“Breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.” You hear this little gem quite a lot from the experts. And it’s true – to a point. That point is usually about day seven or eight when your nipples have finally started to adjust to having a baby attached to them eight to twelve times a day. Before then, it can hurt. A LOT. Both you and your baby are learning a skill that’s completely new, after all.
Back in “the old days”, expecting mothers were sometimes told to toughen their nipples up before baby came along. Usually this sort of advice was followed by tales of scrubbing brushes, toothbrushes, or even sandpaper being used to accomplish said toughening! Now, while that sort of thing isn’t (often) recommended nowadays, it does say a lot about what was expected during the first weeks a woman was nursing.
(Let me just say here that breastfeeding is absolutely NOT the sort of thing where you should “grin and bear it” if you’re in pain. Pain means there’s something wrong. In our case, it was an undiagnosed, mild lip tie causing Chipmunk to have problems latching. While we both worked it out eventually, I could have saved myself a lot of pain if I’d known what was going on and how to correct it.)
To give you some idea of what breastfeeding can be like, here’s how I found my first ten days after giving birth:
Day One: Well, that certainly feels strange. Kinda tender too. At least we both seem to know what we’re doing. I haven’t dropped her yet, and the midwives reckon we’ve got a perfect latch/hold pattern going.
Day two: Tender, tender, tender. With the occasional bout of “holy crap, is she trying to bite it off?!” All this sucking must sure be helping to bring in my milk. Either that or Chipmunk just really likes the practise.
Day three: OH GOD WHY WON’T SHE STOP SUCKING?! Six straight hours of wanting to feed is NOT a happy thing for boobies! Or Mama’s sleep patterns, when it’s happening from 10pm to 4am. (A hot summer snap that came after a few unseasonably cool days left us both unprepared, especially since my milk hadn’t come in yet. Poor Chipmunk was pretty much sucking all the milk out as soon as it hit the nipple, and wanting a LOT more than was coming through.)
Day four: Complete and utter exhaustion. I didn’t realise it was possible to have 75% of ones’s nipples covered in scab. Took the advice of the midwife and gave Chipmunk a formula top-up after each feed on the breast to try to get her weight back up (she lost an extra 40 grams yesterday. Not a happy Mama OR baby) and give my body a chance to catch up. At least this advice worked – my milk came in at 1.25am that night. I spent most of this day absolutely dreading hearing her hungry, because I knew that meant she’d have to be on my nipples. And that HURT. Every single time she latched on I’d have to try not to cry/swear/yell because of the pain. I mostly succeeded. The only positive was that once she was attached, the pain lessened from “red hot poker” to “bearable under protest”.
Day Five: Milk supply still increasing. Baby finally getting enough, for now. Nipples still think I’m a masochist. Smearing breast milk on them, letting it dry, then covering with lanolin has been helping more than I can articulate these last couple of days. At least the scabs are slowly shrinking.
Day Six: We seem to be back to tenderness, for the most part. Still the occasional “ow, ow, ow” moment, but they’re a lot fewer. Chipmunk’s discovered the joys of slowed milk production in the afternoon/evening. She doesn’t approve.
Day Seven-Ten: Things finally seem to be coming together. The pain has all but vanished, along with the scabs. I think I might buy shares in the company that makes lanolin cream. There’s even (dare I say it?) the tiniest glimmer of a routine starting to form in our days.
Now, I know this little diatribe looks rather scary. Please, please, please don’t let it put you off breastfeeding! Believe me, preparing formula bottles every time bub is hungry is a thousand times worse. I only had to do it for 24 hours, and that was enough to make me determined to get through the pain. (Besides the fact that, well, formula is terrible for babies.)
I think a big part of why so many women stop breastfeeding is because they’re fed the “if it hurts you’re doing it wrong” line, but then not given any support after that – so they switch to formula when they can’t figure out how to make the hurting STOP. It’s easy to not know what’s wrong, especially if you’ve never had anyone show you how breastfeeding is meant to work. Humans are kinda dumb compared to a lot of animals – we need to be shown a lot of what the rest of the mammalian kingdom just picks up naturally.(By the way, if someone tries to tell you that nursing should be “easy” because it’s “natural”, I suggest hitting them with the closest heavy object you can lay a hand to. Giving birth is “natural”, too, and look what a mess we’ve made of that!)
If you’re at all unsure about nursing, need advice or help with latching, or just want to meet a few people who’ve been there and done that, track down a breastfeeding class (the La Leche League has support groups worldwide) or consultant. Most hospitals will have a lactation consultant hanging around you can talk to. Some also offer classes. And above all, know that you CAN make this happen. After that first fortnight, mine and Chipmunk’s breastfeeding relationship has flourished, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.