Breastfeeding is so damn hard.
At first, your nipples are sore. They crack and bleed and every time you feed your Sweet Baby, the release of oxytocin signals to your uterus that it should begin to make its way back to its place just behind your belly button from up below your breastbone. This process is called involution.
No one tells you that you can feel every. bit. of that movement or that it hurts like hell!
Or maybe they do, but we’re so focused on labor that we pay no mind to the struggle that breastfeeding can become.
I remember one night, Baby must’ve been no more than a week old, I was sitting in the living room feeding her with my Husband and Mom sitting in the room too. Every sip of milk she took caused my uterus to contract and the agony I felt was nearly unbearable. By the time she was finished I handed her off to my Mom. Or maybe my Husband? I don’t know. I didn’t care. I curled up into a ball on the floor to help ease all the discomfort I was feeling and by the time I could finally stand up, I walked out of the room and down to my bedroom where I just laid alone and tried not to cry.
(Trying to establish breastfeeding moments after being born)
Yes, it’s true that if you’re breastfeeding properly it shouldn’t hurt at all. You shouldn’t crack or bleed or suffer, but what if it’s your first child? What if your mom didn’t breastfeed you or your brothers or sisters? What if you don’t know anyone who has breastfed or have never really watched anyone breastfeed? What if you have no proper guidance, but you also know this is the only way forward.
This was exactly my situation when I began my breastfeeding journey 9 months ago. There was no doubt in my mind that it was the best choice for my Daughter and that I would succeed with persistence and patience. I knew I'd be breastfeeding for years to come, but I had absolutely zero guidance and I was unprepared for the immediate struggle it became.
I spent so much time preparing for my unassisted birth and so much time researching all things pregnancy and labor that I chose not to focus on breastfeeding.
And yes, it was a choice.
I foolishly thought breastfeeding would come naturally, but I was wrong. I should’ve prepared better and arranged for a Lactation Consultant just in case, but at the time I had no idea what a Lactation Consultant was. I truly believe with her guidance I could've properly established breastfeeding my Little Girl much faster than I did.
I thankfully had no issues with supply. I was full and swelling with milk almost immediately, but my Daughter and I just could not figure out how to latch and how to feed! She kept slipping off and getting fussy and I didn't know what to do other than to just remain patient, keep my cool, and keep trying.
Babies have this way of making you feel inadequate in those early days. The more they cry, the less powerful you can begin to feel. You want everything to be perfect and to just snap into place, but it's not always like that. It takes work- determination, motivation, and dedication. It's something absolutely no one else can do for you and so you must succeed. When you're feeling more exhausted and battered than you have ever felt in your life, that's when it becomes time to step into your Divine Womanhood. Your Queendom.
(1 week after she was born. Hurting like hell, but stepping up to my new role)
Most people feed their babies while cradling them in a sideways “football hold” position and so it was the first position I tried when beginning my breastfeeding journey. I even had that silly pillow to prop baby up on while she nursed, but in hindsight all it did was get in my way.
Even though I birthed unassisted, I still allowed the midwives to come check on the baby in the first week. I made this decision only because every country has different laws regarding unassisted births, child services, and child neglect and I didn’t need any legal trouble (but that’s a whole different story!).
My Daughter must’ve been around 3 days old when the Midwife came for a follow up visit. She asked me how breastfeeding was going and I told her it wasn’t.
I didn’t know if I was doing it right?
My Baby is crying?
I think she’s hungry?
But she has wet diapers?
She told me to let her watch me get the Baby to latch to which I obliged. It was difficult and my Daughter kept slipping off. The Midwife, very nonchalantly and with no further information might I add, told me my nipple was too small and that it didn’t allow my Baby to properly grasp it.
What did that mean?
How did she know?
Are there other positions I could try that might help?
Of course, I didn’t ask any of these questions in that moment because I was only concerned that my Sweet Little Girl was eating enough! This is why I preach that self studying is so important. This is why we must always do our own research.
The Midwife was completely unprepared to suggest other positions or to show me if there was another natural way and immediately suggested I get nipple shields. Nipple shields/guards are plastic nipples that you place over your own nipple that help Baby to latch and feed because it has a long plastic nipple, similar to a bottle. Of course, this being my first child and me wanting her to eat her fill and be happy, I took the Midwife's advice.
The plastic piece was hard to keep on as it slid around while Baby ate and never stayed in place without me holding it. My Daughter was able to get an effective latch, sometimes, but it honestly wasn’t much better. It was a temporary solution for a long term issue and I wasn’t satisfied with it. It just felt so damn awkward! There was something that didn’t sit right with the intrusion of this plastic not allowing my Baby to bond best with her Mama.
It helped a little, but it mostly made me more upset because I knew that it was absolutely crucial that proper breastfeeding was established in those early days to have a long and successful breastfeeding journey. This means without the use of any and all tools.
(If you look closely you can see the nipple guard being used here)
Now I know there are Lactation Consultants and I highly suggest all women know where they can find one in their area, but I didn’t before and I should’ve been duly advised. It might not be the Midwife's job to teach me to breastfeed, but she should have the resources to better assist me on properly settling into Motherhood so that Mom and Baby can settle into their new lives together.
Giving up was never an option.
Even though it hurt. Even though I was bleeding. Even though I couldn’t get a damn latch from my innocent Daughter. Even though I was so engorged. My Daughter was going to be breastfed because there was no other reasonable choice! I would never give her cows milk formula and ruin her perfectly made body!
Our breast milk is designed specifically for our children. Furthermore, it is created specifically for that very breastfed baby. The direct suckling at the nipple by the baby creates the exact chemical makeup of the milk that the baby needs. The baby’s saliva transmits information to the Mother via her nipple receptors, which then create the perfect milk for that particular baby.
This means that if a baby is getting sick, the suckling at the breast instructs the mothers milk to chemically change in order to give baby what he/she needs at that specific time.
Breast milk is a living substance made of digestive enzymes and antibodies that strengthen baby's immune system, line their gut with the proper bacteria, and even help reduce the likelihood of ear infections, diarrhea, and SIDS. Many times when a baby is born parents are concerned over protecting them against bacteria and disease, but this is the exact function of Mothers Milk! Not only does it provide them with proper nutrients to grow and thrive, but it protects them from sickness.
So again, I was never going to give up on learning how to breastfeed. The nipple guard was ridiculous to me in so many ways and I believed that my Daughter and I could DO this!
I began to do my own research on various breastfeeding positions and tried a bunch of them before finally sitting my Daughter in the upright position on my leg and BOOM!
She latched immediately and we never looked back!
(Feeding my Daughter in the upright position when she was about 5 months old)
This position naturally elongates the nipple and allows for a better latch for those of us with "smaller" nipples. So no need for that damn nipple shield and terrible obtrusive advice from the Midwife to interfere with the Mommy and Baby bond so quickly after she was born and without first trying other natural ways.
Since my Daughter is upright when feeding, her food also flows properly throughout her digestive system, which means I have never purposefully burped my Daughter! Of course she burps on her own sometimes because of excess air getting trapped, but she does that on her own.
(Breastfeeding at the airport)
So much begins to make sense when we do things according to Nature. If we wait until our child is born to learn we will tend to make choices based on convenience and another persons sometimes not-so-great advice out of utter despair. Yes, some Mothers need further help. Yes, some babies have further problems that interfere with a good latch. But for the most part, we Mama's just have to remain strong. We must remain resilient. We must remain patient. I look at my Daughter now when we nurse and I'm so proud that we've come this far. I have soley nourished her for 9 months and counting! She's strong and thriving and I feel so thankful that we're able to laugh and smile and have fun while nursing now! That's what we breastfeeding moms have in common. We withstood it all to get here.
It is so much easier said than done, especially in those early days. We're tired, we're hurting, we're hungry, we're bleeding, we're engorged and we're tender.
It's physical. It's emotional. It's spiritual.
It's demanding and it's challenging, but it is so very worth it. Through love we remain triumphant.
(A happy Baby with a full belly fallen asleep on Mama)