Breastfeeding: My First Six Weeks

Yesterday marked my first six weeks of breastfeeding, and I wanted to write a bit about it to share my experience. Although it may seem like it at first, I don’t intend to scare anyone away who might be considering it; rather, I’m writing this to encourage those who are currently in the thick of it (meaning the first few weeks). Everyone’s experience will be different, of course, but this is mine.

Right after my son was born he took the breast immediately. He nursed for what seemed like an eternity, which I guess was an indication of what the next few days (weeks?) would be like. That first night, I sat in the rocking chair in hospital all night long. If my baby wasn’t on my breast, he was screaming. The second night (at home) was even worse, if that’s possible. I “slept” with him downstairs on the couch because I didn’t want to disturb anyone upstairs. I was insanely tired, and my nipples were in a lot of pain.
I remember reading on EVERY official source online that nipple pain isn’t normal. That if I felt pain, me and/or the baby were doing it wrong. But I had met with two different lactation consultants in the hospital that observed the baby breastfeeding and said his latch looked fine, fantastic even. So I thought maybe the pain was just from the initial shock to my nipples.
But almost two weeks later, my nipples were STILL in pain. Not only were they in pain, but they were cracked, bleeding, and scabbed. I dreaded nursing and would cringe while doing it. (My face was so stiff that I actually worried about getting permanent wrinkles, haha.) So I decided to meet with a lactation consultant a third time. She weighed my baby, and he was back at his birth weight. Then, she observed him breastfeeding. She, like the others, said his latch looked fine and that I was doing a good job. But she kept it real. She told me that with all three of her children, her nipples were in extreme pain for the first couple of weeks. She echoed what many of the women on an online breastfeeding support group I belong to said. Although the “official” sources say nipples aren’t supposed to hurt, and they’re definitely not supposed to bleed, the “real” people I talked to said it happened to them too. It turns out, nipple pain is a lot more “normal” than many sources say it is.
The lactation consultant recommended I use Medela TheraShells in between nursing sessions. When I saw them at the store, I thought they were those shields I heard about, that some women use while nursing. Instead, they keep a little pocket of air between your nipple and your bra to give your nipples a chance to heal. After about a week of using lanolin and TheraShells, my nipples were fine. Here’s what they look like:

Nipple pain wasn’t the only difficult thing about the first few weeks of breastfeeding. The frequency of breastfeeding was {is} also very hard. I’ve always been an on-the-move person. Now that I have a toddler, I’m usually on my feet for most of the day. Nursing made this extremely difficult. On average, my son nursed (and still nurses) every one-two hours during the day. He takes anywhere from 20-40 minutes doing so. That means I spend a ridiculous amount of my day nursing. This is extremely difficult with a two-year-old. I’ve learned to nurse in my baby carriers (the Ergo and Moby), but it’s still difficult to do much because sudden movements tend to break the latch and I have to stop and reposition him again.

I don’t want to complain too much about our night feeds, because I’m at least grateful that my baby sleeps at night (mostly). The first few weeks he was up every two hours, and now at six weeks he’s up every three. I hear horror stories from other moms who still spend their nights like I spent my first few nights (nursing all night long). Still, I feel VERY sleep deprived most days. It is getting better, though. Last night, on Damian’s Six-Week mark (coincidently), he slept for a six-hour stretch. I was amazed.

I remember reading this quote on Pinterest a while back:

So far, I have to agree- to a tee. At six weeks, I finally feel like it’s getting a bit easier. My nipples don’t hurt, my baby is comfort nursing less, and he seems to be going a little longer everyday without needing to feed. But right now, I can’t imagine EVER feeling sorry for moms who have to make formula. (I also think this is kind of an obnoxious thing to say to begin with). Seriously, making formula is the easiest thing in the world. You put it in a bottle and shake it. You feed the baby, and he takes 10 minutes or so to drink it. You burp him, and you’re done. If you’re in the car, you don’t have to pull over and breastfeed. If you want to sleep through the night, you put your husband on bottle duty. I remember reading another breastfeeding meme that said something like, “I feel sorry for moms who have to wash bottles.” Seriously? That’s what dishwashers are for. If the benefits of breastfeeding weren’t so great, trust me… I wouldn’t be doing it. It certainly hasn’t been easier so far. But, I’m sticking with it and I’ll let you know in 6 more weeks whether or not I “feel sorry” for moms who have to make formula.
One thing I know now is that I would have never been able to breastfeed Eva. I gave birth to Eva on a Saturday and was back at law school on Monday. I didn’t get a maternity leave or anything of the sort. So I chose to formula feed. Sometimes I wondered if I was being selfish for not even trying to nurse, but I know now that I couldn’t have done it. I think about my mental state after my first few days {weeks} of breastfeeding and there is no way I could have survived a day at law school. Maybe I could have tried pumping, but at this point I only get a few ounces a day out of my breasts at the most, even when I give my son a bottle and pump when my breasts are “full.”(Again, this isn’t to discourage women who might be in that situation. I’m sure there are supermoms out there who have rocked it. I’m just being real and honest with myself. I know that I, personally, wouldn’t have the fortitude to stick with it.)
But I’m glad to be breastfeeding now. As demanding as it can be, I love it. I don’t want to say I love the “bonding” that comes from it, because I felt just as bonded to Eva when I would cuddle her and feed her from a bottle. But I love the “naturalness” of it. Just like I wanted to experience with my natural birth, I’m grateful to experience what women have been doing since the beginning of our kind-what our bodies were made to do. And I have to admit, I like the feeling of knowing my baby needs ME and nobody else (but I don’t necessarily like that I like feeling that way).

Anyway, if I could provide any tips from my first six weeks of breastfeeding, here’s what they would be:

1. Β Don’t quit just because your nipples are in pain. Seriously, I remember thinking I’d rather go through my natural labor and delivery again than feel any more nipple pain. It was horrible. If you suspect latch may be an issue (especially if your baby isn’t getting enough wet diapers, etc.), speak to a lactation consultant. If the latch is fine, push through it. Use the lanolin and shells between nursing. I never thought my nipple pain would end, but then it did, and I was so glad I stuck with it. If you’re still feeling a lot of pain after the first few weeks, though, I’d talk to a lactation consultant again, check for lip/tounge ties, etc.

2. There will be days when it seems like you’re nursing ALL. DAY. LONG. You’ll get comments from people saying things like, “He’s starving… Are you sure you have enough milk in there?… Just give him a bottle already.” But if your baby is having the requisite soiled diapers and is meeting weight gain goals set by his doctor, ignore them. As you’ve probably read elsewhere, when your baby nurses all day long he’s building up your supply. Some people just don’t understand.3. If you are really tired, try the side-lying breastfeeding position. That way, you can drift in and out of sleep while your baby nurses.

4. Stick with it for at least six weeks. If at six weeks it still isn’t working, reevaluate your situation. By six weeks (maybe a little earlier, actually) I knew that it’s something I wanted to do. But it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay. Just give it at least six weeks.

And even though I’ve written quite a bit, I feel like I should have more to say about it. And maybe I do, but I can’t think of it right now. Perhaps it’s the sleep deprivation. Who knows. πŸ™‚

Comments

  1. I’m currently breastfeeding my third child, now ten-weeks-old. I never experienced any nipple pain, cracking, or bleeding with any of them (which I’m incredibly grateful for) – but like you, I’ve heard from many “real” people that it’s very common. The first four weeks of breastfeeding were hell for us – jaundice made her so lethargic that she refused to nurse and then we (eventually) discovered that my breast milk was essentially poisoning her (because she has a severe sensitivity to dairy and soy). It took us a good six weeks to get all that sorted out, but now things are easy peasy and I’m soooo thankful I had the support (and willpower) to stick with it while raising two other children as well. Thanks for sharing your story and keeping it real!

  2. You are doing great! With my oldest I experienced the exact same things – pain, cracking, bleeding, etc. I would dig my fingernails into my hands while he was nursing to keep from screaming. At the 8 week mark it all went away and everything was smooth sailing from there out. I didn’t experience any pain or discomfort with my second baby. Having nursed two babies for over a year each, I do agree with the “I feel sorry for moms who have to make formula” line. Nursing just becomes so easy. Fewer things to pack when you leave the house, no need to find water, or remember to buy formula etc. Plus, as time goes on, your baby will likely become more efficient at nursing so it will take less time and be less frequent. I appreciate the honesty of your post as I really thought I was doing something wrong with my first when it hurt!

  3. I’m so grateful for your post, Erica! My second baby is about to be born any day soon, and I will have to go through all this again. I breastfed my first for 1,5 years, and from what I remember now it was very very easy… But not first 2 month! Now I remembered πŸ™‚ It was very hard sometimes. May be now I’m more prepared for what’s coming again πŸ˜€

  4. Great post Erica. Unfortunately, I dried up after 4 months, but I tried oh so hard to keep the supply going. After a few days on my boob, I couldn’t take it anymore but more than anything, I was always worried about whether or not she was getting enough milk…so I just starting pumping and giving it to her in a bottle. But I had to supplement and really thought I wouldn’t have to when I was preggo. But, Marli has basically been on formula since she was 3 months or so and she is as happy and healthy as ever. I wish moms would just support and encourage each other instead of shunning/shaming them for the decisions they make (because we never know the reasons behind whether someone bf’s or not). Keep it up mama!
    Linh
    http://abeautifulrawr.com

  5. Way to go…breastfeeding is very hard! I used the shield for the first couple months and pumped, then pumped exclusively from month 4-12 because I went back to work and he wouldn’t latch after I was done with work (month 8). So washing tons of bottles…and “feeding” πŸ™‚ But is was totally worth all of it! I’m about to have my second and hoping for just breastfeeding, but am nervous about exactly what you mentioned in this post. Good to hear from other moms to push through and there is end in sight. Good luck…it will only get easier from here with less feeding.

  6. I’m 9 weeks into breastfeeding my first baby and honestly nothing prepared me for the surprise of how sore and trying it can be the first few weeks. It does get easier, no questions asked. One tip I’d add to this list is to learn which positions work for you and your baby. I had a very fast let down and large milk supply straight away which led to mastitis…and I thank my lucky stars for the midwife who taught me that certain positions help drain certain parts of your breast. If you position the baby’s lower lip over the problem area (or just the fullest area) that will be the first and main area the baby drains which ensures the baby gets the most from the feed AND helps relieve your breasts while they’re establishing your milk supply. (I wrote about my experience with mastitis here if you’re interested: http://sessadaily.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/coping-with-mastitis/)

  7. I feel your pain! I remember being near tears I was so tired when my daughter was born but it passed! Haha. And like you I really enjoy the bond breastfeeding creates. She is still breastfeeding now at ten months; I think after the fourth month it started to get easier for me – or I got used to it rather. I experienced initial pain when she latched on in the beginning and the the let down felt so crazy to me too. Im/my boobs are pretty tired (LOL). She visits her dad overnight every other weekend and pumping can be crucial. I am “full” every two hours it seems and can pump a good amount (at least 4 oz in 15 min) but when she is with me I barely get 2. I want to say I admire you though! Immediately going back to class/school and passing the bar; I’m sure you have heard it before but that is so HUGE especially for a new mom. I found it hard to focus on school so I did take a semester off. Anyway you are very driven and inspirational. Good luck to you…and your boobs!

  8. Great post!!! I was immediately taken back when you mentioned how much you are breastfeeding. I too am an on the go person and the amount of time I spent just sitting was KILLER! I am pregnant with baby #2 and plan to pump/bottle feed this time. I have other reasons for this decision but after breastfeeding my first for 4 months, before my milk dried up, I know I’m making the right decision for me, my family and my sanity πŸ™‚ Good for you with being honest!! P.S I did love the bond that came with breastfeeding. It was very satisfying, as a mother, knowing I was giving my child the best fuel I could…Hopefully with pumping/bottle feeding I’ll still experience a portion of this πŸ™‚

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