It’s been a glorious few months with my beautiful baby girl, and I’ve been breastfeeding since the moment she was born. The colostrum was ready to go and she had a good latch. I figured this was going to be easy! And, overall, it has been. But, during the first few weeks I had my share of “issues” – things you think someone would have told me about.
I’d heard of mastitis, poor latching, poor milk flow, flat nipples, leaking breasts, and that it was going to “hurt like you rubbed your nipples with dry washcloths until they were raw.”
I’d heard of some things that would make breastfeeding and pumping easier, like:
Nursing Pads (double true)
Pumping Bra (because it just makes logical sense – not to mention the fashion statement.)
Nursing Tanks (Nice for when the nursing bras are in the wash)
Gel Pads (though these didn’t do much for me)
I was proactive and put these items on my registry, but my mother was convinced no one would buy those things for me.
“They want to buy things they want, not things you want.” Who’s registry was this, anyway?! (Turns out she was right – I received some lovely gifts that weren’t on my registry, but also some “well-meaning” gifts – with no gift receipt. That’s enough for a whole other post.)
Lucky for me, I had a friend in my office who had recently given birth to twins. She gifted me the lanolin, nursing pads, and a pumping bra (if you’re pumping, get
one two). They were some of the most helpful gifts I received.
What follows are the issues I’ve had and any sort of remedy I’ve found. I’m not a doctor, I’ve never played one on tv, or even been one for Halloween. My personal experience is not a substitute for seeking your own medical treatment.
MY TOP TEN SURPRISES ABOUT BREASTFEEDING
Surprise 1. Raw Nipples
The first few weeks of feeding, my nipples were raw. And they hurt. This one wasn’t much of a surprise as they were being sucked on 10+ (sometimes 15+!) times a day.
SOLUTIONS: Lanolin. I started with the samples from the hospital, then moved on to the full size tube of Lanisoh Lanolin. After a while, I read the directions and it turns out I was using it wrong. It said you were supposed to rub a little bit between your fingers and then apply it – it helps warm it up and make it easier to put on. Darn it – my penchant for never reading directions strikes again.
I also used the nursing pads (which are a godsend since not having those on made me feel like I’d just gone for a run, bra-less, in some cold weather).
Surprise 2. Peeling Nipples
A few weeks in, the skin on my nipples started to peel.
SOLUTION: I used a wet towel to help slough it off. It didn’t feel great but afterward they looked better.
Surprise 3. Blisters
Then I got a little blister on my nipple.
SOLUTION: I didn’t pop it or play with it because I didn’t want to get whatever was inside of it in my daughter’s mouth. This went away on its own. (I’m guessing this was due to an occasional shallow latch).
Surprise 4. Cysts
About 3-4 weeks in, I developed white lumps under the skin of my nipple. Nursing hurt. Really bad. Like bad enough that I dreaded having to feed her. I knew it was important to offer both breasts, so I nursed her on that side anyway. Oww.
I thought this was a clogged duct, but I learned that would hurt inside of my breast tissue, not on my nipple. After some more reading, I thought it might be a clogged pore since that seemed to be on the nipple itself.
The doctor’s nurse suggested a warm shower/compress/massage. The warm compress felt good, but overall it didn’t work. I tried gel pads and they felt good for about 4 seconds before they became body temperature. After that, I didn’t see much of a point to them.
After showing a lactation consultant at the hospital via a breastfeeding support group, and my doctor, I was told they were cysts.
SOLUTION: They went away on their own. (It just hurt a lot in the meantime).
Surprise 5. Nipples Crack & Bleed
I was feeding my daughter one evening and when she pulled away, I noticed blood coming out of a crack in my nipple. Not wanting to feed her blood, I called the on-call doctor. After many questions about my medical history/current status (everything is normal just for comparison), she said I could still feed her on that nipple.
SOLUTION: She suggested I use lanolin to keep the nipple moisturized. (The crack went away on it own after this one breastfeeding session.)
Surprise 6. Fast Let-Down
A few weeks in, my milk started to come in much faster than before. The instant I pulled the bra away, I’d be dripping milk onto my pants. This was less than ideal.
SOLUTION: “Milk Savers.”
There are different brands and price points of milk savers. This one (see image above) was in my price point ($17 for the pair) and by a brand I trust.
When I knew I was going to need to feed, I would put one of these bad boys on the leaky breast, and start the feed on the other breast. Then when she was done on the one side, I’d remove the milk saver and feed her on that breast. By the time I removed the shield, I’d capture up to almost half an ounce of milk. That adds up! I would then pour it into a milk storage bag and put it in the freezer.
*Update: I consolidated the small bags of milk I’d saved over the course of a few weeks, and I had over 6 ounces!
Surprise 7. Slow Let-Down
On the other hand, it turned out that the non-leaky breast was a really low producer. And, not every set of breasts will produce the same amount of milk from both sides, so I knew this was normal. Even though I switch sides when feeding, and try to make sure she hits both sides before the feeding is considered “over,” it still didn’t seem to help. I had visual confirmation of this when pumping as this breast only drew half as much milk as the other side.
SOLUTION: To stimulate the lower-producing breast, I had my daughter feed on this one first almost every time. Her suck is harder at the beginning of a feeding, so I used her mouth power to draw more milk out.
I also slowly (and minimally) hand express while she’s feeding to give her more milk and more incentive to keep sucking. (If she isn’t getting anything, she’ll get fussy and upset, and rightfully so.)
Hand expression into a bottle (after feeding) helps too because sometimes the pump isn’t strong enough to express the milk, and this helped get the remaining milk out of the breast and let it know that it needed to keep producing.
*Update: After doing these things for at least a week, the lower-producing breast started to produce more milk, and the over-producing breast is leaking less (after no longer being the go-to breast for feeding). I’d say it’s been successful.
Surprise 8. Lightning Breasts! (Thrush)
About 5 weeks in, we had a friend over who had given birth a few months prior to me. We started talking about breastfeeding and I mentioned how I read that “let-down” was supposed to feel like pins and needles. I said my breasts felt like that all the time, and all over. She said, “That’s not normal.” I looked for an answer online, and it sounded like it could be thrush (a very uncomfortable yeast infection in the breast).
SOLUTION: I called my doctor and explained the symptoms, and she called in a prescription for Diflucan for me (not my daughter as she wasn’t showing any symptoms). I took it for 10 days and I’m happy as a clam to say that helped tremendously.
I spoke with another friend who had thrush as well, but her baby had symptoms of yeast in his mouth. My baby didn’t have any of those symptoms, so keep in mind that it effects everyone differently. If your breasts hurt after you’ve been breastfeeding (and it’s not just soreness or overuse), or if your baby has white in their mouth that can’t be wiped away, I’d suggest getting on the phone with your doctor.
Surprise 9. Red, Itchy Nipples
While the thrush stopped in my breast tissue, for weeks afterward my nipples were red and itchy and quite uncomfortable.
SOLUTION: The doctor suggested I use Nystatin cream on my nipples after every feeding. I did this after every feeding during the day, and had to change my breast pads and wash my nipples before I could feed her. This adds a few steps to the breastfeeding routine. I did this for almost 10 days straight and it helped a little bit, but they were still itchy.
What I found really helped was allowing my breasts to fully dry off before putting my bra back on. It’s common sense now that I think about it, but it took a few weeks (and some online research) before this solution presented itself to me.
Surprise 10. It’s so worth it.
Despite the setbacks, breastfeeding is one of my greatest joys of motherhood. Her feedings are my most favorite times of day as I am able to spend priceless one-on-one time with my daughter and experience her in a way no one else gets to. I’m trying to savor every minute because I know this won’t last forever.
I’ve read many statistics on how many mothers give up breastfeeding at different points early on, and I’m determined to keep going as long as makes sense for the two of us. It’s a beautiful thing. Do it if it’s right for you.