It’s a catch-22 situation. You discover that you have been incorrectly positioning your baby, and have learned how to correct it, but now it’s too painful to nurse. Your nipples are red raw and their wounds have turned into scaly crusty scabs. Every time your baby latches on, he rips the scabs off, acquiring a side-order of blood to accompany his meal.
After being neglected by hospital staff, this week’s triumphant mom found herself in this dire state. Her nipple sores were so severe that they penetrated through several layers of skin, yet with nature dictating that her newborn would feed frequently, how could she get through this with her breastfeeding relationship (and nipples) intact?
“I intended to give birth to my son at home. He was about 2 weeks past his ‘due date’ and my pregnancy had been comfortable. When labor arrived, it was long – very long, and after three days we went to the hospital when I was given an epidural and pitocin. This was exactly what I was trying to avoid by birthing at home and I struggled with mixed feelings failure, guilt, and even relief.
Once he was born I tried to latch on my son but he was not very alert. He was taken away to have standard tests, etc with my husband accompanying. I was left alone and felt very, very alone.
hen everyone returned to the recovery room, we tried nursing again. It hurt. I knew from an antenatal breastfeeding class that nursing “shouldn’t hurt” so I asked the midwife. She disagreed and said that it should hurt. There were no lactation consultants on staff that night and I would have to wait until the next morning to see someone. In the meantime my son’s bad latch caused huge sores on both nipples meaning that each breastfeeding session got progressively more painful and by morning I was in tears.
When she saw my condition, the hospital lactation consultant was concerned and helped me to get a better latch by experimenting with positions. Everything worked while she was there and fell apart again when she left. That night at around 3:00AM, I heard my baby son sob for the first time, even though he had just eaten. We called the night midwife, who arrived with sugar water in a bottle and told me that I wasn’t making enough milk and would have to supplement. Those were not encouraging words at 3:00AM.
During my stay at the hospital, if I fell asleep and my son was in the baby cot next to my bed, the staff would take him to the nursery so I “I could rest.” I told them not to do this, but they did it frequently because “I looked so tired.” So I slept with him in my arms so no one could steal him again. They scolded me for that, too.
However, I was determined to make breastfeeding work. I did not have the birth of my choice. I wasn’t prepared to let “them” take this away from me, too. I’m not sure who I qualified as “them”, maybe it was the midwife, maybe the hospital, maybe the whole damn world.
So I let my son nurse and latch on for hours. It was a bad latch and hurt terribly, but I was determined. By the time we left the hospital, my sores went through many layers of skin causing each latch to make me scream internally.
Free of the hospital but not free of the pain
At home, everyone (friends, mom, mother-in-law – who all breastfed) seemed unconcerned about my nipple sores saying that breastfeeding does hurt. So, I suffered with my husband holding my hand as I cringed and shrieked at each feeding, tears rolling down my checks. My son had blood in his spit-up due to my scabs ripping open during each feeding. By this stage, my nipples were 80% scabs.
After three weeks, we called the La Leche League and a leader came to our house. She worked with me for three hours to get his latch right and offered a much-needed shoulder to cry on. Finally, someone understood what I was going through and cared enough to help. She recommended that I go to another lactation consultant to get the help I so desperately needed.
The new lactation consultant actually gasped when she saw my condition. She suggested that I pump a little before my feedings to soften the nipple so that my son could latch on properly. I still had very deep sores and she advised me to see a doctor because it looked like the skin was infected and I had a plugged duct.
A couple of days later, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I had the chills and did not even have the muscle strength to pick up my own son. I had mastitis. I would get mastitis three times in the space of one month.
When my son was two months old, I was finally able to attend a La Leche League meeting. He still had bad latch issues so I brought a hand pump just in case I had to hand express some milk. He was asleep when we got to the meeting and woke up screaming for milk. I tried to get him to latch and like many times before we had latch issues and my oversupply was spraying him all over his face. I went over to the side of the room for privacy and a La Leche League member came to help. She suggested that I look into using nipple shields, which (unknown to me at the time) are controversial because they can diminish supply.
I bought the nipple shields and we used them for two months. I also kept pumping to keep my supply up. I had literally a freezer full of milk and donated it to some local mommies through my midwife. I was pretty frustrated with having to wash the nipple shields and I guess my son was too, because at four months old he grabbed the nipple shield off my breast, threw it behind his back and went in for mama milk straight from the breast.
My son is now three and a half and we continue to nurse. We aren’t weirdo hippies because I breastfeed a preschooler, we are actually quite conventional. I think both my husband and myself were taken aback by the importance of breastfeeding for every stage of infancy, toddlerhood, and beyond. I nurse in public proudly because I feel that it is one of my great accomplishments. Breastfeeding is the purest joy and such a wonderful tool for toddlers that I cannot fathom why anyone would wean early. I am so glad that we fought through the early very hard months of breastfeeding to be where we are today.
It is my hope that new mothers would not have to suffer like I did. I believe this can be accomplished with more staffing of lactation consultants in hospitals and educating the labor and delivery nurses in the basics of human lactation.”
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