Painful breastfeeding is the reality for many (most?) new mums. I found breastfeeding absolute toe-curling, wincing agony. Actually with Toddler H, every time she tried to feed I was in tears. I had been adamant I wanted to try to breastfeed before Toddler H was born, to the extent I didn’t take a bottle or buy any formula before her birth, I was thrown completely by its reality. Breastfeeding was absolutely agony I cried and cried. I cried every time she attempted to latch. Not only that but as H was tongue tied, something we didn’t know for a few days, it didn’t get better for a couple of weeks until after it was fixed. My husband begged me to stop breastfeeding, he held my hand and hugged me as H tried to latch. I can’t describe the pain. I just remember if felt like she was biting my nipples off, or maybe cutting them off. I also can’t describe how horrified and confused I was at seeing my nipples black, blood pouring out and them chapped and hard. There was milk there too. The midwife was horrified when she saw them.
I didn’t know any different, I didn’t know this wasn’t just how breastfeeding is. I hadn’t read anything about how hard and painful breastfeeding was. All anyone said was “breast is best” “you are going to breastfeed aren’t you” “breastfeeding is easy” “you’re not doing it right if it’s painful”
Our NCT classes didn’t mention it. Yes, for a few days perhaps but not weeks. I kept going because we kept being told we’d have a phone call that night to have H’s tongue-tie fixed. I wanted to see if that helped before I stopped breastfeeding. It did. But if I’d had another child already I’d have given up, I’d have got it fixed privately, I would not have had the time to sit for hours on end trying to feed a new hungry baby. Her feeds lasted an hour as she kept falling asleep, loosing weight and not really getting any milk. We did top up feed using a bottle as well as H lost too much weight. If we hadn’t we were on the cusp of being admitted back to hospital. We also continued to bottle feed after her tongue tie was fixed so hubby continued the bond he’d formed feeding that bottle. I expressed while he did the feed. I just really wanted to experience this lovely breastfeeding experience we’re told exists, the natural experience that I’d almost had in those first couple of feeds before my nipples were massacred.
So after having a second baby and a completely different experience, I thought it might help others to warn breastfeeding is painful and isn’t easy. I completely understand how so many try to breastfeed and stop. It’s something that is rarely talked about, the NHS pushes breastfeeding and will never suggest to a mother, no matter what pain she is in, that she bottle feeds or uses formula – something I think horrendous. In our case they were sending us back to hospital before suggesting formula. The pressure they put on new mums must be putting some off even trying to breastfeed!
The painful reality of breastfeeding:
- Baby is learning to latch
- Your nipples aren’t used to it
- Baby is really really hungry
- It does take time to feed, but bottles take time to prepare and feed and burp too
- It hurts, like agony ripping through you, like your nipples being pulled off, BUT IT WILL GET BETTER.
By 6 weeks in my experience it was much easier, a walk in the park by conparison and I wondered where and when the pain had disappeared. With Baby B it was this easy after one week. I know friends found similar, as we met up at 6 weeks and all said how it was now so much easier.
With Baby B I got a lot of help with her latch while in hospital for those first few feeds. It didn’t come completely naturally, she needed help, and despite being a second time mum I needed to be manhandled by midwives to get it right. I also had to insist that I was sure she wasn’t latching quite right, despite them saying they thought she was at times. After a day we had figured it out and it got easier and less painful much much quicker. I learnt that every baby is different. Just as every baby is different, every mum is different too, and I know that means some persevere, and some don’t, some have other considerations, other children to consider, and other priorities. With Baby B, again I wanted to breastfeed, I wanted to enjoy that experience again and I knew it would take work. This time however, I did have bottles sat at home and the Perfect Prep, in case we faced the same hurdles as with Toddler H. I knew if when hubby went back to work, I was sat for hours feeding at a time, that would not work with Toddler H. I’m a stay at home mum and can’t just feed Baby B all day, it’s not fair on Toddler H.
I’ve experience both extremes and there are products to help breastfeeding, nipple shields help with the pain and the latch, something that helped mine recover from their blackened state. I couldn’t have continued breastfeeding without them. After a couple of weeks, and once H’s tongue tie was fixed, I didn’t need them. Likewise Lansinoh have a ‘Latch Assist’ product which helps pull out inverted nipples or when baby is having trouble latching. There are also cabbage leaves and cooling pads you can put in the freezer, lanolin cream, which I’d say is a lifesaver – it was AMAZING helping my nipples cope and recover.
In both my experiences of breastfeeding, it got much easier and after a few weeks it did feel easier and natural. It is worth persevering if you have the support, the time and the opportunity. There are many misconceptions on why you may not be able to breastfeed e.g. inverted nipples, but there are ways to help. I also found a lot of support online and there were local breastfeeding groups I could have gone to. Without those support networks and rede oured to find nipple shields for example, I couldn’t have continued to breastfeed. I’d have been pleased I tried for all the reasons I say I wanted to breastfeed.
It’s ok to try and stop, its not easy, it’s not magical and it’s not painless, but it does get better, easier more painless. I’d also say if you try breastfeeding and find it hard, speak to others, ask help, use Google, or bottle feed.
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