My Struggle to Breastfeed

I’m going to start this off by saying that I never expected to have a single issue with breastfeeding. I come from a long line of women who breastfed and none had a problem with nursing. Oh, I knew there’d be a learning curve but really – how hard could it be?

The answer? Very, very, VERY hard.

The realization that nursing wasn’t going to be the cakewalk I had envisioned started within minutes of giving birth to my daughter. The nurse laid her on my bare chest and she inchwormed her little buns over and faceplanted on my nipple. I remember being a bit concerned that she wouldn’t be able to breath but the nurse assured me that she could. So I relaxed and enjoyed the experience… for about two minutes because she started turning blue. For some reason, she wasn’t able to breath and they had to quickly remove her from my breast and rub her down so she could breathe again. That scared the shit out of me and because of that, during my hospital stay, I was always a little afraid to nurse her for fear that she would suffocate again. I tried to be brave and confident but really, I was always a bit terrified.

After I was in the postpartum wing for a little bit, the nurses encouraged me to breastfeed again. I straight up had no clue what to do beyond picking her up and shoving her face up against my nipple. Turns out, it’s a bit more complicated than that. A LOT more complicated. Like, there are different positions and different ways to latch and OMG it hurts. My mom tried to help me but I was exhausted, she was in pain from a recent major surgery, and my poor husband was as clueless as me. So I did the best I could but it stung really badly and I wasn’t sure if Melanie was getting anything (she fell asleep like, two minutes into it). Truthfully, I was always happy when it was over.

After a few more hours, the lactation consultant came by to help me. Well, first she made me feel a bit guilty about not taking any breastfeeding classes or reading any books on the subject before giving birth but then she tried to help. She asked me if everything was going okay. I responded “yes” because I didn’t know any better. She asked me to show her how I was breastfeeding. I did.

Turns out everything I was doing was wrong plus Melanie’s latch was off and that was why it was hurting so bad. According to my LC, breastfeeding should only hurt for the first 15 seconds (“long enough to curl your toes”) and then taper off. If it hurts longer than that – there is a problem (usually the latch). Also, I wasn’t holding her right and wasn’t forcing her to nurse long enough. Basically, I was a big ol’ breastfeeding loser.

The nice LC lady helped me figure out how to do a football hold (this is every lactation consultant ever’s FAVORITE hold) and manhandled (no really, she just grabbed on and manipulated and squeezed that sucker into submission) my boob into place for Melanie. Then she stuck her face right down by my nipple and watched Melly latch on. The whole time she did this, she talked a mile a minute giving me instructions and the nurses were there too asking me loads of questions. It was super overwhelming and honestly, I don’t think I absorbed a single thing. Luckily, my husband was paying attention and remembered some stuff.

So, on and off throughout the day I tried breastfeeding whenever the nurses would remind me to do it. Honestly, I never remembered to do it every 2-3 hours like I was supposed to and they badgered me relentlessly about it. But I was tired and kept forgetting to keep track of time plus, Melanie would be sleeping and I didn’t want to wake her up. Also, it was still hurting when I tried to nurse and frankly, that made me not want to do it. But I did try. Every time my husband or a nurse would remind me, I’d grit my teeth try.

That’s why I was so upset the next day when a different LC came in, took one look at my nipples and breastfeeding chart, and got mad at me. My nipples had open sores from Melly’s poor latch and I wasn’t feeding her often enough or long enough. Basically, I was a breastfeeding dud. She explained to me that Melanie’s latch was due to her attaching with her lips and not her entire mouth (while breastfeeding, the baby actually uses their lower lip to massage the bottom of the areola and get the milk out that way). So she taught me how to use a nipple guard to protect me while I nursed and allow me to heal. She also noted that I needed to wake her up to eat every 2-3 hours and stop her from falling asleep while she was eating. That just sounded cruel to me so I totally ignored her.

By the time we headed home, I was still sporting open sores on my nipples, not feeding Melanie often enough or long enough, and still feeling a lot of pain while I nursed. But I just figured that it would all work itself out. Got home and set myself up a little nursing central on our bed with a Boppy pillow, my drinking glass, and about a million extra bed pillows. And for a few hours, The Boy and I thought we had it all figured out – nurse, rest, rinse, repeat. Then that evening, I got engorged (my milk came in). And my boobs, for serious, looked like a cheap porn star’s (and they probably felt the same way) and OMG did they HURT.

At Melanie’s New Baby appointment later that afternoon, we discovered she had lost enough weight that the doctors were concerned and wanted a follow up appointment in a few days to weigh her again. To a new mom, this means “You are a TERRIBLE mother and we want to take your baby away”. I was so upset when I left and really confused about how my baby had lost so much weight in such a short amount of time. I felt like I was feeding her a lot. I just didn’t know what was wrong with me.

We went home and kept plugging away: I would try to remember to nurse every 2-3 hours (even with the nipple guards it was painful) and Melanie would fall asleep a few minutes into it. Then 3AM hit and… my sweet baby woke up screaming like a demon from hell and WOULD NOT STOP. For hours. She would scream and scream and I would try to calm her, nurse her, anything to get her to stop. My husband would get up with me a try, too. Nothing got that child to stop screeching. Finally, early in the morning she would pass out from sheer exhaustion and I would cry myself to sleep.

This went on for several days until one night, she just didn’t stop screaming. She wanted to nurse so badly but wouldn’t maintain her latch and my breasts just hurt SO MUCH. At one point, I tried pumping and not a single drop came out. That’s when I flipped out. I had no milk for my baby and she was starving. I absolutely broke down. See, my dad died (not of cancer) but of starvation and our sweet old dog as had a medical condition that caused her to also starve to death. I had to watch both – it was awful. I stumbled into my mom’s room, sobbing and hysterical that my baby was going to die like my dad and dog did.

My mom told me to get dressed and have The Boy take me to the store for some formula. I did not want to do that. I was supposed to be able to feed my baby from my own body – how could I be a good mom if I fed my baby formula? My mom insisted that this would just be temporary. My husband held Melanie while I dressed, hysterically sobbing the whole time. At one point, my mom came in and held me and told me that everything would alright. In the car, my husband told me the same thing and said that we’d call the LC as soon as possible. We bought the formula and I cried while I held my baby in the parked car and fed her formula. She drank it and immediately fell asleep. I cried all the way home.

Later, we called the LC and she soothed me a lot by saying that what I was experiencing was really common. What happened was that my milk came in… but wasn’t coming out. That’s why I was hurting so bad and why Melly wasn’t able to eat. Her recommendation was to continue to nurse Melanie every 2-3 hours and follow up with pumping for 15-20 minutes. She also wanted me to apply ice packs (or bags of frozen vegetables) on my breasts for 20 minutes every hour and supplement Melanie with formula (as needed) after every nursing session. So I did. And OMG – it was super rough. I would nurse the baby for 20-30 minutes on each side then pump for 15-20 minutes and also sneak in 20 minutes of booby chillin’. I, straight up, never slept – I just didn’t have time! I also felt like I was trapped in my bedroom all day, every day. And… I was still barely getting any milk out.

So, we called the LC again. This time, she told me to go ahead and stop icing my breasts (since I was getting some milk it was okay) and to cut down on the amount of time that I was breastfeeding. She wanted me to do 30 minutes total. Anything more was too exhausting. So now, I was doing 15 minutes of nursing on each side, pumping for 15-20 minutes, and supplementing with formula. I was still not able to give Melanie enough breastmilk and hated supplementing with formula (it made her smell different – my baby didn’t smell like my baby) so we made a face-to-face appointment with the LC.

At our appointment, we discovered that Melanie had gained some weight back! Not much but enough that the doctors were happy to let us continue on our own with a follow-up weighting appointment for later in the week. Once we were alone with the LC, she really focused on teaching my husband how to help me massage my breasts to break up the engorgement and get the milk flowing. She also taught me how to fix Melly’s poor latch by using my finger to force her lower lip down to where it was supposed to be. I left the appointment a little stressed out but slightly more confident.

For the rest of the week, the nights were still pretty crappy. Melanie continued to wake up screaming. The good news was that my engorgement lessened thanks 100% to The Boy’s personal mission to massage my boobs into submission. Every time I would nurse the baby on one side, he would be over on the other manhandling away. It was painful but it worked (By the way, he is willing to help out anyone else looking for assistance – reasonable rates!)! I could feel my breasts returning to their normal “consistency” and Melly didn’t fuss as long when she latched on. But I still felt like I wasn’t getting her enough to eat and she still supplemented after every nursing session with formula.

At our “last chance” weighing appointment with the LC and doctor, we got good news. Melanie was back to her birth weight! I nearly cried, I was so happy. We were given permission to feed her on her own schedule and phase out the formula. I was encouraged to continue to use the nipple guards for as long as I needed to and not to stress out about her getting enough to eat because she was. We were sent on our way – MUCH happier than we had been since she was born.

Melanie and I have been exclusively breastfeeding since her third week. Now, we’re both old hat at it. I was able to stop using the nipple guards around her sixth week and my nipples rarely hurt anymore. Melanie continues to be about three weeks behind other exclusively nursed babies on her breastfeeding milestones but she is growing like a weed so the doctors aren’t concerned. We’re so good at breastfeeding now that I’m even pumping a small supply for a friend to have once her baby gets here (I don’t want her to have to supplement with formula like I did). And nursing Melanie in my bed in the morning is one of my very favorite things about being a mom.

Basically, what this big ass post boils down to is… breastfeeding is hard. If you really want to do it – you have to fight a battle to succeed. But always keep in mind that any breastfeeding is good breastfeeding. And frankly, ANY way you feed your baby is The Right Way. After all, there are people in this world who don’t feed their baby at all.

Did you struggle with feeding your baby?