A New Mom’s Journey with Breastfeeding and Pumping:
The Struggles and the Accomplishments
My Son Liam is just over a month old now and I can say that while there are several adjustments that come with being a new Mom, one of the ones I had the most difficulty with was breastfeeding. If you read his birth story, you will know why I didn’t have the best start to the breastfeeding experience. If not, the short version of it is that my nurses in recovery just jammed his face into my chest without explaining what to do, squeezed and hurt my chest, got upset with me if I hadn’t woken him up every two hours and gave me advice that a lactation specialist (who was also at the hospital) told me was wrong. Overall, I went home believing I had to continue to wake him up every two hours to feed and that the so-called latch we had was the proper one. This was all false and I only realized it a week later once my Sister came over to help me and I spoke to one of her friends who also helped me a great amount.
The first week was full of frustration and sleep deprivation for both Mommy and Baby. We also may have shared the same amount of tears but for different reasons. For Liam, it was the fact that he was being woken up constantly to eat and when he did, he was probably wasn’t having an easy time getting the milk he needed, all the while, feeling the frustration from Mommy. For Mommy, it was mostly due to feeling so terrible that I was unable to provide the one thing that my body was, in theory, made to do. I was in constant pain, my chest was engorged, my nipples were cracked and bleeding… it wasn’t enjoyable to say the very least. I felt horrible and lack of sleep wasn’t helping me handle my emotions so tears flowed almost every time I had to feed him which made me feel even more guilty- I WANT to feed my child, I just want to do it without being in agonizing pain
My SO was supportive by saying I was doing a good job even though it didn’t feel like I was. He kept suggesting to give formula instead but I was determined. I refused to give formula even with all of the advancements that have been made to have it be closer to breast milk. Even if it did, there is nothing like the bond I feel while I have my Son nursing. I am not saying “Breast is Best” or advocating for all women to breast feed. What it comes down to, is doing whatever is the best thing for YOU and for YOUR child. If my Son had been losing weight, or I felt like he was not eating enough, I would have done what I needed to, even if it meant offering formula. You do what you have to do, even if it isn’t what you had envisioned while pregnant.
A bit over a week after Liam was born, my Sister came over one night with all of the supplies I would need to hopefully make it an easier process. I will forever be grateful to her for this. A breast pump, several bottles and a sterilizer later, I was all set to try and fix the situation I was in. My Sister sat with a tearful me, helped me sit in a proper position and also told me how to get Liam to unlatch if I felt any pain. A few minutes later, I had started pumping my first bottle of milk and the relief I felt in my breast was almost immediate. I nearly got a full bottle from one side alone. Once I was ready, she added Liam to the mix so I could try feeding and pumping at the same time. This helped me greatly overall because while I am nursing, I have almost a bottle worth of milk leak from my other breast. It always felt like such a waste of milk and if I wasn’t wearing breast pads, let’s be honest- it made a mess too. I went from being in a ton of pain and feeling helpless to nursing my Son while pumping a bottle at the same time in one night. I couldn’t believe the difference. It also played a crucial role in my chest healing. One side was worse than the other, so while Liam nursed on the side that was not in pain, I pumped on the other side until it was healed a bit more.
With all of my Sister’s help and the advice our friend gave me, I was on the road to a better breastfeeding experience. While the advice my friend gave was to help with the issues I was having, a lot of it was very helpful general information, so in case anyone is looking for a bit of advice, here is what she had told me:
“You should not have pain. It’s an old myth that your nipples need to “get used to it” or that they need to “harden”. It’s not true. With a good latch you should not feel any pain.
Here is what you should look for when latching on… First you want his body to be facing you (ear, shoulder and hips in a line and tummy to tummy with you). Just as you would face your food at the table, he would be facing his food.
Second before latching, the first thing to make contact should be his chin (so his head will be tilted back a little). His chin should make contact with your breast (below the nipple from his perspective… so if you are nursing in cross cradle hold then his chin should be making contact with your breast closer to your cleavage). Once the chin is in contact and his head is tilted back a bit, he will have the reflex to open nice and wide. Wait for a bit wide mouth…
You want to be holding your breast, compressing it slightly (we call this the hamburger). You want to live up your “hamburger” with his mouth. So in cross cradle you would be compressing with your thumb on the outside of your breast and your fingers on the inside forming like a U (far enough away from your nipple so that he can latch but close enough so that it is easier for him to do so. Think of when you eat a hamburger how we squish it to fit in our mouth… same concept.
So you are holding your U (hamburger) and his chin is in contact with the breast, head tilted back, body facing you… Now when he opens big, you want to bring him in and get as much breast into his mouth as possible. The front of the mouth is the hard pallet. If your nipple is only in a little bit and is rubbing on the hard pallet it is going to hurt. When he finishes you might see that your nipple looks almost like the tip of a lipstick as opposed to looking rounded and “normal”. This is not a good sign… means the latch is too shallow. You want to get as much breast (not just nipple) into his mouth as you can (it’s ok if it looks like you are suffocating him… it will look that way… but if his head is tilted back his nose will be free to breath). This way your nipple is fat enough back in his mouth that it is not on the hard pallet but on the soft pallet in the back. So you should have no pain in this case and when you take your nipple out it should look the same as when it went in (rounded).
Now that you have pain, once you fix the latch it might still hurt a little for a few days until it heals. But you should feel a huge difference in pain level immediately if he is latched on well.
As for healing your nipples, you can use nipple cream if you have any, if you don’t, you can express a little bit of milk at the end of the feed and just run that into your nipple (Just a few drops is good).
You need to try and get to him when he is not crying yet. Look for hunger signs. This diagram is really good. It shows you the early signs and the mid signs and the late signs.
Crying means you have missed all the other signs (not your fault… you are new at this) and he is now frustrated and it will not work well. Better to calm him first (sometimes another person is better at this because they don’t smell like milk) and then when he is calm put him to the breast. but trying to feed him when he is full on freaking out is never going to work well and will result in pain for you. Ultimately you wanna catch the early signs and feed then. So stirring in his sleep, opening his mouth (sometimes they make sucking noises or lip smacking type noises), head turning and “rooting” as if he is looking for your breast.”
Thank you Mel, for all of the helpful advice! I have already passed it along to other new Mommies who needed a bit of help too!
A couple of days after my Sister stopped by, a CLSC nurse came by to make sure everything was going well for both Baby & Mommy. She weighed Liam and he was gaining a healthy amount of weight, approx. 36g per day and he looked very healthy. She asked about how feeding was going and I explained it all to her. After getting a few gasps while telling her about my recovery experience, she nodded her head and said that I was doing a good job if Liam was able to gain the weight that he did. She also said to do what was best for me but also provided several pamphlets for Breastfeeding Support groups in my area. It was such a pleasant experience.
We have come a long way since then. A month ago I was in tears and now I am able to sit in a bathtub while bathing my child and feed him at the same time. My Mother was even impressed by how quickly we are able to get a good latch now and I have had several “Look at us now!” moments. It will get easier, especially if you are dealing with a very young newborn. Once they get a bit older and bigger, it is far easier to get a good latch, in my experience anyway. That is not to say every meal time is an easy one. Sometimes, they are simply just in a fussy mood and you just need to do the best you can.
Like I said before, I am not preaching about the benefits of breastfeeding, although there are several, nor do I mean to rub it in anyone’s face that I was finally successful at breastfeeding. All I mean to do with this post, is to say, I understand. I understand how hard it may be and if you decide not to breastfeed, that’s okay and you’re not alone in this. My dear friend Annie, at Grown Up Glamour, had a similar experience with her post-delivery experience and is now exclusively pumping, read more here– she has great tips! I know several women struggle with breastfeeding even though it is not talked about often and that is something that should change. Especially for first time Moms who may think it is all their fault and who begin to put themselves down. Motherhood is tough enough without adding your own negative thoughts of yourself into your head. No matter how you feed your child, you are an amazing Mother and the fact that you are getting this affected by any breastfeeding struggles you have, just shows how much you care and want to do anything in your power to provide for your little one. Things don’t always turn out the way you had planned and some experimenting is involved to find the best solution and that is more than okay.