When I was pregnant with my first child there was no question of whether I would breastfeed. At the time I had been a nurse practitioner in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for over 6 years, so I had naturally become a strong believer in breast milk and breastfeeding. We practically treat breast milk like liquid gold in the NICU because it is so beneficial for our tiny and fragile population. I also knew from my experience in the NICU that breast milk production and breast feeding could have its challenges. It turned out I was one of those moms who would be challenged – with each of my three kids.
In November 2010 my first child was born. At first it seemed she was hungry all the time, and I worried my breast milk supply was not satisfying her. It was frustrating. So I pumped and supplemented with bottles of either breast milk or formula. I’m not sure now if she actually needed it, but at the time I certainly thought she did. During my 24-hour shifts I would pump in place of breastfeeding. I was prone to clogged ducts during those days, so I would rush home in hopes that breastfeeding or a strong breast massage in the shower would help clear the duct before I got mastitis (breast tissue inflammation). I remember thinking during those times that I understood why people quit breastfeeding. It can be hard. But I stuck with it, and breastfed my baby 14 months.
Twenty-one months later my second little one made his appearance. This time I believed things would be easier. This was, after all, my second kid. Surely I got the kinks worked out with the first one. Sure enough, my milk came in and it felt much better than before (yes!), but then I start getting cracked nipples. This type of pain is incredible. The last thing you want to do is allow your newborn to latch onto your sore nipples, yet they still need to eat every two-three hours. I remember closing my eyes and clenching my fists in pain at the start of every breastfeeding session. And the shower! You finally get a few moments to enjoy a shower, but the water hurts almost as much as breastfeeding. I seriously contemplated quitting, but I persevered. And it paid off. My son, 7 lbs at birth, was 19 lbs at 4 months – exclusively from breast milk. Incredible! He breastfed until 15 months of age.
My third child was born almost exactly a year ago. While she has been a joyful addition to our family, the breastfeeding struggles were the same. My milk supply was definitely the best it had ever been, but I went through a month or longer with very sore, cracked and bleeding nipples again. Baby also was unable to get milk from the breast very well in her first month of life. So I breastfed, pumped, supplemented with a bottle and visited the Overlake Mom & Baby Care Center and my pediatrician regularly to check her weight. This time I thought it was all the pumping that would do me in. Still, I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel, in spite of all the work! I kept on and by two months of age she was breastfeeding exclusively. Whew!
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t write this as a message that everyone must breastfeed. I have many friends who for one reason or another were unable to breastfeed at all or only for a short period. Rather, I want to encourage those of you who may encounter challenges with breastfeeding. Persistence can pay off. Once these problems were resolved I was able to enjoy breastfeeding. As the babies became more social it is such a special time to bond with them. The time spent breastfeeding becomes mutually enjoyable – a special time for just mom and baby.
Editor’s note: If you or someone you know experiences these or other problems associated with breastfeeding, please contact a lactation consultant, as most nipple pain can be easily resolved. Modern nipple shields make is possible for women with cracked nipples to heal and breastfeed at the same time. Additionally, when the baby has trouble latching or getting milk from the breast, there are things a lactation consultant can recommend to painlessly help both mom and baby. The Mom & Baby Care Center at Overlake Medical Center can help. Make your appointment by calling 425.688.5389.