Breastfeeding (verb): to nurse a baby at the breast.
Breastfeeding (adverb): the seemingly never-ending horror that is raw, sore, scabby, bruised, throbbing, spasmodic, aching breasts and nipples.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE breastfeeding. I am fortunate to have been able to exclusively breastfeed my son since birth (with the addition of solid food starting at six months). But it was NOT an easy road. My son was lazy with his latch, and I dealt with cycle after cycle of bloody, bruised, cracked, blistery, and throbbing nipples. Our theme song for the first three months was “Everyday I’m strugglin’.”
We tried numerous combinations of different nursing positions, pillow supports, latch techniques, and breastfeeding doohickies. Some worked for a minute, and others did not work at all. Many times in a fit of frustration I threatened to throw in the towel. But I had a wonderful husband who comforted me, supported me, and repeatedly offered words of encouragement. To say breastfeeding is challenging is to put it lightly, but it was one of the things I was completely devoted to doing with my son and so we forged our way through.
Words of hope: the longer we breastfed, the easier it became.
My son eventually learned how to open his mouth wider (which helped with a deeper latch), he could lift his head to help with the angle of his latch, and he adjusted to the flow of my milk. We are still going strong 13 months later, so I wanted to share some tips on how to take care of your nips (and your breasts!) if you choose to/are able to breastfeed your own child.
1. BUY THESE THINGS (before your baby is born!): nipple cream (this is my favorite), a u-shaped pillow (I used this one, and it was awesome for my lazy son who didn’t do anything to help himself nurse), a manual breast-pump (I used this one, and it worked sufficiently well), some kind of nursing bra (I used one like this, because I couldn’t stand for underwire to be anywhere near my breasts during those early months), and nursing pads (I used these, because I try to be economical and save the earth, but also because they were soft and did not make me cry when pressed against my injured nipples).
- I used the nipple cream after EVERY nursing session, even when things were mostly healed. It helped my nipples stay moisturized and eased the pain when they were still healing.
- The pillow was something I thought I could get away with not purchasing–until I gave birth to a baby who didn’t want to do anything to help himself nurse. That pillow saved my arms, my back, and the little sanity I had left.
- You have never felt true pain and discomfort until you have felt your milk come in. This little breast pump was a life-saver those first few days. For one, our insurance would not let us apply for the electric pump until AFTER the baby was born. For another, even if I had had the electric pump I was in NO state of mind to learn how to use it. The manual pump was easy to fit together, to use, and it eased enough of the pressure for me not to cry every hour of the day.
- I live(d) in this nursing bra. It is soft, flexible, and allowed easy access for my son to nurse throughout the day. I may or may not still wear them everyday. I mean, they’re like yoga pants for your boobs.
- You will leak everywhere. You will leak when you sneeze, when you cough, when you eat, and when you breathe. But these nursing pads soaked up all the spillage and never once bled through to my shirt. They are also super soft and don’t wreak additional havoc on your already injured and tender nipples.
2. Have on hand things you can use for hot and cold compresses (i.e. a sock filled with rice, a soft ice pack). They will ease some of the pain and discomfort you feel from the ache and over-fullness of your breasts (or if you get a clogged duct or mastitis).
3. If, like my son, your baby is lazy and latches improperly thus destroying your nipples on a daily basis, do these things to help them heal faster:
- Express breastmilk and rub it on your nipples (breastmilk has amazing healing properties!).
- Let your boobs hang out in the open and air-dry as much as possible. Like scratches or other wounds you get elsewhere on your body, the cracks on your nipples need air to dry and scab over so they can start healing. Also, the more moisture there is on your raw, cracked nipples the more likely you are to develop a yeast infection or thrush (which you can then pass back and forth between your baby which = a no good time for anyone).
- Use the nipple cream! All day, everyday!
4. Try a nipple shield when you nurse. This one is usually available in local stores. Personally, these did not work for me. The suctioning sensation caused tremendous pain against my injured nipples. But, I know LOTS of people who have used these successfully with no problems. I’m
probably just a giant weenie.
5. Get some breast shells to help with flat or inverted nipples (like these or these). These shells can help stimulate your flat or inverted nipple to facilitate your baby getting a better/deeper latch.
6. Talk to your practitioner. Talk to your friends. Read articles. Watch videos. And use ALL the local resources you can find. In large part through trial and error, we figured out how to breastfeed well enough so as not to destroy my nipples anymore, but an equally large part of learning was research, advice, and guidance from professionals and people we trusted.
Check out these local Chattanooga/Tennessee breastfeeding resources (most of which I used and cannot praise enough!):
Erlanger Breastfeeding Services: 423-778-6247. They have lactation consultants available, and they also have an outpatient lactation clinic where you can schedule to see a practitioner in person. Call 423-778-4181 to schedule an appointment.
Hamilton County WIC Breastfeeding Best Start Program: 423-209-8321. You have to be a WIC recipient to see a peer counselor, but anyone else in the community can schedule to see a lactation consultant.
Tennessee Breasfeeding Hotline: 1-855-423-6667. They are available 24/7 and speak in over 200 different languages!