Let me start this by saying I’m a huge supporter of breastfeeding. In fact, I’m nursing my 3rd child right now. I’ve always breastfed my children beyond 12 months and I’m very thankful that I’ve been able to do so. However, no one ever warned me about all the unpleasantries associated with breastfeeding; I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. Yes, breastfeeding is a wonderful, beautiful experience, but frankly, at times, it can be downright sucky (excuse my horrible pun) and there are quite a few challenges you may run into if you choose to breast feed.
To be quite honest, I really had no idea exactly how this whole breastfeeding thing worked until I was actually doing it. So, here’s how it goes, broken down simply:
- Your baby opens his/her mouth and your nipple and areola go in..
- They start sucking (and let me tell you, their suction power is like a Dyson!)
- After sucking for a brief period of time (I’d say 15-60 seconds) you’ll have what is referred to as a “let down” where your milk really starts to flow. That feeling is different for each person, but for me it has a stinging sort of feeling for about 15-30 seconds.
- Your baby drinks until he/she is full.
All that doesn’t sound too bad, I know, but the truth is, there’s a lot more that comes with the breastfeeding territory!
Afterbirth Pains: Not everyone will experience this with their first child; I did. It is said that they get worse with every new baby. Afterbirth pains are contractions in the uterus that feel like bad menstrual cramps. Breastfeeding triggers them for the first 24-72 hours or so after giving birth. Truly they are a good thing because they are helping to shrink your uterus, but they can be rather painful on a body that is already sore. I have found that WishGarden’s After Ease tincture helps and I start using that normally the second time I nurse my newborn.
Supply Issues: When your baby is first born, your breasts product colostrum (some women will produce this even before the baby arrives). After 1-5 days, that will change over to milk. As your milk “comes in” you will most likely become engorged. Engorged is just a fancy word for hard, warm, swollen breasts that are full of milk and have doubled (or more) in size. To be quite honest, I dread the engorgement period of nursing. I’d rather give birth again than go through it. My normal cup size A breasts become size D and hurt like you would not believe. You know how it can get really sore when you have a huge pimple on your chin that you just can’t pop, well, engorgement is kinda like that, just 10xs worse. I have found that putting cold, crushed cabbage leaves in my bra helps with the engorgement, but mine are still sore for weeks……and I just want to cry.
Some women don’t make enough milk, some women make too much. My body happens to be the kind that produces too much, and with each new nursling it’s been worse than the time before. When my daughter was a newborn, I rarely pumped. I heard over and over again that pumping just told my body it needed to make more milk. Since I was trying to get it to stop making as much milk, I felt that pumping wasn’t an option. As a result, I ended up with plugged ducts that plagued me on and off for the first 6 months. What’s a plugged duct? It feels like a large lump in your breast that is extremely painful to touch. It also makes breastfeeding from that breast painful (sometimes excruciating) but the only way to make it better is to nurse frequently from that effected side.
It is usually 3-4 months before my supply is at a point where I no long have to pump daily to be comfortable.
Sore Nipples/Sore Breasts: Those first few weeks, especially when it’s your first time nursing, can be brutal. Some ladies experience cracked nipples that literally bleed. While I have escaped that horror, my breasts are often tender for the first 3 months after giving birth. My nipples are always so sore during the first few weeks that when the shower water hits them, it feels like nails. They make this stuff called lanolin, you’ve probably heard of it. It does soothe sore nipples, but I found a few weeks into my first time nursing that using it was just prolonging the time it took for my nipples to “toughen up.” From then on I only used it if absolutely necessary.
Favorite Breasts: Two of my three children have had a favorite breast, one that they always want to nurse from first and cry for if offered the other. Sometimes they will flat out refuse the unliked breast. Why do they do this? Well, your guess is as good as mine. I’ve heard that this happens quite frequently. What this means for me is that while I’m in the breastfeeding months, one breast is noticeable bigger than the other. While I guess you could say that is a vanity issue, it’s really not something I’m delighted over, to say the least.
Pumping: Mention that word to just about any breastfeeding mom and they will groan. I don’t know any mom who enjoys doing it. It’s not really painful (for me anyway) but it’s not pleasant either. Before my 1st daughter was born, I had grand ideas of pumping milk so that some nights my husband could feed her during the night and I could sleep. Oh what a fool I was! Sure, he COULD give her a bottle during the night, but my breasts would still be engorged, which means I’d have to wake up and pump, which is far worse than just waking up to let the baby nurse.
Stinking Armpits: Yep, I’m going there. It’s gotta be the hormones. I rarely sweat, in fact, when I’m not nursing, sometimes I don’t even have the need to wear deodorant. But when I’m nursing….oh boy, when I’m nursing, sometimes a good strong deodorant isn’t even enough. It’s horrible! I find myself putting it on in the morning and at night before I go to bed.
Leaking Breasts & Spontaneous Let-downs: For the first few months, your breasts are going to leak. You’ll be walking through the grocery store and all of a sudden, you get a let-down. You can wake that sleeping baby and have them eat, but you’re still going to get leakage from the breast that is not being used. After a few weeks, sometimes months, you won’t get the spontaneous let-downs anymore (or at least not as frequently) but you may still have leakage from the breast that’s not being nursed. Luckily, they make breast pads for this issue and as long as you remember to use them, you won’t be embarrassed by big wet spots on your shirts. There are two problems with this though:
1. You are likely to forget those at some point (believe me, it happens!) and
2. The breast pads keep you from the embarrassing wet spots however, when wet, the disposable breast pads will stick to your nipples. This is especially upsetting when your nipples are already sore. (Little tip – reusable breast pads tend to not stick as badly!)
Biting: When I first wrote this post, somehow I forgot to include this, so I’m updating this post (April 2015). My first daugher bit me once and that was it. My son bit me maybe a total of 5 times and it was never too bad. My 3rd child (second daughter), who I’m currently still nursing, has bitten me SO many times! She bit me one time so hard it broke the skin and became infected. (If you are wondering, yes it healed, thank goodness!) It all started when she started teething, which was a few months earlier than her siblings started. I haven’t been bitten in a few weeks, so here’s hoping that the worst is over with!
All of those things SUCK, but let me tell you, it DOES get better!
Usually by about the 3rd of 4th month things have leveled out in my breasts, any pain has gone away, and the baby is nursing about every 3 hours (and nursing in faster sessions). Now, I’m still using my extra strength deodorant and nursing pads, but at least those are easy fixes. 😉
I say all of this not to discourage you, but to encourage you if you’re finding that breastfeeding is not the happy picture you often see in magazines. Many women, real women, DO struggle with breastfeeding. It may be natural, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have bumps along the way. If things are rough right now, just now that things do get better and you aren’t alone! So often during those first few months (with each new baby) , I’ve just wanted to cry and quit. I’ve managed to stick with it and thankfully things have always gotten better.