The beginning of my breastfeeding journey seems like it was just yesterday and it was almost three years ago at this point. Before having Connor, my first, some people had warned me, telling me breastfeeding was difficult without, of course, elaborating on what was so difficult for them or someone they knew… which, as you can imagine, was extremely helpful. Others would take the time to say how wonderful and convenient it was for them and their child. My mother was probably the most open of anyone with me about the pain she experienced and I expected to have some sort of pain or discomfort, I just wasn’t prepared for how much and for how long.
Day 1 was blissful. Connor was born, I was awkward and modest with the nurses but, overall, it seemed to come pretty naturally with me as far as positioning, etc.
Day 2 was when then burning started. Day 3, it got bad. Day 4, I wanted to quit. And on day 5 when it didn’t seem to be getting any better, I just cried. I recognized, with help from my husband and my mom, that I needed a break, the pain was getting to me and it was just too much. Nothing was helping, all my clothes were stained with Lanolin, and every other nipple cream you can imagine, and I was so overwhelmed. So, I pumped and we bottle fed him every other feeding. It usually gave me a 3-4 hour break and put me in a much better spot. This didn’t last long because Connor rejected the bottle after only a couple of days and made life much more difficult for all of us (a story for another time)!
So, back to the breast we went for every feeding. It was a little easier because I had healed considerably while pumping and using the silicone soothies in between. All that meant nothing by later that evening. The pain was about as real as I could imagine. I was not only sore, I was cracked and bleeding. Every time Connor would latch I would bite down on a towel and scream. It was unbearable and I felt like a terrible mother for resenting my son for wanting to eat. I could never fully relax because I was either in the throws of the pain dreading the next feeding. It was awful. I was constantly watching the clock waiting for the feeding to be over or praying for time to slow down in between. This couldn’t be the glorious breastfeeding experience every one spoke of, something was wrong.
Early the next morning I reached out to a lactation consultant at the hospital. She was sure it had it be the baby’s latch and wanted me to come. I went in… it wasn’t his latch. Actually, she said he had a perfect latch. She had no answers but urged me to keep at it, she was sure the pain would end any day. And that’s what I did, I kept at it in pain…every..single..day. I started favoring my left side in an attempt to let the my right side, the most painful side, heal.
At Connor’s 1 month appointment, his doctor said that Connor was underweight for his height and that I needed to either feed him more or supplement with formula. I felt like such a failure for not being able to give my child what he needed. But, I read more and I was determined to succeed. I had plenty of milk, it was the pain that was getting in the way. I fought through the pain and fed him every 2 hours in hopes of plumping him up, he really never filled out until he started solids, but he I was able to get him to a healthy weight.
My 6 week postpartum checkup came and I was still in excruciating pain. I was cracked, bleeding (still), and peeling. The doctor immediately diagnosed me with thrush. We went on with treatment – orally for me and topically for me and Connor.
I can’t even tell you the amount of nursing pads that we went through. I used the Lansinoh brand which has a very light plastic wrapper and they got stuck to everything. My poor husband joked that he would leave for work in the morning and check himself for the wrappers when he got out the door as they were constantly sticking to his pants and shoes. We left trails of those things around for weeks. When we moved out of that apartment a year later we were still finding them everywhere (but the pads themselves were great!).
I was determined to get this under control. The treatment worked and I had a week where breastfeeding was tolerable (week 7). Then a different pain started up on my right side, which wasn’t producing as much – likely due to my favoring of the left early on, and I had developed mastitis from a blocked duct. The doctor prescribed me an antibiotic, the mastitis got better. The antibiotic made me get thrush again. The pain was awful, again. We treated it. It got better. I got mastitis in my right side…again! We treated it. I got thrush. We treated it. The cycle was never ending, I alternated from one kind of pain to the next…
It was a freaking nightmare. We could not get my infections and my thrush under control until Connor was 6 months old. 6 months. I gave up on the antibiotics all together. I refused to go on another one. I fought my last bought of mastitis naturally. I started using the anti fungal in between every feeding until I was sure it was gone. I did everything I could: I put yogurt on my nipples (Yogurt…on my nipples, yes), I went braless, and sometimes shirtless, whenever the opportunity presented itself (both very challenging for me because I was very uncomfortable with this) and I would put all of my clothes in the sun to kill any yeast that might be present. And that, that was when I experienced pain free breastfeeding for the first time.
I will never forget the feeding when I looked down to see if Connor was latched and when I realized he was, I cried. Not because it hurt. No, no, no, no, no…it didn’t hurt at all. In fact, it didn’t hurt one bit! I didn’t even feel him latch on and could only feel the gentle tug I was supposed to. This, this was what breastfeeding your baby was about. I was elated. I did it. I fought through 6 months of pain because I knew this moment would come!
I learned two things from my experience: First, I understand why people choose another route and pump exclusively, supplement or go to formula all together. I would never judge someone that chose to end their breastfeeding journey. Second, I learned that I needed to trust my body and what it was telling me. Doctors and lactations consultant can only help with the things they see – but they don’t feel what you are feeling.
The most important lesson I learned is that we all have different situations, problems, issues, etc. and the solutions we come up with are deeply personal. No two people are alike and no two solutions are either.
Understand this: I went through my journey because it was right for me and my family. However, my solution would not have been the solution for everyone. There is no textbook answer but there is an answer, I can promise you that.
My first breastfeeding journey was difficult and my second wasn’t easy either, but I regret nothing because they have brought to where I am today
And today, I want nothing more to help mothers on their own journey find their way through it. This is why I do what I do.