The 7 Tricks that Saved my Breastfeeding Journey
As apparently I didn’t get the memo that breastfeeding is tough work
I have always wanted to breastfeed, and although I didn’t find it appealing, as soon as I saw my daughter’s face I knew it was the way to go. She latched on the breast pretty quickly, and although the first sessions were slow and sleepy, the hunger kick start the all process within the first couple of days, as soon as the milk came through.
I was a breastfeeding mother, which meant I had to endure the 11pm, 3 am, 5 am snack calls, I couldn’t leave my daughter behind for more than a 60 minutes stretch, I was quite frequently showing my boobs in public, and I had to sit in the couch/on a bench/on the grass/on a staircase/in the car without moving for long period of times, also when I was hungry, bursting, and sleepy. And I was ok with all of it.
But something that took me a long time to accept was the pain associated with it.
I went to a breastfeeding class and no one mentioned the burning sensation some women feel when the milk comes through, or when the baby latches or sucks. The first month was a rollercoaster, and I found myself ready to give up. But I also made the decision to avoid having Formula in the house, which meant that every single time my bub was hungry, I had to undress and feed her; with tears or without.
If you don’t know the process behind the production of milk, it is a good idea to pause for a second and understand the mechanism behind it.
The baby’s sucking triggers the nerves that are contained by the skin covering the nipple. When this happens, the hormones are released in the mother’s bloodstream. The hormone Prolactin build up the milk supply, while Oxytocin promotes the release of the milk, known as the letdown (Australia Breastfeeding Association 2019). Some women are very sensitive to the letdown reflex to the point they can feel pain, or a shiver down the spine, before the first drop of milk comes through.
I was one of those mothers, and although the pain subsided after the first month or so, there were things I could have not lived without:
Breastfeeding consultant; when there is pain, sleep deprivation and uncertainty, it’s always nice to know that there is an angel (or a government-funded association of angels) who has your back; my little one was a great feeder, but I doubted myself immensely during the first period, as no one has ever mentioned how difficult and painful it could be to nurture a child. Having someone that answered my concerns put my mind at ease and made me feel so much more normal because of it. It is also important to mention that breastfeeding consultants are human beings, and they come with their pros and cons. If you don’t get along with one of them don’t give up, and keep on searching until you find someone you connect with.
Disposable bamboo nursing pads; my production of milk was abundant and sometimes overflowing. The nursing pads protected my tee shirts from a whole lot of stains, and myself from a variety of embarrassing moments. I did replace them every hour or so, as I didn’t want to create a moist and welcoming environment for bacteria and fungi.
I also often wore a scarf that I could use to protect my little sunshine during a feed under the scorching sun, or when I was surrounded by too many people.
Breast care thermopads; from day 1, they did save my life. A friend of mine gave me a box and told me to pack it in the hospital bag; 2 years later, I still cannot thank her enough. The thermopads are meant to be left in the freezer and applied after a feed. If your nipples are sore after a breastfeeding marathon, the thermopads will give you great relief for the first ten minutes or so. I remember wearing them almost all day long for the first month. They were life saver.
Nipple cream. Sometimes an avid sucker will leave your nipples cracked and sore, and this can be a welcoming environment for nasty bacteria. I normally applied some nipple cream (you can search for different brands online, only make sure they are safe for the baby to eat in case you forget to wipe it off before the 3 am feed) in between feeds, or whenever I felt the need to. I used to wash it off my breasts before breastfeeding again, but apparently, they are safe also for the baby to eat.
Massage; it was my mission to avoid getting mastitis or ended up with blocked ducts; I know how common and painful these conditions are, which is why I have always opted to feed on demand, empty the boob that was left “unutilised”, and I massaged my breasts every day in the shower. I wanted to get rid of every single knot or lump that I came across, as I wanted to improve my chances of breastfeeding for a long time.
Frozen nappies. Sometimes the pain was just too much, and the old nappy left in the freezer did the trick. It didn’t make me look pretty or sexy, but I could feel that extreme burning sensation easing down for a moment. Nothing could beat that pleasant feeling.
Talk to your GP; the pain that I felt when breastfeeding could have been described as being tortured with a needle, right through my nipple. Yes, Ouch! It ended up being nipple candida and had to be treated with an antifungal cream. After 2 days of living hell where I had to latch my baby on a slippery, strange testing boob, the pain decreased tenfold.
Most of the time the first breastfeeding months can be quite challenging, but if you power through it, you will see the experience will improve dramatically afterward. Hang in there!