There is an abundance of education given on what to expect and the options during your pregnancy and birth, however when it comes to breastfeeding you’re kind of just left in the dark and to figure it out on your own. Breastfeeding can come naturally with no pain for some women but please know the the majority of new mums find it HARD and you are not alone! Now, I am not wanting to put off any expectant mums, I am simply just wanting to educate you on what you can expect so you don’t feel like a failure and that it’s not normal, because it is! Here are a few common struggles you may face at the beginning of your breastfeeding journey.
1. Attachment issues and tongue ties.
It may sound silly to expectant mums that there is a wrong way to suck milk out of a nipple, right? But let me tell you there is! Attachment is a learnt skill for a baby, they are hungry suckers and you will feel like they are slowly sucking your life away through your nipple. They will find any shortcut to get that colostrum and then milk out, which can leave you with even more tender nipples than they will be. Having a good attachment is crucial for good milk supply and preventing some nasty problems that can follow a poor latch. Sometimes a tongue tie is to blame for attachment issues. If you don’t know what a tongue tie is, it’s a thin piece of skin under the tongue that can restrict the movement of the tongue, making it difficult for the baby to attach well to the breast, as they have to cup your breast with their tongue. If it’s severe it’s usually picked up in hospital and a quick snip fixes it. However I know of a lot of mum’s who have had a less severe one fixed later on as they were still having issues with feeding.
I personally had very little to no help when my son was born. I was not taught how to breastfeed and I didn’t understand that they should be attached a certain way. I had to ask how to help my son latch properly , how to unlatch and how often he should feed etc. I even went to youtube in the middle of the night and watched videos on it all while I was in hospital. I was shocked!
Seek help!! Go to a breastfeeding education class and also book in an appointment with the lactation consultant at the hospital once your baby is born. The Australian Breastfeeding Association has all the information you need but make sure to follow it up with a visit from a lactation consultant in your home if you are concerned at all.
2. Stressing about if your baby is getting enough/ if any milk
The first night in hospital for me was stressful! He was a very sleepy baby and didn’t wake for feeds, which scared the bajeebers out of me. The midwives made me wake him up to feed and then when he did feed he would just fall back asleep within a few minutes. I was advised that it was fine and he got some colostrum (the liquid gold that you produce before your milk comes in) this was after the nurse milked me to make sure I had it there, I was still worried come the next feed so the nurse milked me again (yes you feel like a cow) and we then syringe fed my son.
I never really knew if he was getting enough until I was told just how small their little stomachs are, it really doesn’t take much! However if your baby isn’t having at least 5- 6 wet nappies in a 24 hour period it could mean they aren’t getting enough and if that does happen don’t freak out! Focus on getting that latch right, lots of skin on skin contact and feed feed feed, this should increase your milk supply and things will get back on track. As you become more in tune with your baby and once your milk comes in (and then settles down) you start to understand it all better. Please note – I am not a medical professional, always seek help if you are worried.
My milk came in at the end of day 3. I was feeding my son and noticed his lips went a weird purply/blue tinge, I freaked out (once again) I then realised my milk had come in. I’m still unsure on why his lips went like that, it never happened again thank goodness. I was so excited that my milk had come in but boy oh boy did I not know what difficulties I was about to face.
ENGORGEMENT!! Now to my husband my new natural boob job was fabulous, he was of course not allowed to touch though, they were way, way to sore. To me it felt like I had rocks as boobs starting from my armpits and then meeting the other in the middle. I had a huge supply! To help with my full and tender breasts I got some of my breast pads, wet them with water, froze them and then stuffed those bad boys down my oh so sexy maternity bra, it was a life saver! I’m sure there are better alternatives but this did me fine until my milk supply chilled out a bit.
I had an oversupply for a while which meant after my son was finished feeding I was still full. I had to express a bit out after his feed so I was comfortable. He would take an hour all up (half hour each side) to feed for a few months so between expressing and feeding it would take about an hour and a half! When he was cluster feeding I would get a 15 minute to half hour break before he would want another feed, it was draining!
4. Extremely sore, cracked and possibly bleeding nipples
I got told that if the baby is attached correctly then you shouldn’t have any pain! DO NOT BELIEVE THIS. I had many visits from many different lactation consultants telling me that my son’s latch was perfect and he had no ties BUT I still had terribly sore, cracked and bleeding nipples. The best way I can describe it is like, someone stabbing your nipple with little knives and twisting them around. I would dread every feed, the pain was unbearable. Every feed I would cry, curl my toes and bite down on something, I couldn’t feed in public. I ended up purchasing some nipple shields which allowed my nipples to heal. and used those which eased some of the pain and made it a bit more bearable. I also smothered my nipples in Lansinoh nipple ointment constantly, which was a bit of relief and healed them as well.
Despite the pain I really wanted to breastfeed as I was told how amazing it is for my son and once the pain finishes it’s so easy and extra bonus, it’s free! I said to myself that if the pain didn’t ease by 6 weeks I would stop. Low and behold at 6 weeks the pain eased a tremendous amount and then by 8 weeks the pain had completely gone, my nipples were then numb and it was fabulous. I really started to enjoy breastfeeding at this point and felt confident to feed in public, finally! It was the best feeling to know that I did my absolute best and that in the end it all worked out. Those 8 weeks felt like a long time then but in the scheme of things it was just a short amount of pain for a long-term gain!
5. A squirting and leaking mess
Hello breast pads. I didn’t quite understand the need for breast pads until I really needed them. My milk would squirt everywhere like a full water balloon that had a little prick hole in it. When I was getting changed out of the shower it would go everywhere, I would have to mop up my milk off the floor. At night I would wake up with my shirt and bed sheets drenched in breast milk and that was after it soaked through my breast pads. When a baby cried, look out here comes the milk machine. My son would be crying and I would go to feed him and my milk would be squirting all over his face and he couldn’t latch properly because of it. Your milk sorts itself out over the first 6 weeks so just know that this doesn’t last the whole breastfeeding journey. After the first 3 months I didn’t need to wear breast pads at all.
6. Slow let down reflex or fast let down reflex
Before having my son I didn’t even know what a let down was. If you are in the same boat as me pretty much it’s your breasts response to your babies nipple stimulation, it’s the “go ahead” sign that your baby is ready to feed and the milk needs to be produced. The nerves trigger hormones that cause the breast to expel milk. Your mood and emotional state contributes to how fast your let down comes. If you are feeling stressed, uncomfortable or simply distracted it can come much slower, which causes a grumpy hungry baby.
When my milk first came in it would squirt everywhere with new sensations like going from having a bra on to having a shower, but when my son was feeding I was in pain so my let down would sometimes take a while to come which when thinking back now is why he would feed for sooo lonnnnggg. For the first few weeks/months I would suggest going into a quiet room, take deep breaths and relax the best you can.
7. Blocked milk ducts & mastitis
This is another not so fun part I hope you don’t have to experience, if you do though just know it’s not the end and you can get through it! Ducts carry the milk from deep within your breast to the nipple. Sometimes if you haven’t fed your baby for a while, if you wear a tight top/bra and/or are extremely exhausted and haven’t eaten well and had enough water you can get a blocked milk duct.
I often had blocked ducts and was told that if you have lumpy breasts pre pregnancy then you are more susceptible to them! If you feel a lump in your breast and it’s sore have a super hot shower and let it run on the affected area whilst massaging the lump gently towards your nipple. Another way to get it out is to apply warmth to your breast before a feed such a hot washer or warm hot pack and then feed from that side as much as possible and try different positions. What worked best for me was laying my son on a heap of cushions on the bed and then getting on all fours over him so that his chin was facing the affected area on the breast. You want it fully drained out otherwise it can lead to mastitis.
Mastitis is inflammation of the breast tissue and is visible. Your breast is usually hot to touch and is tinged red. If you start to feel like your coming down with the flu such as fever and chills, aches and pains and fatigue go to your GP straight away to get some antibiotics. Full blown Mastitis is not nice and can be very dangerous if not treated quickly. I have had mastitis a couple of times and it’s no fun, just remember to keep feeding through it though (as much as it hurts) as that’s the quickest way as well as the antibiotics to get over it.
As you can see there a few hurdles you may have to or have faced. The majority of women go through some or most of these so just know you are not alone! Once you get over the hurdles breastfeeding is wonderful. It’s a truly bonding experience and so beneficial for your baby and as I said FREE!! If you can persist through the hard times and pain in the beginning the rest of the journey is easy peasy.
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