When the editor of the website asked me if I’d write about my experience breastfeeding so far, I said yes immediately. But then as I thought about it I got a little self-conscious about talking about my breasts on the internet. Well, I’m just going to keep reminding myself that it’s just that kind of self-consciousness that gives some women trouble with breastfeeding in general, and I’ll soldier on.
For context, I’m breastfeeding exclusively and have since day one.
I think almost every woman faces some sort of challenge when they first start breastfeeding. I was lucky enough to have good supply, only a few encounters with engorgement, and, magically, no leaking or spraying of milk! But we had a lot of trouble with latch for the first few weeks. I won’t lie, I was in a lot of pain, and I was really frustrated. For some reason I couldn’t figure out how to position him to help get him on the nipple correctly, and he had a very slight tongue-tie that didn’t help matters. (In fact, he still does some weird things during feedings that I think are tongue-related.) If you haven’t had your baby yet or you’re a new mom, TAKE ADVANTAGE of every opportunity to work with a lactation consultant or a knowledgeable nurse while you’re in the hospital. There was one overnight nurse I really clicked with, and I had her come help me get him latched on at every feeding for two nights. I also saw two official lactation consultants who were on-duty in the hospital, and got more tips from another nurse.
After we went home, I met with the LC (a nurse practitioner) at my pediatrician’s office. When you’re choosing a pediatrician, make sure to ask if there is an LC on staff--you can save yourself a bundle if those visits are part of your baby’s appointments, instead of having to pay out-of-pocket for independent support. There are also a lot of lactation support groups in most cities. The midwife practice I worked with has a postnatal support group weekly, with an LC there most weeks, and there are also free drop-in groups in my neighborhood run by Jewish Family & Children’s Services (you don’t have to be Jewish to attend).
I have to say, though, the turning point from me was when Tucker was about a week old and my friend Lauren came for a visit. She’d recently weaned her son, so everything was still fresh. After hearing me bemoan my problems, she had me feed him while she watched, and within 10 minutes she’d shown me a bunch of tricks with blankets to prop him up better, keep him in place, and suddenly nurse in comfort. The wave of relief when I finally nursed him without pain was huge: I knew at that moment that I would be able to do this, after all. So ask a good friend to help! You might be less tense than you are in a doctor’s office or group meeting, plus you’ll have your actual set-up (chai, pillows, etc.) to show them. In my case, I needed to swap the Boppy for the Brest Friend, which doesn’t have a sloped bit where the baby rolls down into you. I also needed to roll a flannel blanket and shove it behind his back to hold him in place so I had a hand free. (The photo above shows all the essentials: Brest Friend (agh, that name), blankets, remote, water and iPhone!)
While we were figuring out the latch my nipples got really banged up; cracked and sore, so the Lactation Consultant/Nurse Practitioner at the pediatrician’s office called in a prescription for APNO (All-Purpose Nipple Cream). It’s a specially designed to prevent infections and treat cracked nipples. It is made by a compounding pharmacist, so you need to find an apothecary to make it for you, and since most health plans charge extra for compounded prescriptions it’s not cheap, but it’s a miracle worker. The doctor who came up with the formula writes about it here: pregnancy.org. And over the last week I suddenly had a lot of pain and burning again, and some googling eventually pointed to thrush (yeast! in! the nipple! gross! also, owww.) as the culprit. I did some more internet research and found out that APNO would treat it until I could get things worked out with my midwife. And then the midwife said to just keep using the APNO. It helped within 12 hours.
One of the things a lot of women seem to worry about is feeding in public, but I’ve gotten comfortable pretty fast. I’ve nursed on a bench in Radcliffe Quad on the Harvard campus, in the children’s section of the library, in the front seat of the car at a pumpkin farm, and at mom’s group, friend’s houses, etc. The huge advantage of breastfeeding on the go is the portability, obviously! Nothing to warm up or heat up; I just pull out whatever blankets I have in the diaper bag, or fold up my jacket or vest or whatever, and use them to prop Tucker up a little bit. If I’m somewhere like the library or the pumpkin farm I drape a blanket or shawl over my shoulder for a bit of privacy, but I can’t be bothered if there aren’t a lot of people around. The key here is wearing the right clothes: I wear nursing tank tops under cardigans or button-down shirts, so I never have to pull up my shirt or anything; I just pop out one boob at a time and the rest of me stays covered. My wardrobe is even more limited than while I was pregnant, but at least it’s easy.
The bottom line is that breastfeeding is hard. At the beginning it can really hurt, it’s exhausting and feels endless. And it’s hard to adjust your mindset and accept that you’re the only one who can feed the baby, and that you will definitely be awake for those feedings in the middle of the night while your partner snoozes away. (Ben gets up to do the diaper change between sides, bless him.) But in addition to the well-known health benefits, I couldn’t give up the closeness with Tucker that I feel when I’m feeding him. I love the ridiculous noises he makes while he’s eating, and his pterodactyl impression when he’s hungry and rooting around frantically, then growls as he finally latches on. I love staring at his face while he eats, memorizing his ears and eyelashes. I truly love watching him after, passed out in a milk coma with little smiles flickering across his face. I may be spending three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half hours a day planted on the couch feeding him, but hey, it’s a chance to relax. I’m getting caught up on all sorts of tv shows and am totally on top of everyone’s facebook updates! (iPhone, people. You need one.)
Here’s the gear that I’ve found most useful:
-The Brest Friend, obviously.
-A variety of flannel receiving blankets to adjust the position of the pillow and hold the baby in place.
-A nursing stool. I nurse on the couch (after trying a bunch of options, it’s most comfortable and lets me watch tv if I get bored), and I needed to get my feet up a little higher.
-Muslin blankets, useful for feeding in public.
-Once again, the Total Baby app on my iPhone is terrific. One-touch recording of how long he’s eaten and on which side, with daily totals and averages for those of us who revel in statistics.
Kate Flaim is a freelance journalist and food blogger based in Cambridge, Mass. When she's not cooking or writing, she is gearing up for the arrival of her first child this summer.