverted nipples and little support to overcome those issues. I ended up breastfeeding my older daughter for 6 weeks and only with a shield. I was able to exclusively pump until 6 months and then supplement with breastmilk and formula until 9 months.
The beginning with my second daughter was hard. We battled bad latch, the still very flat nipples, scabs that bled each time she nursed, and finally, after 3 weeks of tears (hers and mine) numerous lactation appointments, supply issues, and stressful nights, it just clicked. I remember waking up one morning and my nipples didn’t hurt so badly. I didn’t cringe when she latched. She ate well and was satisfied! Once we figured each other out, it was like she had never had a problem. We continued our nursing relationship for nearly 3 years; 33 months to be exact. I have a feeling the only reason she decided she was done was because I was 6 months pregnant with her brother, and my supply was practically non-existent.
Once my son was born, I kind of breezed through the lactation appointments while I was in the hospital because I “already knew” what to do. Ha! I thought that once you had been successful breastfeeding, then it would be easy. My son had a weird latch, tight cheeks, and would latch and unlatch over and over until he was finally satisfied. For the first two weeks, I could not figure out what his deal was. He would only ever nurse for 5 minutes. After many appointments with the LC, weight checks, etc. it was decided that he is just a super efficient nurser. He was gaining by leaps and bounds and nursed as long or as short as he wanted.
At 4 months, he’s more than doubled his birth weight, and we are doing well. This is my last nursling. I’m a little sad to think about it, but I am looking forward to having my body back after having been pregnant or breastfeeding for 5+ years.
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I was so excited to go into labor, and three days before my birthday, my daughter entered my life. Breastfeeding didn’t come as easily as expected! She latched on fine on one side, but we couldn’t get a good latch on the other. We tried and tried, but it just wasn’t happening.
Turns out, I had an inverted nipple. I had to use a nipple shield; we had a love/hate relationship. I would forget it everywhere. I mean, it’s clear! On top of the nipple shield, I couldn’t use a pump. It just didn’t work. I didn’t think we would get to any of our breastfeeding milestones. Boy, was I wrong.
Last week, we made it to one year of breastfeeding! It wasn’t all rainbows and sparkles though. Around 9 months, my daughter started to scrape her teeth while nursing. Yes, it’s every bit as painful as it sounds. I managed to get through it. Barely. But last month, she started doing it on the other side. I tried everything. Expressing milk and bottle feeding. Failed. Nursing upside down. Failed. When she broke skin on both sides, I decided it was best to throw in the towel. I was crying during every nursing session.
It’s been 3 days since we stopped cold turkey, and she has been doing great. She decided she would start drinking out of a bottle, and she is just about sleeping through the night. After everything we’ve been through, I couldn’t be more proud. I cherished each moment of breastfeeding and wouldn’t have made this journey any other way.
All that to say, if I can do, it so can you. Whether you breastfeed for two days, two months, or two years, it’s an accomplishment, and you should be proud. It may not be the easiest road all the time, but it’s definitely worth the bumps.
If you’re struggling right now, I urge you to seek help. There’s no shame in your game. Nursing is DIFFICULT for most of us! You are not expected or encouraged to do it alone. Public nursing meet-up groups like La Leche League and Breastfeeding USA are there to help you, so are lactation consultants at your local hospital or birthing center even after you’ve come home from the hospital. Some doulas and midwives are even certified for lactation consulting! Seek help and support from whomever you are most comfortable.
If you’re expecting and wanting to breastfeed, I urge you to do your research on local support options and to express to those closest to you how important this part of your journey is to you so that they can be helpful and supportive if you struggle. Take a breastfeeding class, browse through materials on nursing online or in a book store (Gasp! Those still exist?!), talk to friends or family who have nursed, and most importantly, surround yourself with positive support. Some women hold their baby to breast right after birth and are blissfully greeted by a nursling whose latch is perfect, and others, like the women who shared their experiences today, have a different story to tell. No matter what your story may end up being, feeling supported makes all the difference, no matter what the outcome.
Here are some of my favorite breastfeeding support resources. I hope you find help and comfort here:
International and USA mommies check out KellyMom.com ‘s list of breastfeeding helplines, or check out the countless evidence based articles on KellyMom.com for all your breastfeeding questions and concerns.
If you want to speak to a person, call La Leche League’s breastfeeding helpline at 1-877-4-LALECHE (1-877-452-5324) or go to La Leche League International’s website to find evidence based articles on breastfeeding and how the law supports breastfeeding mothers, connect with them on social media, or find a local chapter and attend a meeting.
Happy feeding, mommas! Whichever way you do, do it with love, and that’s enough.
A huge thank you to Freya Garcia for creating our Nursing Tales nursing mermaid! You are quite the artist!