One of my very closest friends just had a baby almost two months ago, we have been friends for over a decade, got engaged a month apart and married a week apart. She has been a consistent person in my life over the past 10 years, a friendship I value and an opinion I genuinely respect. When she announced she was pregnant so many emotions overcame me, I was so thrilled for her and her husband and instantly became emotionally attached to this little human growing inside of her. Watching her become a mother has been an amazing experience, she does everything with excellence from the way she cares for her husband, her home, her job, and now her baby. I am so happy to have her as a guest blogger for all of my new mommy readers out there, you will fall in love with her heart by reading her words. A blog on Breastfeeding from my beautiful friend Danielle.
“If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.”
This is the mantra in many of the breastfeeding books I had read and spoken by the lactation consultant teaching the breastfeeding class I had taken in preparation of this new endeavor. As a first time (admittedly type-A) mother I felt strongly about two things: my baby would be fed breast milk and that I needed to absorb all of the information that I could in order to set myself (and my baby) up for the best possible outcome. I read the books; I took the classes; and when it came time to nurse my son for the first time, I was ready.
After a difficult 42-hour labor, doing skin-to-skin with my son was more meaningful than any of the books could have prepared me for. It was real. He was real. All of the planning and preparation for his birth had paid off. Our son was here. Not only was he here but he was healthy and strong. Having his bare skin on mine was the epitome of reward. This warm little (or in his case, big – 9lbs 3 oz.) body was created in love by my husband and me – he was ours; he was us. When it came time to nurse him for the very first time, he latched on right away and I was ecstatic knowing that I would be able to breastfeed him like I had planned. My husband and I were so incredibly grateful.
Over the next couple of days my excitement had turned to disappointment, exhaustion, and frustration. That little bit of advice from my prep work had surfaced with the realization that: breastfeeding hurt! Like toe-curling hurt and the baby still had to eat! I was disappointed to think that even though he latched on right away and even though my milk was coming in like it should, nursing was painful. I was exhausted from nursing so often with painful nipples and I was frustrated with myself for “not doing it right.” After all, “if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong.” I cried on more than one occasion as my sweet baby boy patiently waited as I tried to find a position that wasn’t painful for me. I felt defeated and so sorry I couldn’t get it right for him. I asked to see a lactation consultant during my hospital stay. The nurse came to see me the very next day and was able to give me lanolin for my sore nipples and showed me positions that would work better for my small frame and large baby. I thought this would be the end of my troubles but by the time we were home and didn’t have the support of expert nurses nearby, it was back to painful, cracked nipples for me and tears of frustration. It was at this point I went to the web for support. I felt alone and with the, “If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong,” adage stuck in my head, I felt embarrassed that I had failed.
Just as my milk was in full production and my breasts were painfully engorged, an acquaintance reached out to me to ask how I was doing. She confided in me that she breastfed and had a hard time with her first child, detailing how painful it was at first. That was a revelation for me: breastfeeding was painful for other successful breastfeeding moms?? I asked to see a lactation nurse at my son’s first week checkup. The nurse watched me feed him and said I was doing beautifully. He was latching on correctly and my milk was in full force. He had already gained back all of his birth weight plus some. “So why does it hurt?” I remember asking. Then, she told me what no one else had in all of my preparation: “It will hurt for the first couple of weeks.” But what happened to the mantra?? What happened to breastfeeding being all sweetness and light?? The nurse continued to inform me that as I was learning how to breastfeed, so was my son, and my body. She said my nipples would be sore for a little while and gave me some nipple shields to help heal them in between feedings. Flash forward six weeks and I can joyfully breastfeed my son while cooking dinner and dancing around to Bon Jovi with him. He’s gaining weight, my nipples are healed, and I now feel the urge to spread the word — the new, informed mantra: Breastfeeding: It hurts (at first)!
If you’re about to breastfeed for the very first time, or are doing your own preparation for this decision, do your research and ask questions, most of all, stick with it! There is a small percentage of women who cannot breastfeed for medical reasons. The majority of women can. Most first timers just need extra support to encourage them and assure them that it is a learning experience. Have patience; know there is support out there and when to ask for it. Having gone through my experience, I now believe the well-meaning advisors touting: If it hurts, you’re doing it wrong, meant that if it is painful to breastfeed, there could be a latching problem or other issues such as thrush or a clogged duct. These are actual problems that could be diagnosed from painful breastfeeding. Any kind of pain during breastfeeding should be addressed just to make sure it isn’t one of those three main sources but you should also know that breastfeeding can just be painful at the beginning – for no other reason than your body hasn’t done this before and needs time to adjust. This is my personal experience, everyone’s is different. I in no way am saying that breastfeeding should be painful – and if it’s not for you, I’m jealous! – but if it is, know it can hurt at first and you might not necessarily be doing it “wrong.” Utilize resources to find out why exactly it’s hurting for you specifically. Overall, stick with it! Yes, it can be frustrating and you may cry through each painful feeding because after all, baby’s gotta eat! But keep at it. You’ll never regret giving your baby the best start to life.