Readers beware: This post has a little TMI regarding nipples. There, you’ve been warned.
I successfully nursed two baby boys. They each got one year of the good stuff before they weaned to whole milk. I regularly got calls from friends, and friends of friends, who were having nursing problems. I was the resident expert–always proud and happy to help.
While pregnant with my third child, a girl, nursing issues were never on my radar. After all, I had two solid years under my belt. I worried about balancing three kids while recovering from a C-section. But not once did I consider that my biggest obstacle would be the painful, frustrating, and exhausting mission of nursing this baby.
I have one inverted nipple. This is very common. My boys had no problems figuring it out. I didn’t even need any accessories (nipple shields, etc.) to help them. I suffered through the six painful weeks of latching before the pain subsided (just like everyone does).
This time it was different. This time the pain was so bad I cried every time my sweet little girl latched. Baby girl didn’t like the inverted side. She latched on and off and on and off. Her latch was called a “vampire latch” (a lactation consultant friend, who helped me throughout the process, told me this). I cried. The baby cried. It wasn’t pretty.
It got so bad that I dreaded feeding her every two hours, and became consumed with the pain. When I wasn’t experiencing it, I was thinking about it. I curled up in the fetal position in bed every time I finished nursing her. I handed her to my husband or my mom and said, “Come and get me when she’s ready.” I didn’t even sleep–I just laid there, thinking about the pain.
Through it all, I was determined to nurse this baby. Breastfeeding was important enough to me to suffer a little. After all, I did it before. I felt like I would be letting myself and my family down if I didn’t really give it everything I had.
People told me to pump. People told me not to pump. People told me to use a bottle. People told me not to use a bottle. There was concern about maintaining my milk supply if I pumped instead of letting the baby nurse so early on.
Advice from friends didn’t stop there–ice my nipples, play soft music, and light candles to relax. They recommended magic nipple creams and even suggested that I put cabbage on my breasts. I was too mentally exhausted to allow any of these methods to help me.
I also wasn’t eating. Although I don’t recommend this as a weight loss method, I lost 30 pounds in two weeks.
Two weeks into this ordeal, I was crying in my car while nursing at a t-ball game. My phone rang. It was my pal Piper. She is a super mama (and super friend) who was currently breastfeeding her fourth baby. I just let it all out to her on the phone. I cried, telling her about how the pain consumed me. She listened, then simply said, “Why don’t you just go home and pump, and see what happens. It doesn’t mean you have to stop nursing. Maybe it will give you a break from the pain, so you can relax and think clearly.”
That seemed simple enough. Pumping one time wasn’t going to ruin my milk supply.
I went home and I pumped the painful side. I even produced a few ounces of milk. It didn’t hurt! In that moment I actually felt all of the anxiety and the depression leave my body.
I decided that I wasn’t going to go backwards. I felt great physically and emotionally. I was just going to nurse her on my good side. If she needed more milk, we’d give it to her from the milk I had expressed in a bottle. The next time I nursed the baby, tears streamed down my cheeks. I whispered to her, “Don’t worry, we never have to do that yucky side again.” And we didn’t.
For the rest of my nursing experience, she nursed on one side, and I pumped the other side. Amazingly, my body figured out what was going on. I made enough milk to sustain her using only one breast. In fact, after a few weeks of pumping, I had so much milk in my freezer that I regularly donated it. Believe me, I never saw that one coming. I even gave a bunch to a friend who adopted a baby.
Was it my plan? No. Was it working? Yes!
Were my breasts lopsided? Yes! Did I care? No!
Later on, my lactation consultant friend told me that what I had experienced was similar to a type of post-traumatic stress disorder. It was the pain that overwhelmed me. It consumed me. It wasn’t healthy for me, or the baby.
Moms have a way of putting insane amounts of pressure on ourselves. But babies and kids are happiest when their parents aren’t stressed out lunatics. What I’ve learned is not to worry about what the rest of the world thinks. Trust your instincts. You’ve got this.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some lopsided bras.
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