I thought I would find breastfeeding easier the second time around. My first baby was already a toddler by this stage and memories of feeding her had faded into a haze of sleeplessness and cuddles and pain and fear and love that is the jumble of early motherhood. I knew it had been hard with my first, and remembered the visits of midwives and the nipple shield that had protected my breast from the worst of my daughter’s vice-like suckling. But we had got there in the end and I assumed that this time I would find it all a lot easier.
Back at home though, after the birth, the pain came.
Unfortunately, my previous experience didn’t prove to be helpful at all, and since it was my second child, and I was doing (mostly) fine, the home visits were few and far between and tailed off quickly…I had to work this out alone.
I slouched on the sofa in our stuffy living room and curled my toes, counting down the seconds, the minutes, every time her little hungry mouth clamped on to my nipple. Sharp breath, tense, waiting for the feeling of needles being repeatedly stabbed into my skin to fade. Sitting there, I kept thinking about bottles and formula. But I fed my elder daughter for 4 months, I couldn’t do less for this one.
We struggled on.
I tried everything. Different positions, taking her off the breast, putting her on again. Attempting to get her to open her mouth wider. Different creams. A glass of wine. I got mastitis. The midwife came a day or two before Christmas. “You need to get to the doctor as soon as possible before they close for the holidays,” she told me, looking at my red, swollen breast. I thought about asking for more help, not just for the mastitis, but I didn’t. She seemed in a rush to leave, probably had more calls to make before the end of her working day. We were alone again.
My nipples were bleeding now.
Out came the nipple shield. I was trying to pump between feeds. It took 45 minutes, an hour to get enough out for one short feed, my toddler pulling at my leg for attention. I felt like everything was starting to tumble around me. I wanted to carry on but every hour, every feed was a struggle.
I knew I had to get help or I was going to give up.
So one chilly winter’s day my husband and I drove to the other side of town to try and get that support, so desperately needed. And this is where we found Elizabeth – a lactation consultant who had a reputation for helping women like me. I didn’t know what to expect but at this point, I would take anyone. I knew I was at the end of the line. If this didn’t work, I was done.
Turning a corner.
It turned out all along that it was something very simple: my nipple wasn’t going far enough back into my baby’s mouth. Where the front pallet is rough, the back is smooth and this is where it should land. By showing me this one simple move, including how to hold my own body to help get it right, she turned things around for me completely. The pain didn’t go away immediately; my nipples weren’t healed instantly. But finally, I felt I had turned a corner. All it took was one session and a bit of practice and I was able to carry on nursing until I was ready to stop.
Early motherhood is hard, one of the hardest and most vulnerable times of our lives - even the second time around.
Breastfeeding is one of the most challenging things about that difficult time. Often alone and isolated, we struggle on. But we don’t need to struggle alone. There’s a lot of power in remembering that each child is different, and the breastfeeding challenges you may face between kids can be different, too. Finding someone who can help identify the problem, and give you the tools to work through it is a smart next step if you’re unexpectedly struggling with breastfeeding.
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