I was hesitant to blog about this (it’s a bit of an emotional/personal topic), but after watching two moms in my post-partum class dissolve into tears recounting their breastfeeding troubles, I realize that such problems are a lot more common than we are lead to believe, and that sharing my experiences might save someone else from weeks of needless agony — both emotional and physical.

Breastfeeding has been extremely challenging. The first five weeks of it were, in a word, hell.  The subsequent few weeks were very difficult, and only in the last two to three weeks can I finally say that breastfeeding has been going smoothly and relatively painlessly.

We learned about breastfeeding in our prenatal class, and my biggest take-away was that most babies will latch properly on their own if given the opportunity via early skin-to-skin contact. Baby-led breastfeeding, as it is known, entails placing the baby on the mother’s chest and allowing the baby to find the breast by smell and sight. Apparently, this will usually result in successful latching within a couple of hours.

Although Oliver was placed skin-to-skin with me immediately after birth, I was in the unfortunate position of having my upper body reclined and my legs up in stirrups for two hours, while the midwives and obstetricians figured out how to stitch my extensive tearing — not exactly ideal nor comfortable positioning for a successful first latch. I was also very uncomfortable and upset during the process, which resulted in Oliver being fussy and anxious at a time when we should have been relaxing and bonding. It was three hours later by the time all of the stitching and other postpartum procedures were finished and I finally had a proper opportunity to breastfeed. But by this time, Oliver seemed ravenous, so we forewent the time consuming baby-led latching process in favour of just getting him on the breast as quickly as possible.

I believe that our failure to achieve a good latch in the early postpartum hours definitely set the tone for our subsequent difficulties.

The next complicating factor was the shape and size of my nipples. As my nipples are somewhat flat/inverted, Oliver was not getting the necessary cue of my nipple touching his soft palate, and was thus outright refusing to latch on — turning and shaking his head, closing his mouth, and crying. By the next night after birth, I was extremely upset and Oliver was obviously starving. The one thing I was supposed to be able to give my son to nourish and calm him was instead serving to frustrate him and make him cry even more. I was heartbroken.

The next morning we had a visit from our doula, who offers breastfeeding support as part of her services. She showed me how to shape my breast with my hand in order to provide more firmness and protrusion so that my nipple could reach Oliver’s soft palate. With considerable difficulty, we got him to latch, and I was finally able to feed him. The latch was painful and it would regularly take 10-15 tries before he would actually start suckling, but I was focused on just getting Oliver to be able to eat. Quite honestly, I figured that the pain was an adjustment to a new sensation and a normal part of the early days of breastfeeding.

By the next day (day three), my nipples were excruciatingly sore, blistered and cracked. The midwife took a look at my latch, deemed it to be okay, and gave me lanolin ointment and a nipple shield to help prevent further trauma while my body healed. By the evening of day four, Oliver began vomiting blood. We took him to Children’s Hospital to get checked out (because we had declined the Vitamin K shot, there was a chance that this was an early sign of Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding), and as it turned out, the blood he was vomiting was my blood, and it was coming from my damaged nipples.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I tried every breastfeeding aid I could find: nipple shields, breast shells, nipple formers, gel packs, ointments. I began pumping in the evenings just to give my nipples an opportunity to rest. Some days, I would have to feed exclusively on one side because the pain on the other side was unbearable. I dreaded every single feeding session and began to experience tension headaches that lasted for days. I was also really sad that something that was supposed to be so natural and beautiful was so difficult for us.

Four weeks after Oliver’s birth we had our prenatal class reunion and the topic of breastfeeding difficulties came up in conversation. I mentioned that I was experiencing a lot of pain, and our prenatal instructor graciously offered to look at my latch. She immediately identified the problem and gave me some assistance in trying to fix it, but by this point, the bad habits were ingrained and Oliver was resistant to change. She referred me to a certified lactation consultant, who was able to visit me at home less than a week later.

The lactation consultant was wonderful and very, very thorough. First, she ruled out any physiological issues, such as tongue tie (interesting note: there was no mention of my nipples, so apparently flat/inverted nipples are not considered by the pros to be a “problem”). Then she showed me, using doll and breast props, how the latch was incorrect and what we would need to do to fix it. Then finally, after five weeks of suffering, I experienced my first painless latch! It was such a huge relief to know that pain-free breastfeeding was possible, but I felt like an idiot for not having sought assistance sooner. At the end of the session, she wrote a series of instructions and cues for me to help me remember everything I needed to be doing and/or looking for when initiating a latch.

One other thing the lactation consultant pointed out is that flattened “orthodontic” pacifiers can exacerbate certain breastfeeding problems — as they did in my case — because they encourage babies to compress the nipple between their tongue and the roof of their mouth. We had to discard all of our existing pacifiers and re-train Oliver to use a more rounded nipple. He never really took to the popular GumDrop pacifier, but we have had moderate success with the Playtex Binky “Most Like Mom” nipple.

It takes a lot of time and effort to undo five weeks’ worth of bad habits, so the following few weeks were a mixture of good latches and bad latches, good days and bad days. I was told to be ruthless in not accepting bad latches, but sometimes Oliver was so ravenously hungry and riled up that I just had to let him latch (poorly) so he could calm down.

Now that we have the latch more or less mastered, I no longer dread feedings. I’ve also noticed that Oliver feeds much more efficiently (this is also probably a function of age and size), and that he’s coming off the breast satisfied. In the early weeks, I would often end up removing him from the breast prematurely because the pain would become unbearable. This lead to even more fussing and anxiety surrounding breastfeeding.

The reason I have shared this story is that I think there are a lot of women who ultimately end up giving up on breastfeeding because it is painful and/or the baby has difficulty latching. If I hadn’t been so well apprised of the benefits (to both Oliver and myself), and hadn’t thus been so determined to make it work, it really wouldn’t have taken much to convince me to switch to bottle feeding. We are told that breastfeeding is easy and natural, so when it turns out to be difficult (difficult being a huge understatement in my case!), it’s easy to believe that we must have some sort of insurmountable flaw that will prevent us from doing so; that we must be one of the very small percentage of women for whom breastfeeding simply doesn’t work.

When we have baby number two, J and I have already decided that we will hire the lactation consultant in advance, and have her visit us as soon as possible after the baby’s birth so that we can start off properly, right from the beginning. Her expertise made a world of difference, and was probably the best money we have spent since Oliver’s birth.

33 responses to “BREASTFEEDING

  1. Thank you so much for sharing! I know I want to breastfeed but have heard a lot of my friends get frustrated in the first 2 weeks and gave up, so I was nervous I wouldn’t have a good experience. Now I know to not hesitate and get the advice right away. 🙂

    • I would even go as far as to suggest getting the help pre-emptively. Have someone lined up who can come and visit you as soon as possible after the birth. This way you not only prevent problems from arising, but you actually have the opportunity to develop excellent habits right from the start. A 90-minute home visit was $95 (and it’s reimbursable by extended health insurance). In the context of all the money we spend on frivolous stuff for babies, this is a very small investment that pays huge dividends in both mom’s and baby’s health.

  2. First: good for you for persisting and seeking help. Like you, I can easily see why a lot of women intend to breastfeed and then abandon it when they hit painful stumbling blocks.

    Second: thank you for sharing this. Other women need to hear these stories. That it wasn’t perfect and easy from the beginning.

    We saw a wonderful LC in Vancouver (Reenie is her name) before my son was born. We took a two hour private class on breastfeeding and it was excellent and worth every dollar. When I needed advice in the early days my LC was available by phone (free) or for a home visit at a reasonable rate. Next time I will do something similar and possibly get a home visit or two in the first few days for coaching and technique.

    Happy to read that things are going well for you and Oliver now. Well done!

    • Thanks, Rachel. Taking a class beforehand is a really good idea! I realized a few weeks ago that we’d actually had the opportunity to attend a separate breastfeeding class as part of our prenatal education package, but somehow we forgot and never registered. Silly…

  3. The first weeks of breastfeeding *are* hard as a mom and a baby learn to do the dance together. I had weeks of over-supply that left my wee one gasping, choking, and spitting up a lot. Then came the plugged ducts, a near encounter with mastitis, and a galactocele. Our local hospital offers free breast-feeding support classes for moms and babies and it was definitely the thing that kept the ball rolling for us. Like you, I was convinced of the health benefits and would have forged ahead through the pain regardless, but having help makes it much more bearable! The lactation consultants also offer free hours where anyone can drop by for help and we used that service a lot! It definitely gets easier.

    My not-so-wee-one just turned four in October and she still has her milkies before bed (being 29 weeks pregnant, I’m definitely ready for her to be done!). I never thought we’d make it to the first year. After the first year, I figured we’d be done by two. By two, I was certain she’d wean at three. One day at a time and the years have piled on! The definite perk is that she rarely, rarely gets even the slightest sniffle even being around her preschool group of children. Short of the odd food intolerances that we were able to catch early, she tends to have an amazing immune system. Right now, thinking of nursing our second baby for the next four years is downright daunting…we will perhaps aim for 6 months to start; I’ll even be happy getting through the first week with my nipples intact! :-). Small steps.

    It is so hard to be the primary source of nutrition for our babies–it’s a lot of responsibility. I think we’ve all sat and cried tears of frustration/helplessness on our wee ones heads at one point or another. Hugs for you! Seriously, I think I read everything about breastfeeding and didn’t quite get the take home message of exactly how exhausting and painful it could possibly be–especially at some absurd hour like 3 am! New mommies definitely need this post. (I am still in denial, even though mommies with their second or third babies still come into La Leche League with latch difficulties–even after breastfeeding their first for a very long time. Definite denial here!).

    • “It is so hard to be the primary source of nutrition for our babies–it’s a lot of responsibility.” Yes! I’ve said more than a few times that it is both a blessing and a burden to have the one thing that will always, without fail, calm Oliver down.

      I can’t believe you’re 29 weeks already! 🙂 I will be curious to hear whether nursing goes a lot more smoothly for you this time around, since you are still lactating. Maybe you’ll be able to dodge all of the pain and other issues you experienced last time.

      • So as not to scare anyone–we did not make it to four years in a constant state of pain! Nearly all problems subsided at around 3 months and then it was definitely easier. Also, I should mention that a lot of problems went away entirely (recurrent plugged ducts) once I removed gluten from my diet–once all grains went, life was much more cheerful on the sleep front too. Pumping and working make things more challenging, but it’s do-able.

        I am not certain I am still lactating. D. might have been comfort nursing (which was very painful in the first weeks/months of pregnancy due, I think to having no milk). At this point, I might be making some milk again; it’s hard to tell. She will insist that I still have milk, but it’s definitely not the same as pre-pregnancy. Again, it’s one of those hurdles I mentally placed in the category–“We certainly won’t be nursing then!” I too am very curious about how it will go this time around, especially since I am starting off in a place of having better digestive health due to a (mostly) grain free diet.

  4. Thank you so much for this blogpost. I’m 26 weeks pregnant, and being able to breastfeed is so important to me, but sometimes I feel like popular culture tries to dissuade me from doing so because it’s “too hard.” I’ll definitely have to look into a lactation consultant now, and I’ll be signing up to take a breastfeeding class this winter. It seems like having proper support is the biggest key to successful breastfeeding!

    • At first, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever believe that breastfeeding is easier or more convenient than formula feeding, but now that we’ve more or less got the hang of it, I would say that it’s most certainly the easiest option. It’s portable, available on demand, and doesn’t require heating, mixing or cleaning. I think the key is definitely to get help when needed and to be prepared to tough out some difficult days (or weeks, as the case may be).

  5. Thank you for sharing. I am pregnant for the first time, and everyone in my family has had trouble. I am hopeful that we can push through and make it happen though.
    And thanks for the tips. Sounds like finding a good LC is a must.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing. I am past due now by 4 days, so anytime now! I am going to breastfeed and am a little nervous but your post has helped me realize that I will need to be proactive in asking for help. It is comforting to realize that it can be hard but there is help out there!

    • I hope that baby decides to arrive soon, and that your labour and delivery goes as smoothly as possible! Good luck with everything 🙂

  7. Thank you so much for sharing this experience! My darling momma had so much trouble breast-feeding me that she gave up after a few weeks and switched to formula. I’ve been afraid that I might have the same experience. But knowing that it’s possible to push through, I will definitely fight for my baby’s right to proper nutrition! BREAST IS BEST!

  8. Hi. I started following your blog after I got pregnant and I love it. I’m also a crossfitter and (somewhat) paleo. I wondered how i was going to keep things up throughout my pregnancy and you and all the moms at my gym kept me motivated. I also exercised right up until the end and I’m sure it made my delivery easier. My girl was born on 9/14/11. I only lasted a little more than 5 weeks breastfeeding. My experience was a little different, but equally stressful (low milk supply, fussy baby, lactation consultant, pumping around the clock, exhaustion, frustration, etc). About a week after I stopped, I got the best advice from a friend. She said not to make any major decisions during the first 6 weeks after delivery (too bad I already did). Since then a couple of people have said similar things – that it takes two months to iron out all the kinks and get to something that works for you and your baby. I have to say that my biggest regret so far is quitting breastfeeding. Its kind of a decision that you can’t undo, so i hope your experience helps others to stick with it!

    • Congratulations on your little girl! Her birthday is exactly a month after Oliver’s 🙂 Even though breastfeeding didn’t work out as a long-term option, at least you know that she received the benefits of colostrum and breast milk in the critical first few weeks of life. I wonder if it really is too late, or if you could somehow stimulate milk production again to do some part-time breastfeeding?

  9. Great post! I went to my local Australian Breastfeeding Association (like La Leche League but down under) while I was pregnant and believe it was key to persisting through early challenges and breastfeeding for 18 months! Definitely get advice and support beforehand.

    • I haven’t checked out the La Leche League groups here, but I’ve heard really good things about them. It would definitely be worth attending some of their meetings during my next pregnancy.

  10. The best advice I ever got about breastfeeding was from a friend who was talking to me on the phone when I attempted to nurse my day-old, first baby. In the middle of our conversation, I made a comment about how much it hurt. She said, “Oh, it shouldn’t hurt. If it does, the baby is on wrong. Break the suction and try to relatch.” It is simple, but can be very helpful when trying to figure everything out. Of course, there are a myriad of other factors that affect breastfeeding and I definitely agree that some time with a lactation consultant is priceless!

    • Before Oliver was born, I’d heard many times that breastfeeding, if done properly, shouldn’t hurt, but when I complained about pain afterwards, most people simply told me that there is an adjustment period and that some pain is to be expected in the beginning. That may be true, but I think the expectation of pain contributed to me waiting way too long before deciding that we really did have a problem.

  11. A lot of moms may have enough milk but may not be able to properly pump it out. It is so important to have the best breast pump that will do a good job in extracting the maximum amount of breast milk per pumping session. There are huge differences in breast pumps too, some work and some don’t. It helps to have to the right one.

  12. I just stumbled onto your blog through MDA. This is definitely an important post since it’s something that should be so “natural” and yet it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I also kept with it and was eventually successful with my first child after many tear-filled and frustrating days and weeks. I just wanted to say that you will probably notice such a difference with your next child. My second child came along and he latched right away and there were absolutely no issues at all other than a little bit of tenderness in the first couple of weeks. It was such a night and day experience. Thanks for sharing your story!

  13. I stumbled upon your blog while searching for a paleo chicken recipe and I love it! I think it’s awesome that you nurse your son and I personally try to encourage the expecting moms I know to do the same because the bonding and benefits to it are awesome! I nursed all my kids and I’m still nursing my 21 month old and I’m only 29. I think it makes the biggest difference when the hospitals actually support it rather than wanting to offer the mothers formula right away. From experience when I went into labor I told all the doctors and nurses that under no circumstances my baby would not be bottle fed. They had a note on the door that stated it. It really helped. Good Luck on your journey!

    • Thanks Konnie! This post was actually from last year (I don’t know why WordPress doesn’t publish the year!), and I am happy to report that at 14 1/2 months, Oliver is still nursing a couple of times per day. I’m lucky to live in a community that is very supportive of breastfeeding moms, to the extent that I’ve never had anyone push formula on me or give me funny looks for nursing in public, but I must say it sure would be really helpful if the support was more proactive (i.e. lactation consultants provided to all moms) right from the get-go.

  14. Thanks so much for your insightful and honest post. I found your site by accident too while researching “Paleo and CrossFit pregnancy” online. Lucky me : ) I am excited to know I can continue my fitness routine and though scaling may be necessary, staying active until the end is not only possible but it can make the labor process much faster and less painful. I am in my first trimester and plan on breast feeding as well but I did not know about the difficulty many new mom’s face. Your advice (and all the subsequent posts on the subject) is invaluable. We will definitely be taking some classes ahead of time and a LC is a must on our birth team along with doula and midwife.

  15. Pingback: Why not breastfeeding was never an option : Wholesome Mamma·

  16. I had a somewhat similar experience: five weeks of absolute misery — I would dread seeing my son wake up, because it meant I would soon have to feed him — which I endured because I expected nursing to hurt. I shouldn’t have: in desperation, we went to a very knowledgeable and experienced lactation consultant (Jane Bradshaw in Lynchburg, VA) who figured out right away that our son had a tongue tie and a lip tie. Both the hospital pediatrician and the hospital lactation consultant had missed this. Within a week he had his ties clipped, and although the change was not immediate (he had to unlearn his bad habits) within a few weeks he had figured out how to suckle without hurting me. He’s almost eleven months old now and I’m still nursing him when he asks for it, and it’s entirely painless. I’m glad I stuck with it, and very grateful to Ms Bradshaw for figuring out what our problem was.

    • Wow. That’s a pretty big oversight for both a pediatrician and an LC!

      So glad you were able to work through it. I learned from last time, and with this next baby, I’ll be hiring the lactation consultant at the first sign of trouble. No enduring five weeks of torture first!

  17. I went through something similar. At about 2 to 3 weeks after giving birth, my nipples were cracked, bleeding, open and misshapen. I was having trouble getting my son to open his mouth wide. I got a LC who took my son off the breast to let my nipples heal and I had to feed him via a tube kept with my finger (so he suckled my finger while sucking on the tube). Two weeks went by when my nipples got a little better and we tried again. It immediately bled and reopened. We tried laser two or three times and he went back on the tube. I tried several more times and it would bleed again. When my nipples eventually seemed somewhat ok I tried latching him again and he refused. I tried for months to latch him again and he had become so accustomed to the fast flow of the tube that he refused to latch again. I kept on pumping though to get him all the breastmilk because I knew of its benefits and switched to giving him the breastmilk in a bottle. He is 12 months old and I am still pumping although my breastmilk is drying up now. I hope to breastfeed the next baby I have. What problem did you ave though, because they couldnt figure out mine.

  18. I have the same problem with you as i also have flat nipple that made baby hard to latch. My nipple extremely painful, bleeding, sore, cracked, and i came to the point i gave up breastfeed so now i bottle her and regularly pump my breast 😦

    My consultant could not help much with this problem as i still find it difficult to latch on my baby. Could you please share the tips and notes given by your consultant to get correct and painfree latch? And how you shape your breast to make it easier for baby to grasp in her mouth?

    I really wish i could proper latch my second child later.

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