There is a belief among many pregnant women that breastfeeding should come easily and naturally, especially if your birth goes according to plan. You should sit, looking all powerful and majestic, and your baby will naturally latch on while you gaze lovingly into their eyes. It will be magical, natural, organic, and generally beautiful… like parenting in general (haha, that was a joke).
But what if that doesn’t happen? What if the picture is more like this…
You see the hunger cues that your baby is displaying and know they are hungry. You start crying and cursing because you just fed them 10 minutes ago, and your nipples hurt. In fact, your nipples hurt so bad that you don’t want anything to touch them at all, let alone a baby who is very hungry. They are likely cracked and bleeding. You spend the next 20 minutes bawling while you attempt to feed your baby, and dread the next time they are hungry. In response, your baby is also crying, because this is obviously a very stressful situation.
It’s not pretty, but I am here to tell you that there is hope, and ways to build a happy breastfeeding relationship. If you are reading this and you are already in the thick of a stressful breastfeeding journey, welcome, I hope this helps you even a little. If you haven’t begun breastfeeding yet, don’t let this scare you, but definitely invest some time to prevent this from happening.
In no particular order, here are my top 7 recommendations to reboot your breastfeeding journey:
- Get help. You do not need to go at this alone; there are people that can help you with breastfeeding problems. I would suggest contacting a lactation consultant, who can address any physical issues (like tongue tie), latch issues and any biological issues that may prevent you from breastfeeding. Also contact your local La Leche League leader. Going to LLL meetings can help immensely with troubleshooting, and also to build a support system that will rally beside you along your journey.
- Nipple Shields. Yep, I just said that. So if you don’t know what a nipple shield is, the first thing you may find out about them is that they are slightly controversial in the breastfeeding world. They should not become a necessary item in your breastfeeding routine, but they can help when your nipples are cracked and bleeding. Just make sure to stop using them once you are feeling a little better, as you don’t want to be dependant on them. You’ll want to find a nipple shield that is incredibly soft and flexible, so it’s not like attaching a bottle nipple to your breast. If you need help selecting a shield, pop me a message and I can discuss the different kinds with you.
- Tylenol. Taking a pain medication prior to breastfeeding will help with the pain. And if you’re worried about medication getting into the breastmilk, worry no more. Dr. Jack Newman tells us in his book, Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding that very little will even get into the breastmilk, and that the risk of not breastfeeding is far greater than breastfeeding while on medication. Take that Tylenol guilt-free; it can save you in the long run.
- Feed baby before they are starving. I know in the moment when breastfeeding creates so
much anxiety, you really don’t want to feed your baby until they really really want it, but if you respond sooner, your baby will be less vigorous. Noticing your baby’s cues as soon as possible will help with a more gentle and relaxed feeding. The chart below illustrates what your baby’s cues will look like. When in breastfeeding hell, try to catch your baby in the early signs of hunger.
- All Purpose Nipple Ointment. I advocate for all natural nipple butters daily, and typically they work great. I also recommend that moms let breastmilk go all over their nipples and then go topless for as long as possible. Breastmilk and air are going to be great for you, so definitely do that. But when you need something more, Newman’s APNO can help. It’s a mixture of ingredients designed to help with pain, fungal infections, and candida, which can be leading causes of sore nipples. Specific ingredients can be found on Dr. Jack Newman’s website, and you will need a prescription for it, but it is definitely worth getting.
- Latch, latch, and re-latch. When determining a good latch, use how you feel as an indicator. Even with sore or cracked nipples, if you get a good latch, the pain should subside. If you continue with a poor latch, it will just get more painful. Don’t let anyone tell you that it looks like you have a good latch if you are in a boatload of pain. If you are in pain, the baby needs to be re-latched, and you are the only one that will be able to tell a good latch from a bad latch (particularly if it looks good from the outside, but definitely hurts on the inside). Going back to number 1 on this list, a Lactation Consultant can definitely help you attain a good latch with troubleshooting. Click here to see detailed instructions on ensuring a good latch.
- Information. Information and knowledge are power, and you can have the power in your hands. Literally even, with these books. My favourite breastfeeding books are, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by The La Leche League, and Dr. Jack Newman’s Guide to Breastfeeding by Dr. Jack Newman and Teresa Pitman (also, I have to note, I LOVE Teresa; she is an amazing, resourceful woman).
Breastfeeding can be one of the most amazing parts of your parenting journey, and it is the perfect activity to bond and grow with each other. However, if you are just trying to stay afloat in the rocky waters of breastfeeding hell, it can do quite the opposite. But don’t stop trying to swim… you got this, your baby’s got this, and you can rock the hell out of your breastfeeding journey. There are resources and if you want the help, it is out there waiting for you.
Happy breastfeeding, I believe in you. Legit.
Edited to add: As someone who I respect pointed out, and to address something that is very very important within the parent/baby relationship, please be easy on yourself. Please remember that your entire role as a mother does not depend on this one thing, and if you do choose to stop breastfeeding, or you are one of the rare people that literally cannot, it is okay. I hold no judgement whatsoever.
I was once the mom with the cracked nipples, crying my eyes out at every feeding, exclusively pumping for weeks, and quit way earlier than I wanted to. I still hold guilt, and wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. This was over 15 years ago when there was nothing on the internet for tips and tricks for breastfeeding troubleshooting. I didn’t even have The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, or know that LLL was an organization!
All my well meaning support people patted me on the back and told me that it was okay to stop. Not one person gave me the tools I needed to actually get through it. So even though everyone told me it was okay, it took me years to see what I actually needed, which was resources. I will provide resources now, and also tell you it’s okay if you make the informed choice to stop. Being an active participant in the decision making, after knowing ALL your options is what will help avoid guilt. All the people in the world can tell you how to feel, but if you don’t believe it yourself, it won’t make a difference. Just know that you are powerful, strong, beautiful… and human.
Yes, I will write an entire other blog post on mommy guilt, that edit was way longer than I anticipated.