Before having kids, I pictured early motherhood in several scenarios–mostly charmed–but I can promise you that not one vignette in my mind’s eye was that of me, standing in a hot shower, squeezing my own nipple to within an inch of its own life.

I will pause for a minute to let that image sink in.

(Also, it turns out nipples are a lot tougher than we give them credit for. So are moms.)

 

 

Surely I can’t be the only mother who has been able to tap into a heretofore-unknown reserve of gumption/strength/patience/nipple toughness since having kids, right?

I mean, have we all been this badass just under the surface the whole time, and just didn’t know it until we had kids? (Rhetorical question. Answer is YES.)

Anyhow, I’d like to say this isn’t a post just about njpples, but it totally is.

So many of my mom friends (and I!) have been experiencing issues with nursing lately, so I’ve done a little digging for my fellow Bosom Brethren to give you some tips on how to make nursing as easy as possible. …You know, except for the whole popping-your-own-clogged-duct-with-a-needle thing. That’s on you.

So, here we go:

How to Survive Breastfeeding: Tips and Tricks


First, the obvious: Why is Breastfeeding So Damn Hard?

Ugh, I wish I knew the answer to this. God hates us? Punishment for that whole Eve thing? Because we women are so fabulous in every other damn way that we had to pay our dues somehow?

Who knows. But literally every mom I’ve ever spoken to who’s attempted nursing has said the same thing: This shit is hard.

And because of that, so many women stop nursing earlier than they’d prefer.

But if you want to continue, there’s no reason to give up sooner than you had hoped. Just know that it’s going to be a bit of a journey before you get to toes-not-curling-in-pain part.

Despite the fact that nursing is very much a “natural” thing for our bodies to do–inasmuch as, our bodies make the milk, the babies (generally) know how to get the milk–it feels anything but natural to allow someone to suck on part of your body for such long lengths of time that s/he actually draws blood, or at the very least causes some ohmygod level of soreness.

I think, and many of my mom friends agree, that the initial “toughening up” period is the hardest part to get through. This period, for me, lasted around a month of exclusive nursing. It’s going to be different for everyone, but know that as long as you keep nursing, the searing pain of latching will die down considerable with every passing day. It’s gonna suck for a little while. No pun intended.

Stick with it if you can and if you want to, and know that it will get better. That’s my take.

But of course, even though I have a story or two (or a thousand) to share on this topic, I thought it was best to get advice from a seasoned expert who has seen nearly every breastfeeding-related problem a woman can encounter.

Amy Bassett is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with Lactation Consultants of Central Florida. That is a whole lot of titles and words which all add up to… she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to breastfeeding.

When I asked Amy point-blank why nursing is so tough, she had this surprising response to offer:

“Breastfeeding is hard for a lot of women because of the lack of communal knowledge and support that is prevalent in our culture. When a mom does not reach her breastfeeding goals she is not to blame; our healthcare system, economy, and ideals are often the underlying influence on her success.

When a mom does not reach her breastfeeding goals she is not to blame; our healthcare system, economy, and ideals are often the underlying influence on her success.

“Until approximately 70 years ago, breastfeeding rates in America were very good. Moms and babies were supported, and breastfeeding was so basic that it was not hard to find help when you needed it. A young mother was surrounded by a village of women (her grandmother, mother, aunts, cousins, friends, etc.) all of whom likely breastfed and were capable of teaching her how to feed her baby.”

Her simple advice? Don’t give up too soon. More on this below.

Breastfeeding–not all smiles

 

So What Can I Do in Those First Few Days and Weeks to Relieve the Pain?

Here’s what worked for me.

It sounds counterintuitive, but I practiced the “nursing through it” approach, which means, even in the times I was experiencing discomfort, I continued to nurse on demand, and slathered on this nipple balm between feeds. I also found that keeping a schedule helped to get my body acclimated more quickly.

But remember, don’t nurse through pain.

“Pain is never normal–not even in the first few days and weeks. Soreness and tenderness can be normal in the first week as hormones are surging making nipples more sensitive, but it should never hurt or result in cracked, bleeding, or misshapen nipples. A good latch is the best prevention for pain.”

A good latch is the best prevention for pain. –Amy Bassett, CLC, IBCLC

I also called in the experts. I reached out to lactation consultants not only in the hospital, right after delivery, but also after I got home.

Please hear me when I say that these women are actual angels on earth, and they can help you in a serious way, not only with the technical aspects of breastfeeding, but also with encouragement to keep going, if that’s what you’d like to do.

Here are some things I asked my lactation consultants over the years: Are there any new positions I can try? Is it normal that this/that/the other thing is happening with my nipple/boob/baby? How do I unclog this duct? Why is this baby nursing for AN HOUR AND A HALF AT A TIME?

Just ASK! Ask whatever it is that’s on your mind, and even if she can’t tell you something that will immediately relieve your pain, she will be able to give you something to do that will help make it better soon.

Amy says:

“I encourage moms to make small goals and to celebrate when they achieve each and every one of them! Breastfeeding in the early weeks is very time consuming and often confusing.

I encourage most moms to practice two nursing positions in the first few days, [for] up to a week … the cross-cradle hold and the football hold.

If mom also has any challenges with breastfeeding (e.g. low milk supply, nipple pain, or difficulty latching) these hurdles can feel insurmountable.

“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘Never quit on a bad day!’ It’s also very encouraging for moms to hear that breastfeeding does become easier and will rise as the more convenient feeding method after about 3 months. This period is commonly referred to as the ‘Reward Period of Breastfeeding.'”

You hear that, ladies? It gets easier! (I promise, it does.)

Here are some things I asked my lactation consultants over the years: Are there any new positions I can try? Is it normal that this/that/the other thing is happening with my nipple/boob/baby? How do I unclog this duct? Why is this baby nursing for AN HOUR AND A HALF AT A TIME?

 

Any Must-Have Gear to Make Nursing Easier?

Amy says, “I love the healing and therapeutic properties of silver nursing cups. These little miracle workers are naturally anti-bacterial, anti-microbial, and anti-fungal with anti-inflammatory agents, making them an excellent choice for healing cracked or bleeding nipples.”

For me, the key to getting into a good nursing routine has always been to get comfortable. In addition to having a good nipple cream to soothe pain (here is my favorite), you might also want to look into purchasing a nice nursing pillow, which can help adjust you and baby to a good nursing position. The better you feel, the more likely you are to keep nursing.

Also get some great nursing bras that make access easy. I live in these nursing bras for the first year of my baby’s life and find that having a bra with easy access for nursing makes all the difference in being comfortable and being able to nurse on demand.

 

Hey, Sonni–Are You One of Those Weird Moms Who Nurses in Public?

Why, yes! Yes I am. If you have seen me in public while one of my children was under the age of one, there is a decent chance you have also seen one of my nipples. (By the way, they say hello!)

No, seriously though—I was super uncomfortable nursing in public with my first. It just felt like everyone was looking at me…. Like, “Hello, I’m Sonni! Meet my boobs!”

But as it turns out, most people have better things to do than to stare awkwardly at a mom nursing in public, and if they don’t and they insist on staring, you have my permission to throw a poopy diaper at their heads.

With each I child got progressively more comfortable nursing out and about because, well, I had to. Fact: You can’t plan your older child’s entire life around his baby sibling’s nursing schedule; therefore, public nursing.

*insert shrugging man*

So I grabbed some good swaddle cloths and a cute nursing cover, and went to town. Get comfortable, sister. It’s natural, after all.

 

Okay, So We Are Finally on a Good Nursing Routine… Now How Long Should I Be Breastfeeding?

The World Health Organization recommends exclusively breastfeeding baby for the first six months. But you already know what I’m going to say next: You do you.

Each woman can decide how long she wants to nurse her baby. And if you’re having troubles or simply don’t want to nurse anymore, no need to stress about it. Remember this: A fed baby is best.

As long as your baby is getting all the nourishment he needs, you don’t need to stress about how he’s getting it. Don’t be a hero or martyr to breastfeeding. Be a mom to your baby.

I wish that mothers would not feel guilt when breastfeeding doesn’t go well. Unfortunately, many mothers do feel tremendous guilt and shame when this happens.

And if you end up stopping breastfeeding before you had hoped, don’t feel guilty.

“I wish that mothers would not feel guilt when breastfeeding doesn’t go well. Unfortunately, many mothers do feel tremendous guilt and shame when this happens. There is no universal time or circumstance when it might make sense to make peace with altering a mother’s breastfeeding plans, but I strongly encourage every mother who is considering throwing in the towel to meet with a lactation consultant.

“Nearly every situation can be greatly improved–many times issues with latch, low milk supply, pain, or slow weight gain can be easily and quickly resolved with proper help from an expert on breastfeeding. A good lactation consultant will help a mother come to her own decision about what’s next and support her in this decision, regardless.”

 

Here are the Takeaways:

Know that breastfeeding most likely won’t be easy, and most often will involve some discomfort. This is normal.

Ask a lactation consultant (through your hospital, or an independent group) for advice and counsel as much as you need.

Talk with other moms to hear about their experiences. You’ll be surprised how many have been in your shoes.

Invest in a good nipple balm, a comfortable nursing pillow, great nursing bras and nursing covers.

And above all—do what works for you. Even after getting all the advice you possibly can, and trying every last thing, don’t stress if breastfeeding just isn’t for you and your baby. Motherhood is all about adjusting, and just making things work. Your “normal” will be different from every single other mother out there; that’s how it is. Isn’t it wonderful that we all find different ways to do one beautiful thing—raise babies?!

 

Still have questions? Amy has answers! Check out her Facebook page here; she’s helped tons of moms get over some serious nursing hurdles and can help you, too.

Thank you, Amy, for all your wonderful advice! It’s because of women like you that we mamas can keep on feeding.

 


 

Okay, fellow moms, hope that was helpful! Keep the faith and keep the flow!

 

Do you have any funny nursing experiences or advice for new moms? I’d love to hear from you! Pop into Comments below, or find me on Instagram or Facebook!

 

 

Sonni Abatta is an Orlando-based lifestyle and mom blogger and a mom of three. Want to chat or collaborate? Reach out here!

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