In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I decided to finish this post I had been procrastinating on writing about my experience with breastfeeding. I’ve been breastfeeding for a month so far and I definitely had a painful battle with it in the beginning like most moms, but I put up a good fight and never gave up because I wanted what was best for my baby girl. I won that battle and wanted to share my experience to possibly inspire other moms and give them hope as well as some tips on how to have a less painful breastfeeding experience.
*Please note, I am not a lactation consultant. What I am about to share is solely based on my experience and what I learned from lactation specialists, practitioners, antenatal classes, and personal research along my journey. What may be beneficial for me and my baby may not work for you and your baby. It is always best to seek guidance from your practitioner.
The moment Camila was born, my first instinct was to hold her on my chest and try to feed her as soon as she was showing signs of hunger. You know, the typical open mouth, tongue sticking out motion babies do. A nurse came and helped her latch on and she started eating. I was so happy and relieved that I could provide for her and that I actually had anything coming out. I learned from my online antenatal classes with Empowered Parenthood that it’s good to practice hand expressing milk and stimulating the breasts 2-3 weeks prior to your baby’s due date so that the mother’s body will start producing colostrum by the time the baby is born and that’s exactly what I did. I heard for some women, it could take a while before anything comes out if you wait to stimulate the breasts the day the baby is born and because of that women give up thinking they don’t have milk. Nothing came out those times I practiced so I was worried. Sure enough, my body was ready when she was born and she was eating. Yay!
The first few hours after Camila was born were a breeze. She was latching on and I loved it. However, later that day I was starting to feel a lot of pain, as if she was biting. My nipples were cracked and extremely sore to the slightest touch. I heard about this happening, but I thought it would only happen if the baby had a hard time latching on or if the nipples were only flat or inverted. Boy was I wrong! I kept fighting through it because I kept thinking “breast is best!” and “You have to provide for your baby no matter what!” I called my husband and had him get me nipple shields to see if that would help take some pain away so she wouldn’t be directly sucking on my nipples. In the meantime, I pumped using an electric breast pump the hospital lent me and gave her my milk in a cap of a bottle used as a cup. It sounds weird but it worked. The nurses taught me this method and said not to use a bottle in the beginning because it could confuse babies causing them to resist breastfeeding. Ironically, the way babies suck milk from a cup is more similar to the sucking motion on a nipple than a bottle. Who would’ve thought?
I hated pumping because it felt inconvenient especially because when my baby cried I wanted to give her milk right then and there and not wait for me to ask the nurses for the pump kit, wait 5-10 minutes to receive it, wait another 10 minutes to get milk out, and then transfer it to a cup to feed her. Because of that I kept trying to breastfeed her, but that just made it worse for me. Later that night I was in tears, crying in agony. Not only were my nipples in excruciating pain, but I was having major contractions while breastfeeding which is a common and normal thing. It’s your uterus basically going back into place which means that extra pooch you get after giving birth that makes you look like you’re still pregnant, will get smaller as you continue to breastfeed. No pain, no gain or in this case pain = no gain.
The nurses heard me crying down the hall and came and asked me what was wrong. When I told them, one of the nurses responded with, “That’s not a reason to cry.” It sounded rude to me at first, but I think it was her way of trying to get me to be strong about it. It wasn’t just the pain that had me in tears, but also because I wanted to provide for her and feeling like I couldn’t because it hurt so much made me feel hopeless and it was killing me. P.S. Emotions are at an all time high not only during pregnancy but postpartum as well. One month later, I still cry over things I probably shouldn’t. Anyway, the nurses offered to give her formula and I said no at first. I didn’t want to give up that easily and give my newborn something she could barely digest. Newborn tummies are very sensitive and trying to get used to our breast milk, let alone formula. That’s how I see it anyway. I tried using the nipple shields my husband so kindly got for me, but I didn’t feel they were working at the time. Maybe I wasn’t doing it right or maybe with the nurses telling me it just puts more air in their tummies causing gas, I didn’t want to use them in fear of adding more issues to the matter. I was an exhausted, emotional wreck so I don’t remember too well. What I do know is I eventually gave up that night and gave her a little bit of formula just to feed her because the poor thing was crying excessively in hunger and I couldn’t deal with the pain anymore.
The next morning, I spoke to a different nurse and she was amazing. Very helpful and told me about milk collection shells. I had no idea what those were but they saved mine and my baby’s life. Here’s why. Because my nipples were so cracked and sore, along with the rest of my body, let’s be real here, I was using the Medela lanolin ointment on my nipples after every feeding to help heal them. (Clearly Medela makes amazing breastfeeding tools and no I’m not a sponsor for them.) The problem is my clothes would stick to my nipples because of the ointment which only made them more sore and sensitive thus preventing them from healing. These milk collection shells have an opening for your nipple to protect your nipple from being touched, letting them breathe & heal, and prevent you from leaking on your clothes because it catches the milk in there. Amazing invention let me tell you!
By the next day, they were already feeling so much better. I tried the nipple shields again and expressed milk into the shield to get it flowing and it helped her latch on. It wasn’t as painful and the best part was that I could have that bond with her again. I continued using the nipple shields for two weeks and no longer needed them after. I graduated to au naturale breastfeeding! I was pumping in between some feedings and giving her a bottle of breastmilk at night but I now only breastfeed and pump when my breasts feel extremely full. I sometimes have a big let down which causes Camila to choke on milk so I have to pump before she eats to slow the flow of the milk and burp her a couple times during each feeding to help with her digestion.
That’s basically my experience so far. I plan on breastfeeding for at least 6-12 months. Maybe more depending how we do. I love how breastfeeding is so beneficial for babies. I’ve learned that it helps not only with their mentality but it also helps prevent illnesses because FUN FACT: the baby’s saliva goes into the mother’s breasts and the mother’s body produces immunity for the baby in the milk based on the baby's needs. Isn’t that insane?! Our bodies are way more powerful than we think and know! This is why I’m a huge believer in the power of breastfeeding and I truly believe any mom can do it if she really tries.
There are many myths out there on why some moms believe they can’t produce any milk. The two I hear so often are “my boobs are too small to produce any milk” and “I didn’t have any milk when my baby was born so I couldn’t breastfeed.” I’ve known women with tiny breasts who were able to breastfeed for a year or more because the more you breastfeed, the more your body produces milk. It’s basically supply and demand. If you stop trying or don’t breastfeed every 2-4 hours, your body basically thinks you don’t need it anymore so it stops producing. I have a friend who’s newborn would sleep through the entire night and she thought the baby wasn’t hungry because he slept so much so she’d go 8-9 hours without breastfeeding. Some babies don’t have enough sugar to wake up which is why they sleep so much in the beginning and you have to purposely wake them up the first two weeks to feed them to make sure they grow. Otherwise you stop producing milk which is what happened to her. And for moms who think they don’t have milk because none came out when the baby was born...Stimulate! Stimulate! Stimulate! Massage your breasts in the shower, use a breast pump. Heck even get your significant other to play with them. Sounds silly but a pharmacist even told me that and it works!
Always do research before giving up. I’m not bashing if you don’t breastfeed. It’s your right to not breastfeed if that’s what you choose to do. But if it’s something you want to do and you’ve lost hope, don’t give up! There was a point around week two when I thought I wasn’t producing enough milk but I decided to keep stimulating, pumping, and nursing. Sure enough I started producing more and more milk and I felt like a milk factory after because I started over producing. I now have milk in the freezer for any future incidents. It’s a great feeling to know you can provide for your baby believe me. Best part of all is it’s free! There was also a time where it felt exhausting and that's an understatement. I had my baby on one boob and a pump on the other and I thought "is this really my life?" Well, it really does get better and it already has. Four weeks in and I'm managing my time better, writing this now as I breastfeed, which I didn't even know I was capable of typing so well with one hand. But it just goes to show that everything gets better, as all things do with time.
For products you’d like to know that could ease your breastfeeding experience along with postpartum recovery, please check out my other blog post on Postpartum Essentials For Mamas.