4 tips to get you through that rocky beginning.
"Breastfeeding is awesome! It’s easy, it’s convenient, it’s free, it’s super healthy for you and baby – I love it and I can’t imagine feeding my baby any other way!"
Yeah, sure. After a few months, maybe, but when my daughter was four days old, I wanted to quit.
Okay, “quit” is maybe the wrong word. More accurately, I wanted to rip my nips off (seemed like it would be less painful). Or at the very least, I wanted to drive my daughter back to the hospital and give her to someone who knew what they were doing.
Experienced moms who have breastfed their children would tell you that “once you get past the ‘hump,’ it gets easier.” But that hump is actually a good six weeks in, and when you have a brand-new baby and you’re in pain, six weeks seems like a really, really long time.
The first night home from the hospital was the worst. I had gotten off to a really good start with the baby in the hospital – she latched on immediately after birth, and although it was uncomfortable, she was able to nurse consistently in the hospital. When we got home that night, however, I found myself dealing with a screaming, red-faced newborn who could not seem to latch on to my cracked and raw nipples. Every time she got close, I would flinch, frightening her and starting the squalling all over again. I felt like a failure. It took two weeks for my nipples to heal, four weeks for me to stop flinching, and right about two months for me to be able to walk through Target and breastfeed while shopping for sheets.
At almost five months old, my daughter is exclusively breast-fed and has gained nearly ten pounds since birth. So how did we survive our rocky start? Here’s a few things that helped me get over the “breastfeeding hump.”
- Realize that compromises might have to be made. That first night home, I kept trying to latch her on and she kept screaming. My husband asked me, “Why can’t we just give her a bottle?” I sobbed out, “Nipple confusion!” Eventually, I got so tired that I pumped out what I could (barely an ounce) and gave it to her in a bottle. She fell asleep immediately, I got a shred of sanity back, and it didn’t interfere with her ability to latch on later. Sometimes, it’s about whatever works.
- Utilize your resources. I was so determined to do everything right. I have one inverted nipple, and despite knowing this I refused to use a nipple shield without express permission from a lactation consultant. Well, I didn’t ask to speak to one in the hospital (mistake!) and that nipple ended up raw and cracked in a matter of days. Once I reached out to the hospital’s lactation team and bought the shield, it became a hundred times easier to latch baby on. And honestly, I don’t think we would have made it this long without it.
- Vent. There’s no getting around it. Breastfeeding is hard. And it really helps to have someone to complain to. I joined a group of moms online with babies that were all around the same age as mine. They became a great resource for support and suggestions that helped us push through, and reminded me not to sweat the small stuff.
- Get educated. I can’t stress enough how important this is. For something that’s so natural, breastfeeding is something that you and your baby will have to practice and master. Read a book on nursing (sometimes the hospital will give you one for free). Watch YouTube videos of newborns latching and different breastfeeding positions. Link up with the local La Leche League chapter and visit their website. Knowing, for example, that milk is produced on a supply and demand system will stop you from giving up when you inevitably hit that first growth spurt.
The more you read, ask and talk to other moms, the more you’ll realize: the struggle to breastfeed successfully is completely normal. But for me, it was completely worth it. I’m always sorry when I see moms that want to nurse quit early on because “it was too hard.” On this side of the fence, it is finally easy, and convenient, and healthy, and all that great stuff. It just takes a little time.