Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nursing Hurts ....at first (and intermittently)

Dearest nursing mamma,

Congratulations! Welcome to the club of motherhood. Being a mamma is the most amazing and awesome experience. You've just gone through pregnancy and labour (or an adoption process) and while it might have been crazy at times now you now have your little bundle of joy and it is all worth it!!

Nursing a baby is a blessing. Physically, emotionally and spiritually uplifting, inspiring and draining and taxing. Nursing my children has been unlike anything I've ever experienced and nothing like I'd read about. Please let me share my experiences with you as knowledge *IS* power. I hope that you can have a long and wonderful nursing relationship with your baby- and can successfully overcome the challenges you'll face.

Some people say that I'm being pessimistic- focusing on the negative aspects of nursing.I feel it is a disservice to new mother's not to have real information about what nursing is *really* like so they can prepare for it.

Have you ever ran a marathon? Probably not. Neither have I. Every year many people do. And in order to be successful they study up on it, talk to other runners about the challenges they'll face and they condition themselves mentally and physically- loading up on carbs and mentally rehearsing what they will do when they "hit the wall" and how they'll pace themselves. Then they can succeed. Do you know what happens when you don't do those things? When you don't prepare for it?


Yep, Phidippides the first marathon runner who ran to deliver a message 26 miles without stopping (as the story goes) collapsed and died upon arrival.

Does that mean you shouldn't do it? Of course not! It is worth it- just don't underestimate the work involved to be successful!

Such is nursing!! It is the first of many true acts of self sacrifice you will make as a mother (and you thought not drinking for 9 months was!). But don't be fooled -nursing is hard (at first!) And it hurts. EVEN IF YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT.

I've heard "it is not supposed to hurt". Sounds like the same fools who were trying to convince you that labour was just some "cramps" or a bit of "pressure. They are once again- dead wrong. (Buncha liars!) It is hard because it hurts. It is hard because your baby and your breasts seem to have developed their own relationship and have left you out of it. The success of nursing requires patience and a tolerance for pain and discomfort on your part but otherwise they (the breasts and the baby) will figure it out.

When I my first was born the nurse gave her to me and said " hold the breast like a hamburger not a cigarette" and then left me at it. My firstborn nursed for 3 hours straight- one side then the other. When someone finally stopped me I was so raw I thought my nipples might just fall off. It didn't get any better over the next few days. My darling was like a little hoover and wanted to be on the breast all day - every day- and all night. I didn't give her a soother as I feared it would impact my supply. Day 3 arrived with so much pain and hours of tears and my husband quickly rushed me to the lactation specialist who said my daughter's latch was perfect. She regained her birth weight in less than a week. She was a nursing pro. But I felt like a failure. I would sit and hold her and cry because she would cry and couldn't seem to nurse like I thought she was supposed to. She would frantically look for the nipple, latch, unlatch, latch, unlatch, cry and again and again we'd go. She would nurse for at least 45 mins each session with just over an hour between sessions- day and night. I was exhausted and in pain. Then just when i thought we'd figured it out my breasts started to grow- they grew three times in size and then my firstborn struggled to latch again. I was so engorged. I pumped and nursed and timed everything.

It took probably close to 3 weeks before it settled out. Before I learned to nurse side lying and before I stopped stressing about whether or not baby was getting any milk. 3 weeks of feeling like a failure. If someone could have told me that it was just going to be a few weeks I would have just persevered. I wouldn't have been tempted by the can of formula in the cupboard downstairs (which is a ploy by Nestle and such companies who know how hard it is and don't tell you so you fail as a nursing mother and spend a small fortune on fake food for baby). My firstborn was my only child to ever have any normal formula (my third is on pku formula for the rest of her life) . And I felt guilty about it- but at the time I didn't know what else to do. It seemed that my experience was nothing like I'd ever heard about.

Then, I was able to get a "nursing buddy" through our local health unit. A mamma who I never met , but who called once every few days at first and then once a week until baby reached 6 months. Who talked to me about her real experiences and her struggles and inspired and encouraged me. She laughed when I talked about milk shooting across the room and me naming my breasts different names because they had different personalities (mustang sally and plain jane!). When I had a question she couldn't answer she looked it up for me. The resources are out there (www.kellymom.com is the BEST online nursing resource site - even though it is not very easy to navigate it has an answer to virtually every question!)

My overall nursing experience was successful and has been 46 months so far. Please let me tell you what I never expected;

Plugged Ducts
Mastitis 2x
Thrush 8x
Nipple Blanching
Milk Blisters
Breast Pump Wound! ( I used the Medella Freestyle pump with soft cups and I boiled the soft cups as indicated in the instructions for 10 mins before use. They warped and I didn't realize it and when I tried to pump it ripped a piece of skin off my areola the size of a bean and the scab broke everytime I tried to pump. I called them and they said I wasn't the first with this issue and they now instruct only to boil them for 2 mins. )

Some of this is probably inevitable but some of it you can help prevent or overcome quickly- what can you do? Start with nipple cream- apply after every nursing session. Try to stay well rested, well hydrated and eat as little sugar as possible- I KNOW- but it does help with the thrush. Take care of yourself and treat nursing- especially in the first few weeks like the hard job it is- don't worry if baby takes a long time to nurse- emptying the breast will decrease risk of clogged ducts. When you do have clogged ducts- nurse. nurse. nurse. pump! nurse! Mastitis occurs from an infection that often proceeds plugged ducts. And watch your latch- baby will get into bad habits quickly! But most importantly- if you need help- seek it out! In today's society we don't seem to have the network of woman to support us in nursing as many of our mother's fed us formula! These challenges are just that- small challenges that you *can* overcome!

But yet it was all worth it. After the first three weeks or so (with each of the girls not just the firstborn) the pain was gone and I was able to indulge in the benefits of nursing (and they go well beyond the rapid weight loss most mammas have while nursing)

The milk drunk baby.
The peaceful sleepy night time nursing sessions.
The convenience of having the best nutrition for baby always ready at the right temperature.
Little hands caressing your skin, loving you and thanking you with their sighs of pleasure.
The knowledge that this is the best thing you can do for your baby and for yourself.
Nursing tickling sessions
Baby milkbreath

Nursing is the most beautiful natural thing in the world. Our bodies are designed to do this. Your breasts fill with white gold that is custom made to your little darling increasing health, IQ, and overall bonding. I'm excited to for you to enjoy this experience. There really is nothing like it - it is simply amazing. And once your breasts are conditioned the pain *does* go away. It gets easier and easier and it even feels relaxing. It is worth it- just like pregnancy and labour was worth it- so is nursing because it creates a whole new relationship between you and babes and once you succeed in nursing- you can do anything! So while nursing hurts at first (and intermittently) it doesn't hurt forever.


All nursing mammas- please share- what did you wish you would have known about nursing before you started? What are your best nursing memories?


  1. I wish someone could have told me how proud I would have been of my body when I look at my 6 month old baby and know that I did that!

    I also wish someone would have told me about lanolin cream!!

    Thanks so much

  2. i wish someone would have told me to weigh my baby any time i felt in doubt if he had enough milk. way more accurate than counting diapers or looking at the latch etc.

    i wish someone would have told me that aside from the health benefits of nursing, it also taught me so much in paying attention to my baby and listening to his cues more than anything else. that i alone would always know if he was hungry or not, even if he's in somebody else's care my breasts knew the timing very well.

  3. I formula-fed one son, nursed the other. Both experiences offered me moments of complete and utter bliss, snuggled up togehter, waiting to greet the dawn.

    But there is/was definitely an enormous sense of pride in MYSELF for having grown a baby, not just IN my body, but WITH my body. I have issues with boobs and had to overcome some awful mental hurdles to bring ANYONE to my breast, even a tiny, helpless baby. But I did and I am so, so proud of me for it.

    But dang, it hurt. For the first few months, it hurt terribly and my toes would curl and I everything seemed coated in purple, so often was I using Gentian Violet for thrush.

    I remember reading about other mothers' sense of grief when they stopped nursing their children and thinking, "What the HECK is wrong with you? Sheesh. Be happy to have your body back, already!"

    And then, my son weaned and I felt grief at the loss of that particular closeness and the sense of being the only two people in the whole world, for entire minutes at a time.

    Nursing pain passes. Nursing passes. All too soon, this too, passes.

  4. i wish everyone could put it into words like this, awesome blog carrie, i love it