So, contrary to what everyone says, breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally. Not to everyone, not to many actually. It’s also not always peaceful, relaxing or serene like the media portrays it. Many women struggle to breastfeed their baby. Besides those who actually struggle with supply, it can also be a traumatising experience for others, discouraging them to continue. There were many times I considered giving up because it wasn’t as easy as what I thought it would be. If you’re struggling with breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, please keep reading.
When I was preggers, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to breastfeed once my child was born. I didn’t really think about it or pressure myself into committing to it. I’d heard friends’ and family’s stories about how they were devastated they couldn’t feed their child because of low supply or medical issues and I didn’t want to put myself in that position. I was already quite gutted by not enjoying my pregnancy as much as I was made to believe I would. I refused to get sucked into other expectations so I wouldn’t be disappointed in myself. And I had the same attitude with how I was going to end up giving birth (natural vs. caesar).
So it was very much an on the fly decision. I had just given birth, and about half an hour later the nurse asked me if I wanted to try to breastfeed. “Sure!” I said with so much enthusiasm. I was on such a high after finally meeting my son, I wanted to dive right into motherhood. So there I lay in the recovery room with my husband on one side and my new son on the other, gently sucking away. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him and I was still crying and shaking uncontrollably. I’m sure the euphoria and drugs distracted me from the actual process. Well, cut to about day three when right on schedule, my left breast suddenly became hard. Rock hard. Like someone had plugged me into an air pump and inflated me. I wasn’t quite sure if that hardness was ok so I told the sister on duty to which she squealed “Wonderful! Your milk has come in!” before squeezing the said swollen breast. OUCH! And that’s when I remember the pain starting.
After feeding him for a few hours that day, I began feeling exhausted. And every new feed, my nipples got more and more sore. I asked for a lactation consultant several times, to make sure I got help before I was discharged the next day. Unfortunately no one told me they were on leave so I carried on feeding him the way the first nurse and the sister told me to. “Just shove it in!” I kept telling everyone that I was in pain but didn’t get much more than “Shem…that’s breastfeeding” or “Yeah, it happens, that’s normal”. As we were being discharged on the third day, Kai’s hospital paediatrician was pleased to see he had a strong sucking reflex and casually mentioned he must be feeding well. She took one look at me and saw how distressed I was. I was on the verge of tears when I told her how difficult I was finding it and I didn’t get any lactation consultant. That’s when she took very necessary action, got an older, more experienced sister to sit with me and show me exactly how my son should latch on, how I should disengage his latch, how I should hold him. All very crucial things when it comes to feeding that no one had told me and of course I didn’t know.
There are techniques and proper ways of feeding. You don’t just shove your boob in your baby’s face and let him do whatever. It’s not something that just came to me because I’d never done it before. She advised to try and hand express to relieve myself of extra milk, get nursing pads to help soak up leaks and a good nipple cream if my nipples got worse. They did. They became red, raw and scabby. I began to dread feeding my son. I’d cry most of the times he’d latch on and be absolutely exhausted after he was done. But I kept remembering what the sister told me; if he doesn’t latch properly, keep breaking his latch and get him to re-latch until he’s done it properly.
After doing a quick bit of research over the next few days, my husband went out to buy me my survival kit: Tommee Tippee electric breast pump, Lansinoh nipple cream and nursing pads. By that time, both breasts looked like bad breast implants and were leaking profusely. I applied the nipple cream religiously after every single feed and within two or three days, my nipples were back to normal. Not pre-preggers normal but my new normal. So latching became much less painful. I was able to relieve myself of extra milk during the day by expressing and refrigerating the milk for my husband to do the night feeding shift so I could get a decent night’s sleep and continue to recover. Feeding was still not a walk in the park though and I found myself wondering why I was continuing.
I then watched this video and it changed my life. It was the most comprehensive guide on breastfeeding that I could find, at a time I was very desperate and vulnerable. I hope it helps you as much as it did me. I followed its advice step by step. About ten days in, after continuing with the pumping, creaming and padding, I began having little moments with my boy. And the first time he corrected his latch on his own was the moment I realised that we both hadn’t known what on earth we were doing. It was as new to him as it was to me. We had to work together to get to that point and we did. It was my first proud mommy moment.
I’m now proud to say I exclusively breastfed my son for four months, until I returned to work. I’m no longer in pain and I genuinely enjoy that time I have with him. We chat, cuddle, hold hands and I have quiet time to just look at him. It’s really not as easy as they have you believe, it’s hard work that requires commitment and determination. I had to push through. Particularly during those seemingly endless growth spurts when all he wants to do is eat. After the first one came, I knew I had to switch off and plonk myself on the sofa with several shows to watch as part of my ‘nursing vacation’. (This is when I discovered the magnificence of Orphan Black and Power). Now, I whip out my boob whenever he’s unsettled, getting a vaccination, tired. Oh yeah and hungry.
Please don’t do this alone if you’re battling. If you want to breastfeed your child, and you have supply, keep going. Try to get in touch with a lactation consultant to help you assess what’s causing you pain.
You’re not a failure, you’re just learning something new. Both of you are.
Did you breastfeed? How was your experience?
Thank you so much for sharing this Aisha! I’ve always suspected I wasn’t being told the whole truth about mummyhood and made a pact with my friends that if either of us got married and had babies we owe it to each other to tell the truth and nothing but the truth to any of our friends yet to have the experience. I got to learn quickly that breastfeeding was not the ‘smiling mother looking down at the smiling suckling child scenario. One of my friends said massaging her nipples as often as she could (hubby helped) some weeks before her due date helped make the first breastfeeding a lot less painful. Thank you again for sharing. Your are a wonderful mother!
Hi Hadassah, thanks so much for your comment, you’re so sweet. And I try at being a good mommy, doesn’t always happen but I’m doing my best 🙂 Lol at “I’ve always suspected I wasn’t being told the whole truth about mummyhood” yeah I didn’t suspect it so it kinda hit me like a truck!
Oh wow. Thankfully, you got over!
It’s great you are sharing your experience, and more women on the interwebs are sharing their own personal experience of motherhood.
I have always suspected that having a baby is not one endless loop of rainbows and butterflies and new mom joy, but I never thought breastfeeding in itself could be a complicated thing. I’m far from ready to have a baby lol but I enjoyed reading this. My friends are getting married soon, and this is good to know, and share with them!
Thanks AB. Nope, it’s definitely not a loop of rainbows and butterflies and we women have been told that for too long. Some people say I shouldn’t share such things because it’ll disuade someone from becoming a mother. I don’t think so. The way I see it, there’s nothing wrong in knowing the more truthful experiences either. In the world of oversharing, we’re really undersharing our experiences when it comes to motherhood because there’s so much shaming attached to it.
After giving I also has rock hard brests and it took a few weeks to get used to the idea breastfeeding, pumping and knowing the correct breastfeeding positions. I was able to breastfeed him exclusively for 5 months then I went back to work but I decided to continue breathing though it will be in the mornings before work and evening when I get back. My baby will be 8 months next week Tuesday and so glad that I never gave up and “soldiered” on!!
Hey Lydia, thanks for sharing your experience. I’m also still feeding my boy morning and evenings after work. After a scare that my milk was finishing, I realised that I’m really enjoying doing it. It’s our special bonding time 🙂
Well done ntombi. I’m glad you didn’t stop. I have 2 kids of my own so I can relate. my breasts were dry for the first 3 days with my first, I thought I was cursed. I experienced the pain you describe when I stopped breastfeeding my second. we tried it 3 times honestly until my aunt took her away and left me to suffer. I hope I’m not scaring you. I hope that goes down smoothly, better.
Hi Aisha, I’ve been flowing your blog since I went natural two years ago and I am a first time Mom too. My son was born 9th January so he’s a mere 22 days old right now. I had a slightly different experience but similar with regards to the sore/cracked/scabby nipples but where we differ is that I am struggling with milk supply. Although my breasts were rock hard on day 3 the milk was not flowing out of them and it was so too much effort for the baby to get the out, so he dropped a lot of weight and so we started supplementing with formula and I started pumping and I am still pumping. I feel like I am playing a catch up game because every week he needs more milk but am producing enough milk for him at one week younger. I’ve tried everything and am still trying anything and everything to increase my supply. I won’t give up and your link was useful. Thanks for writing about this.
Have you tried tea, lots of it?
Hey Masiye, I’m so glad you found the link helpful. It’s normal for your supply to be a bit behind your baby’s demand because your breasts produce on a supply and demand basis so they need a bit of time to catch up. I hope this won’t deter you, just do what you can. Please let me know how you get on!
Hi Aisha, I’ve been reading the manmonday posts and I realised that I didn’t update you over a year ago. So in the end my supply stepped up once my dosage of my thyroid hormone tablet was increased. I have an under active thyroid and although it was under control throughout my pregnancy when it came to breastfeeding the game changed. After 6 weeks I stopped supplementing with formula and I breastfed my boy until he was 14 months old. I loved breastfeeding and I am glad I never gave up!
Beautiful read Aisha, thank you for sharing your story.
Thankfully my experience wasn’t bad on both occasions. But I do remember that rock hard boob and not knowing what the hell is happening the first time around. I thank God for signing up for a class a few weeks before my son was born, that’s where we learnt about latching and the lansinoh nipple cream.
Thanks Nyachirambo. You’re lucky you had classes before. I didn’t know it was even something to learn. They have prenatal classes that focus on giving natural birth and that’s about it. For me I guess the info would’ve been better shared with me as I was doing it because there are so many things to remember, it gets overwhelming.
Oh my why didn’t you write this 4 years ago!!! I gave up because too much pain baby not latching Drs not so supportive and baby with low blood sugar …. lots of things against me and I felt like a failure but I realized it was what it was and no need crying over spilt milk. So I did the next best thing expressed as much as I could until baby was 4 months and I had to stop (on steriods for a month due to an anaphylactic reaction) thankfully my baby is fine and now I am better armed if baby number 2 every happens.
Thanks for posting this. Link saved and also sent to all my pregnant friends
Lol, because I only went through it last year! Hehehe. It’s definitely the most frustrating and vulnerable experience I’ve gone through and I hope sharing it will help others in not feeling as alone. Thanks for sharing it with your friends x
My twins were born at 34weeks so they spent three weeks in NICU. During those three weeks I was pumping almost every three hours to keep them fed. It was a lot. And I was dealing with a sickle cell crisis. They finally let me breastfeed them the day before they were discharged. The nurse just shoved my nipple into Kai’s mouth and no one came to help me with Nandie. Feeding them was painful. I would scream and cry every time I had to breastfeed them. I would feed them at the same time to keep them on the same schedule. It was like having two piranhas on my boobs. I stopped exclusively feeding them and we introduced formula as it was too much on my body to produce enough milk for two babies and to recover from child birth and a sickle cell crisis. And i needed help, i needed to rest. I also stopped feeding them for about three days because they got nipple confusion, they couldn’t switch from the bottle and the breast. I finally got a lactation specialist to help me. My husband and I decided that it would be in everybody’s interest if I didn’t put the pressure in myself to be super mummy. So I breast feed for comfort, boredom. I exclusively breastfeed when they are sick.
Eseza, you’re my hero. I can’t imagine feeding two babies at once. It was hard enough as it was with the one, my goodness! We really go through it though hey? And honestly, people really downplay lactation consultants. I think we’re expected to just grin and bare it, it’s horrible. High five to you fellow mama x
I had as easier time with my first child but my second one not so. I was in pain for the first week due to poor latching. Endend up with sore, cracked and bruised nipples. For once I felt like a failure. Why wasn’t it working like the first time. I used to cry and feed. When I couldn’t take it anymore I sought out a lactation consultant and discovered my son had a tongue tie thus he was not able to latch properly. She advised me to stop breastfeeding to let my nipples heal so I had to endure painful pumping sessions since I don’t want to introduce formula. We found a doctor to fix his tongue tie and things are much better now. It’s not easy so don’t try to do it alone. Seek help when it get tough.
Hi Ju, you know I funnily hadn’t even thought it would be as much of an issue with my second child. Now I’ve checked myself. The feeling like a failure thing is so horrible and crippling, especially at a time when you’re so vulnerable. Thanks for sharing your experience.
I’m so glad that people like you who have a wider reach aren’t talking about this,it is only when I felt so defeated that I found out that things like tongue tie exist which causes baby to not latch on properly in the beginning,and it is also only then that I heard about Nipple shields that help with breastfeeding problems.The midwife at the hospital in Germany gave them to me,I visited home (Namibia),shortly afterwards and guess what ,Baby’s R Us or Dischem also store them .Why does no one recommend them when in the hospital ?? I’m truly disappointed in the lack of insight from our nursing professionals
Hey Igondo, thanks for weighing in. I’m glad I have this platform to share my story as I really hope it’ll help someone else. I think we don’t talk about things because we’re scared of judgement. As moms, you’re judged from the time you announce your pregnancy. So many things are expected and everyone gives unsolicited advice. But the professionals should definitely be putting our mental health as a priority as well as helping us recover physically. Because what good is a physically healed but mentally traumatised new mother? I was extremely disappointed and felt let down those first few weeks of motherhood.
Wow. I’m in my first trimester right now and reading your blog gives me such comfort! Thank you so much for taking the time to write these posts. They are helping *someone* out there, trust me.
Hi Char, thank you SO much. Your comment has really touched me. When I made the decision to share my experience, I did it with women like you in mind. So, thank you for reading my blog. I hope you’ll continue to find comfort in it throughout the rest of your pregnancy and beyond. Many hugs to you x
Beautiful Read Aisha 🙂
I enjoyed it. Xo
Thank you Olivia x