Painful Challenges of Breastfeeding

Painful Challenges of Breastfeeding

“Here’s some formula samples for you to take home,” said my nurse as he helped me pack my things to return home as a first-time mother. 

“But I’m breastfeeding,” I reminded him.

“I know, but just in case it doesn’t work out or something happens.”

Doesn’t work out? What do you mean? You put the baby to your boob and presto, breastfeeding.

Or so I naively thought.

My daughter was all of one-day old, and we supposedly were doing great with breastfeeding – at least that’s what the nurses, doctors and hospital lactation consultant told me.

I was committed to breastfeeding from the moment I found out I was pregnant (which was quite a shock in itself, but that’s another story). I’ve always been the all-natural, follow-your-instincts kind of gal, so breastfeeding was a no-questions-asked avenue for me.

It’s what my breasts were made for – besides being tummy umbrellas. It’s what’s best for my baby. It’s just breastfeeding, I told myself.

Because I was so committed to breastfeeding, I didn’t do much research about it. Instead, I researched diapers (chose gDiapers), parenting techniques (still not sure what I follow), and baby items (playpen with or without a changing table, with or without a bassinet; 3-in-1 convertibles cribs or 4-in-1; oh, the endless choices on everything).

Then, I got home with Ostara.

We left the hospital at night to avoid an impending snowstorm. The next morning, I woke up and my breasts were enormous – it looked like a plastic surgeon fairy visited me in the few hours that I slept. I later found out this was normal, but at the time, I was clueless as to what was happening. But hey, they were super perky, so I didn’t think much about it.

Until the pain set in. Oh! The pain.

I was so engorged I thought my breasts were literally going to explode like a water balloon left on a running faucet.

And every time Ostara would latch on, I would gasp for a breath as goose bumps rippled across my body and I winced in pain; it was excruciating for about a minute or so, and then subsided to be bearable. (This coming from an all-natural childbirth.)

Even though I was so committed to breastfeeding, I will admit the thought of using that sample formula did cross my mind a time or two. I never did it, though. Instead, I took my nurse’s kind gesture as a challenge; you think I’ll give up? I’ll show you!

Because I didn’t do the research, I knew nothing about meeting with lactation consultants and their different ranks as I gritted my teeth and bore through the pain of breastfeeding. Not that it would’ve really mattered anyways, though; my fiancé got a call when Ostara was two days old that his father was in the ICU in Springfield – we were in St. Joseph – and he needed to come ASAP. We only had one car, and so he took it to Springfield, leaving me alone with a newborn Ostara and our dogs. In retrospect, it was all quite overwhelming.

But I preserved.

I continued to breastfeed. I packed up our house. We moved from St. Joe to Springfield when Ostara was eight days old.

I still wish I had known about the help a lactation consultant could’ve potentially offered us. Maybe then it wouldn’t have taken months for me to comfortably breastfeed Ostara. Maybe I wouldn’t have dreaded her feeding schedule and her hunger cues. Maybe I would’ve been more receptive to moving beyond the ‘grin-it-and-bear-it’ breastfeeding relationship we had.

Or maybe not – who knows.

I do know that Ostara exclusively breastfed for six months and continued to breastfeed until she was almost 19 months.

We made it through the dreadful teething stage. It was then I knew I had my hands full with this little girl as she would clamp down, smile and giggle as she stretched my nipple out of her mouth while I winced in pain and sternly told her no – a character trait that has continued into her toddlerhood (minus biting my nipple, of course.)

Despite our rocky beginning, I wanted her to self-wean. But, when I found out I was pregnant with #2, I sped up her weaning process. There is absolutely nothing wrong with tandem nursing in my eyes, but it wasn’t for me at that point; my boobs needed a break from all the attention, and I needed them to be just mine for a couple months.

Cue baby #2: Freya.

Freya came when Ostara was 21 months olds, weaned for only about two months. I was terrified at the pain I associated with breastfeeding, and I was worried Ostara would regress and sibling rivalry would begin with my breasts.

To my surprise, there was absolutely no pain when Freya latched on immediately after her birth. Weeks went by, and still no pain. Had my nipples just callused to the point I couldn’t feel the pain anymore? Or did Ostara have an undiagnosed lip or tongue tie? Or did we have a poor latch that went unrecognized? I honestly have no idea, but nonetheless, breastfeeding Freya has been all-around a much less painful experience.

The biggest pain came about two weeks in when I had the beginning signs of mastitis (milk production has clearly never been an issue for me – I pumped 16 ounces one morning a week after Freya was born). I had only pumped once that day, on top of her nearly hourly feedings, but I started to notice red streaks on my breasts and felt just terrible. I even described it as feeling like the flu to my fiancé before realizing that was a common feeling with mastitis.

Unlike with Ostara, I got on the computer and began to research. I knew I was dedicated to breastfeeding Freya, and I needed to figure out what was going on. That’s when I realized I had the beginning symptoms of mastitis.

And unlike with Ostara, I had a good breastpump handy. So that’s what I did for the next 45 minutes – I drained my breasts for the first time in weeks. Almost instantly I began to feel better.

Since then, I have kept my breastpump nearby. Ten months in, and I have been able to donate more than 200 ounces of pumped breastmilk to a couple moms in Springfield as well as keep a small supply in my own freezer.

Freya has reached the point where she is a gymanist while she eats, twisting and turning, trying to flip and stand up. All with my breast in her hand and nipple in her mouth. It’s … interesting, though not as painful as it looks.

As far as my fear of Ostara’s regression back to the breast … She became curious when Freya was about six months old as to what was going on.

She heard my talk about my milk frequently (freaking out as it would start spraying across the couch when Freya would unlatch, watching me pump almost daily, seeing Freya eat, etc.). One day, Ostara decided she wanted to try “mommy’s milk”. To be honest, I was pretty weirded out by the request, but I let her go ahead. I was amazed that she latched right on and got a mouthful of milk.

She promptly spit it out.

“Ew,” she said. “No like it.”

To my surprise, I was crushed. Her only source of nutrition for a solid six months, the only thing that would make her crying stop and soothe her, the milk that kept her alive and her immune system thriving – and she didn’t like it anymore. It was as if she was rejecting me, though I knew she wasn’t.

Ostara has become keenly aware of the female anatomy, and isn’t shy about letting me know about hers.

“My nipples!” she shouts as she lifts her shirt.

Favorite benefits

Delayed menstruation (6 months postpartum after Ostara and 9 months postpartum after Freya); boosted immune system for baby; quicker to lose weight for mom

Breastfeeding accessory essentials

Breastpads, Lanolin cream, and a GOOD breastpump

About author:

Kandice Matteson is the Advertising & Editorial Director and Co-Publisher of From Our Nest magazine, residing in Ozark with her husband, two daughters and two dogs. With a Bachelor’s degree in journalism and a Master’s in rhetoric, Matteson spends almost as much time dissecting the meanings and motives behind language and composition as she does watching Frozen with her two daughters. She's a quasi-crunchy mama who cherishes children and loves to share knowledge and information with all that will let her.

View all posts by Kandice Matteson