Hi everyone! I’m Amanda from The Digital Dutchess. I’m a work-at-home-momma and wife to Steve, an avid Instagrammer, and a huge fan of Julie’s Breastfeeding Diaries series. Just over a year and a half ago, I gave birth to an awesome little guy named Luke. It was always my intention to try and nurse him, but I was also well aware of the fact that it might not happen for me since hardly anyone I knew was able to make it work.
I can picture the exact moment my breastfeeding high was completely crushed. It was 4AM, just one night after Luke was born. We were sitting on the hospital bed, Steve holding our brand new baby’s head so I could nurse him at a better angle. A nurse came in for our regular postpartum checkup, took one look at the baby while nursing, and instantly declared that he wasn’t actually nursing at all. “No, this isn’t right. Look at his cheeks – they’re indenting when he sucks. His latch is too shallow. He’s not getting anything from you.” She attempted to take him off and shove him back on me a few times before she announced that it “wasn’t working” and that we should consider giving him formula because he was “obviously starving.” A few hours later, she returned saying that he had already lost 9% of his body weight and we would definitely need to start feeding him formula. I was absolutely crushed.
Up until that point, I was pretty sure that we were on the easy path to nursing success – immediate latch after he was born, periodic nursing afterwards, and no pain on my part. I remember texting my sister saying, “I think he’s getting the hang of this nursing thing! I’m so happy!”
The next few months…yes, months…were the hardest months of my life. I had quite a few issues that came up pretty quickly into our nursing relationship that took me by surprise. I spent countless hours scouring the Internet trying to find success stories of women who had issues similar to mine, but I came up with nothing. Here are 10 things that I wish I would have known before the first time I even attempted nursing.
1. Have the doctor check for a tongue-tie once the baby is born.
Luke wasn’t diagnosed with a tongue-tie until his 2 week appointment, and by then, our pediatrician was hesitant to clip it since we were occasionally able to have him latch on. I should have insisted on having it clipped, because it caused me A LOT of pain that probably could have been avoided.
2. Insist on seeing a Lactation Consultant as soon as possible…but be aware that each of them will probably have a different opinion on everything.
Luke was born late at night on the Friday of Labor Day weekend during a blue moon. Needless to say, the hospital was slammed and somehow, we weren’t able to see a Lactation Consultant until Sunday, so we just stumbled our way through. I had been asking each nurse for help positioning and latching since I knew it would probably not be easy. When I finally was able to see one, they were too busy to spend much time with me. If I would have insisted on seeing one as soon as he was born, I could have identified a few issues that caused me a lot of problems right off the bat.
I was also surprised by the fact that each LC we saw had a different story for us about our latching issues (which included a “vice grip” latch that was turning my nipples flat and white, inability to get any colostrum/milk, and extreme pain). Some said there would be nipple confusion if we used a bottle and/or pacifier, some said there wouldn’t. Some said I shouldn’t bother trying to nurse more than a few minutes on each side until my milk came in, some said I definitely should. It was for this reason alone that I was extremely impatient to go home. I was feeling frustrated, alone, tired, and terrified that I couldn’t make it work. Not a good combination for someone who is already extremely hormonal.
3. Have the Lactation Consultant check the flange size on your pumping equipment the first time you pump
Most women will probably fall into the standard size that comes with the pump, but I did not. In fact, when I first started pumping, I needed a different size flange for each breast. Not having the correct size can cause lots of problems, like pain while pumping, or even decreased milk supply. I didn’t know this, and went 2 weeks before getting the proper sizes.
4. Start pumping as soon as possible.
Again, the hospital was slammed, and by the time Saturday night rolled around, I hadn’t pumped a single time. The big yellow pump just sat in our room like an expensive decorative element. My milk also showed no signs of coming in (and not pumping at all DEFINITELY didn’t help matters). My milk might have come in sooner if I had started pumping every 2-3 hours immediately. Which brings me to the next item…
5. Your milk might not come in right away. Or even in a few days.
…Or in my case, until the afternoon of day 5. Up until then, I kid you not, I only got out 3-4 drops of colostrum. I was barely able to pump enough to take it out with my finger and spread it on Luke’s gums. It was frustrating to say the least. You read all these stories about how important it is for the baby to at least get the colostrum, and I couldn’t even give him that! But, in talking with my mom, my sister, and even my sister-in-law, I knew that it might take awhile for my milk to come in…their average was 4 days. Try not to be upset when the nurses come in asking where the colostrum you pumped is, and you have nothing to show for the last 20 minutes after almost 3 days.
6. If your milk takes longer than a few days to come in, formula might be your only option for a while…and that’s okay!
As a new mom, giving formula felt like a slippery slope. The first time the nurse gave Luke formula, he gulped down an ounce (!!!) at lightning speed. Which, of course, made me feel like I was starving my baby. Which brings me to my biggest and most important point…
7. Just because your baby is taking lots of formula from a bottle while you struggle with nursing, that does not mean that you will never be successful at breastfeeding.
I cannot stress this enough. I just needed someone to tell me that I could still make it work. By the time Luke was 1 week old, he was already taking 4 ounces of formula at each feeding, along with a measly 15ml from me (again, slow/low milk supply initially). He had also figured out that he could get milk a lot more quickly through a bottle than through nursing, so he was refusing to nurse entirely. If I even tried to latch him, he would scream and thrash all around until I gave him a bottle. Our pediatrician said it was doubtful that I would be able to nurse him at that point, and sent me home with tubs of formula. I tearfully called multiple Lactation Consultants trying to get in as soon as possible because I was so scared that he would never be able to go back to the breast. I didn’t think I had a day to spare. (Note: make a lactation appointment BEFORE you leave the hospital!) In reality, it took 6 weeks before I was able to have Luke latch for longer than 2 minutes. By 8 weeks, he was exclusively breastfed. And we haven’t looked back since.
8. It hurts.
As countless others have mentioned, nursing is painful. But I also noticed more pain on my left side, and the milk from that side was lumpy (gross, I know). Turns out I had a plugged duct as my milk came in. The best remedy? Have the baby nurse as often as possible on that side. Which didn’t do me any good considering my baby wasn’t even latching on in the first place.
As far as the “regular” pain goes, that lasted until almost month 3 for me. And then it finally started feeling normal (thank. goodness.).
9. You will become fiercely protective of your nursing relationship.
This might not be the case for everyone, but it was definitely the case for me. I think because I fought so. hard. to make nursing work, I was just that much more determined to not let anything get in the way of it. And even after 18 months, I still am. I nurse him every single morning when I could easily have my husband give him a sippy of milk so I could (finally, truly) sleep in for once. It bothers me if I miss a nighttime feeding. He barely nurses for a minute or two anymore, but even those precious drops are worth it to me.
10. You might never get the happy coos and amazing mutual bonding time you hear about, but it will still be an amazing experience.
Luke has never been a baby who “loves” nursing – I’ve always felt like he just does it out of necessity, and has always been extremely fussy at the breast. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve gotten those milky smiles and giggles you always seem to hear about. But even without those “bonding” elements, I am in complete awe of the fact that my body has been able to nourish him for this long…but best of all, it helps me to feel closer to him.
Breastfeeding is the hardest thing I have ever done, but it’s also my proudest accomplishment. I remember walking in the hallway of the hospital crying because I couldn’t believe I couldn’t provide the one thing my baby needed most from me…the one thing that should have come “naturally.” Well, natural doesn’t mean easy. There are so many times that I came *thisclose* to giving up, and if it weren’t for my support system, I probably would have. I’m SO glad that I stuck it out and was able to make it work, but I’m also well aware of the fact that he would have been just fine whether breast or formula fed. You have to make the decision on what is best for you and your family given your circumstances…and don’t look back. A happy baby and momma are more important than anything else.
Be sure to catch up with the rest of the series at the top of my navigation bar! And if you would like to contribute your story to The Breastfeeding Diaries please email me at thegirlintheredshoes @ gmail
I bet the conflicting LC advice was hard to deal with… Breastfeeding really is an art not a science. You have a lot to be proud of!
Chelsea G says
Ugh, this story makes me happy but so frustrated as well! I was told the exact same thing with the first son and started exclusively pumping and after 5 months my over supply was gone. Then with my second I used a breast shield and it helped a lot but I know now that he has a slight tongue tie and at almost 8 months old I've been told not to cut it since it's so minor!I recently lost my supply so maybe the third time around I'll be a pro 😉 Great job sticking with it mama! Luke is a doll!
Thank you for sharing! I experienced a lot of the same issues and after my daughter losing more than a pound at the hospital, plus extremely low supply, plus a milk protein intolerance, we switched to a special formula after 2 weeks. I know in my heart that it was the right thing for us, but I also definitely mourn breastfeeding. And I couldn't agree MORE with your point that you will get different advice from everybody. By far the most frustrating part! I'm hopeful that someday baby number 2 will be a different story. 🙂 Your little guy is so sweet!
I love this series but sometimes cringe at the tips given. Giving formula before your milk comes in can cause major problems for many moms, like your milk *never* coming in. It's supply and demand- more nursing means more milk. And many women can't pump colostrum- you only make about a teaspoon in the first few days as babies tummy is the size of a small marble. Pumps are less effective than babies at removing milk from the breast, so a nursing babe is almost certainly getting more than you can pump. I'm glad that this momma stuck with it and commend her for continuing after so many would have thrown in the towel.
Colleen Sullivan says
These are great tips, Amanda! I especially like #10. It's not all rainbows and butterflies or coos and snuggles. BFing can be HARD!
Great post and congrats on your success! I'm currently 38 weeks pregnant with baby #3 and my youngest only recently weaned shortly after his third birthday. I nursed my first for 2.5 years and both my boys self-weaned. I've been nursing for 7+ years and have been pretty lucky, with the exception of the use of a nipple shield with my youngest for the first two weeks or so. I'm also completing my coursework to become a CLE and I'm a certified babywearing instructor. I just wanted to refute one tip and only because I've seen MAJOR ISSUES arise from it: pumping immediately. If your baby IS latching on and nursing on-demand from birth without problems, introducing the pump too early can cause a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. That can cause all sorts of problems, including oversupply, overactive letdown, failure to thrive, gas, reflux, etc. Holding off on pumping until an established breastfeeding relationship has been formed (for most mothers, that's 6-8 weeks postpartum). The pump is so much less efficient than baby's mouth so allowing baby to create your foundation ensures you'll make the amount of milk that baby needs specifically, not baby plus the pump, which could be way off.
I think finding a good LC is SO important. My son was born early and was in the hospital for 6 weeks. I was not able to breastfeed him until eh was about 4 weeks old. But I pumped form day 1 and luckily we never had any problems with nipple confusion even though he had bottles (of breast milk) before he was allowed to nurse directly from me. I was nervous about that at first but he took to it just fine and is now almost 11 months and a great nurser. The LC at my hospital was AWESOME and she holds a BF support group weekly that I attended until I had to go back to work. I miss that group! I never had any serious problems but it was nice just to be around other nursing Mamas and have the chance to weigh my boy weekly to know we were on the right track!