This post is the fourth of a six part bonus series about breastfeeding, each of our individual stories, the highs, the lows, the “I have no clue what I’m doing” and the “I’ve totally got this”. No matter what your story is, we want you to know that somewhere out there is another mom saying, “me too”. We’re all in this together.
I’ve never heard a first time mom say nursing was a breeze. It’s a steep, sharp learning curve wrought with the panic of not meeting your child’s needs, pain in a very sensitive region (that has never been used to this capacity up until this point) and much confusion and befuddlement over the wealth of information and tips thrust your way. I felt overwhelmed with information and yet there were still large gaps missing in my nursing knowledge, both the first and second time around (and probably again as I enter into the third).
So here’s what I know now:
Top 7 Tips and Stories:
- Babies don’t necessarily unlatch once they are full. Maybe you know this already, but it was something I did not know in that first week. I would nurse my son for over an hour each time simply because he didn’t unlatch on his own. He was probably full after the first 15 minutes and then continued on for comfort. It’s a wonderful thing to comfort your babies with nursing, but this was totally excessive. We would just finish and he would be hungry again. Thankfully my public health nurse corrected me quickly and told me 20-30 minutes is more than sufficient.
- Nipple shields can help get you through the rough stuff. With such long nursing times in that first week and being so new to nursing techniques and latching, I very quickly developed blisters and cracking on my nipples. Every time my son would latch, every muscle in my body would clench and I had to fight the urge to push him away; it was so incredibly painful!! I don’t remember who told me about nipple shields but, bless their heart, they had given me a gift better than gold. Nursing still hurt a little but it was so much more manageable! It took a long time to heal and then we very gradually weaned ourselves off. I’d nurse once shield-free and then 2-3 times with the shield, gradually shifting it to more shield-free until it wasn’t necessary any more. (ps: the often recommended lanolin cream never helped me, in fact it wasn’t until I quit using it that I began healing. I found coconut oil worked so much better.)
- Scheduled feeds vs on-demand. If you’re a first time mom you may never have heard of the debate between scheduled feedings vs. on-demand feeding. With my first baby, the nurse in the hospital told me the sooner I got my baby on a feeding schedule the better – every two hours from the beginning of a feed, no sooner, no later. Knowing very little about breastfeeding I took her advice to heart and was determined to get my baby on schedule. It sounded easy, just like clockwork. My son quickly proved me wrong. He would either begin crying before the 2 hour mark would hit in which I would try everything (but nursing) to soothe him until we made the full 2 hours, or on the flip side, he would be sleeping or just plain refuse to latch when we did reach the 2 hour mark. His first few months were fraught with indecision and frustration until finally we reached a point where I just didn’t care if my baby was scheduled or not. With my second I knew I wanted to try on-demand feeding. No schedule, no clock, no debate. If I couldn’t soothe him within 10 minutes, on the boob he went, never mind if he had just fed 15 minutes ago!
- Boo-boos on boobies. My second time nursing began beautifully. My second had a wonderful latch and I was much more confident. The first bit was still painful but totally manageable and I saw progress in toughening up every day through nursing, no shield necessary this time! However, while in the hospital I started developing what I and the nurses thought was a blister. Every time my son would nurse this ‘blister’ would get larger and redder. After 2-3 days the blister started to get harder and more painful and my breast burned. Again, the public health nurse came to the rescue. It wasn’t a blister at all, it actually ended up being that some skin had grown over one of my milk ducts. She said I could either go to the doctor and they could use a sterilized pin to prick through it, or I could try using coconut cream to soften it and hopefully my son would nurse it off. I decided to try the coconut oil route… no pins near my nipples if I can help it! It took only a couple times nursing and a few times of applying coconut oil and suddenly, with a little bit of a pinch while he was nursing, it was gone. My first thought was ‘ewwww! My baby just swallowed a piece of hardened nipple skin!!’ But the public nurse reassured me it was ok, he was fine, his body would absorb it and he was none the wiser. Even now it kinda grosses me out, but I’m so thankful we didn’t need to get pins involved!!
- It’s probably normal…While starting to nurse the second time around was a breeze compared to my first, nursing still had a few more lessons to teach me. I had always felt my letdown with my first, but it was a whole other story with my second. Every single milk duct felt like it was burning every time he began nursing. At my six week appointment I finally asked my doctor if this was normal, I had figured it would have passed by that point – my milk was in strong, baby was growing and aside from feeling like there was fire blazing trails through my breasts we were doing great, so shouldn’t my boobs have settled into their previous nursing rhythm? My doctor smiled and nodded. “You just have a very fast letdown this time, eventually it will settle”. Well, it didn’t settle for months, actually probably until well past 6 months when my son was beginning to eat more solids and needing less milk. Knowing that nothing was actually wrong made me stop worrying and, while I didn’t love the feeling, I did get used to it and it just became a necessary part of feeding my baby.
- Plugged milk ducts – have a plan! I didn’t know what was going on the first time, I figured I was just coming down with the flu or something. I had a fever, felt like I had been drained of energy and ached all over. I called my mom to take my oldest for the day so I could sleep when baby slept. While picking him up I began nursing and she noticed me wincing. Remember the crazy fiery letdown I just spoke about? I had assumed it was just that, only a little worse. My mom questioned whether I thought I might have an infection, which got me thinking and sure enough, as the day progressed it got worse and one side of my breast got harder and harder. I pulled out my phone and googled the crap out of plugged milk ducts and formed a plan: I used a heat pack when not nursing to try to loosen it up, massaged the hard part of my breast while nursing or pumping. I made sure no more than an hour or so passed between either nursing or pumping that side. I tried a few different nursing positions such as the football hold and laying baby on the floor and going on all fours over him to nurse which uses gravity to your advantage. Gradually we worked it out and by the end of the day I felt we were on our way to recovery. Had we not made progress quickly I would have gone directly to the doctors as it can get bad very quickly. After that first time, I learned to recognize it much quicker. It continued to happen in the same spot and it would come on fast. Baby and I would cancel all plans, ship big brother off for the day and crack down hard on all the aforementioned tips. I never had to go to the doctor, we were always able to work it out on our own within the day. I did always set myself a limit though – I had to see improvement within 4-6 hours or else it was time to go in.
- Save that milk! One product (aside from the nipple shield) that I will recommend is ‘Milkies’ Milk Saver. It’s a small storage container that you put on the side you’re not nursing from. It catches the letdown that you would typically lose. Over the course of the day I could usually catch about 4oz or more and it saved me from using as many nursing pads since they didn’t fill up each time I nursed. Mind you, I only did this when we were at home as I didn’t want the worry of carrying around the milk saver and bottle while trying to keep milk cool; that is way too much work in my opinion!
I’m sure I could have more tips and stories if I tried, but really those are my best, so I’ll leave it there and let you read the other girls’ stories and collect your knowledge, advice and tips from other sources. Best of luck on your nursing adventure!
Read Part 1 – Read Part 2 – Read Part 3 – Read Part 5 – Read Part 6
*Any information or ideas presented within the website of Pure Grain of Salt are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any medical issue for you or your baby. Always seek the advice of your healthcare provider in determining what is best for you and your baby.