It’s World Breastfeeding Week and this year’s theme is: “support breastfeeding for a healthier planet.” There are many benefits to breastfeeding, but with that said, each mother has their own experience with breastfeeding. For some it is easy, for others it is a herculean task. To be clear, in my experience, breastfeeding is not “easy.” In fact, in my 20’s, I laughed when I first heard of the occupation “lactation consultant.” Little did I know how complicated and intense, yet how incredible and life-giving, breastfeeding can be.
None of this is medical advice, I am simply sharing my story and what worked for me.
I have four kids and my breastfeeding relationship with each one has been special and unique, I have been pregnant or nursing for over a decade. Here, I want to highlight two big issues that had arisen for me and my children while nursing. But, each nursing relationship is different and the best advice I can offer is to tap into your own friend and family network and medical care to get trusted advice when issues arise!
My Bumpy Start to Breastfeeding
Even though I look back now at nursing and am grateful, I also know it wasn’t easy. For starters, when we took our Bradley Method Natural Birth Class, our teacher said we have to push through the pain of breastfeeding. What? I had no idea what she meant. She explained nursing takes effort just like birthing a baby does. It isn’t easy: nipples aren’t used to nursing; nursing is new to the baby and mother; nipples can crack; and, nursing is incredibly time-consuming.
I recall marveling at the basic mechanics of breastfeeding. It is important for new mothers to have people who can offer practical advice about breastfeeding and its many pitfalls. Personally, I relied on my midwives, new mom friends, and the Breastfeeding Center classes. Here, I want to discuss two topics that have been important in my own breastfeeding experience: mastitis scares and tongue ties are real issues to pay attention to.
I was sharing with a dear buddy about how hard it was to nurse and she said that the first two weeks are hard, after a month it is still pretty tough, but after two months, it is like second nature. After four kids, I couldn’t agree more!
Mastitis Scares While Breastfeeding
A big hurdle for breastfeeding is mastitis. What is mastitis? It is an inflammation in the breast from a clogged milk duct. Basically, there is a traffic jam and the milk has stayed in too long and caused irritation. This is a serious hiccup that requires partner support and, most importantly, rest! Some of the early signs for me of mastitis were extreme pain in the breast and exhaustion. Sure enough, when I went to the shower, my breast was red in certain areas (like lines) and painful to the touch. I am going to share what I did to stop a mastitis scare before it turned into actual mastitis; again, this is NOT medical advice.
To nip mastitis in the bud, I was told by my beloved team to:
- Rest, rest, rest (don’t get up and vacuum, work, tidy up, pick up older kids, etc.)
- Drink gobs of water and eat nourishing food
- Nurse often, on demand, and in ALL sorts of positions
- Gently hand express any milk as needed
- Wear non-constricting clothing
- Before each feeding put a warm compress on the breast to start milk flow
- During a feeding gently massage (like you are playing the piano toward the nipple) the breast to help get the milk out
- After nursing put on a cold compress to slow the milk flow
Our midwives said none of these were less or more important and that I had to do all to nip mastitis in the bud. Each time I had one of these scares (and there were several!!) all of this helped. Rest was especially important. When I had a mastitis scare, I could usually point to several times during the last few days when my baby and I had gotten out of sync with nursing. My late mother-in-law, who was a nurse, said that breastfeeding is a supply and demand relationship. I couldn’t agree more! However, this is just my story and what I did to handle my breastfeeding issue. Be sure to connect with your network of support to handle your specific needs!
Tongue and Lip Tie in an Infant
While they sound totally wild, tongue and lip ties are a real thing! Tongue ties can really affect breastfeeding, too. Our first two kids nursed with very few issues, but then our third child came and threw us for a loop. He had an unquestionable lip and tongue tie, but I didn’t want to believe it. This was a situation where I had to appreciate that medical intervention can be incredibly beneficial for the baby and myself. After the procedure, breastfeeding became much easier!
These were my son’s tongue tie symptoms:
- He was having a hard time latching (big time).
- My breasts weren’t being fully emptied (hello, mastitis scares!).
- He wasn’t gaining weight like he should have been.
- He was super fussy (probably because he was hungry!).
I went to see a pediatric dentist who also specializes in tongue and lip ties. What a relief to have the ability to have the diagnosis, consult, and lip and tongue tie procedure done with a professional who knows what they are doing! Our baby got a water laser frenectomy for his posterior tongue tie and upper lip tie. Post-procedure for a few weeks, I had to massage under his tongue and under his upper lip to make sure the skin didn’t reattach. That was HARD especially with my postpartum hormones, the freezing cold weather at the time, and a crying baby each time I touched inside his mouth. However, he (and I!) pulled through and became a champion nurser!
Grateful to Breastfeed My Four Babies
All in all, I wouldn’t change nursing all four of our kids for the world. The time spent looking at them, seeing how satisfied they are after nursing, seeing what my body can produce for another living human, and honestly the quiet I get from sneaking away to nurse them has been invaluable! No, it wasn’t always easy, but most things in life worth doing aren’t typically easy.
I also look at the women around me who have influenced my decision to breastfeed. My best friends who made breastfeeding look so easy, even though they have since said it was hard for them. My midwives who helped me make sure each baby had a proper latch and helped coach me through breastfeeding situations. The Breastfeeding Center which was where I hung out weekly for their classes and formed lasting new mommy friendships. My late mother-in-law who encouraged me and shared her breastfeeding stories when she was nursing my husband in the ’80s (a time when breastfeeding wasn’t really encouraged). All of these women matter and formed my outlook on breastfeeding as something that I knew I wanted to prioritize. Also, my amazing husband who is constantly helping make sure I am hydrated (for the past decade!) so I can feed these sweet babies!
Have you nursed your babies? What surprised you most or what have you overcome? Do share!