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When Breastfeeding Sucks (Literally) and What I Did About It

Written by Tiffany H

The day of your first child’s birth. Beautiful. Raw. Precious. Difficult. And more than anything the most lovely, trying, learning experience you could ever begin. Veteran moms will tell you, 2 weeks. Give it two weeks. Breastfeeding isn’t easy. It’s something you both have to get used to and figure out. You’ll be sore, but after those two weeks you’ll be adjusted enough to not dread feeding your little angel, and able to enjoy the bond you both are developing.

But sometimes it doesn’t happen that way.

I’m sharing my story in case it can help even one mom before she goes through the misery I did, or, heaven forbid, gives up and her little one doesn’t get the nutrition and goodness that only breastfeeding can give them. (I go more into that in this post).

My son is 11 months old. I have had pain a minimum of 9.5 out of those 11 months. Pain ranging from gritting your teeth, to crying and praying and labor breathing through each feeding. I told my doula that breastfeeding is worse than pregnancy and almost up there with labor. Thankfully our little bug didn’t have any growth issues or trouble latching. I, however, had every issue I didn’t even know you could have.

Initially, nursing him was very, very painful. Our lactation consultant checked everything and said he was latched fine, but that he had a ‘Hoover suck’ and it was going to take getting used to. 2 weeks, just give it two weeks. I used Earth Mama Angel Baby Nipple Butter religiously, usually before AND after each feeding, and hung in there for those two weeks.

The first six weeks or so he would cluster feed, sometimes as much as 6-8 hours straight. Nurse one side, fall asleep for 5 minutes, wake screaming, nurse the other side, fall asleep for five minutes, wake screaming, and on and on it went for hours. It was very distressing and along with my hormones crashing from his birth, milk coming in, and the pain from it all, I cried for hours straight. It was in those moments I thought things couldn’t be worse, I saw everything so darkly. If you’re in that moment right now, I want you to breathe. Realize a lot of this is hormones, pray, close your eyes and concentrate on the blessing of each breath, tell yourself “relax your shoulders, relax your neck, relax your back”, ask Hubby for a shoulder/back rub, watch one of your favorite shows, google verses for encouragement (there you go!), grab one that really speaks to you and meditate on it, and absolutely allow yourself to cry it out (it helps release stress hormones!). Then KNOW, this too shall pass. That time for me felt like forever in the moment, but in all honesty, it was just the blink of an eye. You’ll come out of it, and you’ll be stronger and wiser and the best mommy your little one could ever have.

I told my mother in law at 3 weeks that I think it was finally starting to let up. I thought soon it would be more bearable to nurse, and promised I wasn’t giving up. I went through so much of that nipple butter. (Get some!) But it never did let up. It changed though.

The pain went from burning, searing pain just in the nipple area, to throbbing, to shooting, stabbing through the entire breast. I started having 101-102 degree fevers (FUOs) out of nowhere, with no other symptoms, and make me so achy and weak that I could hardly pick up the baby. I always seemed to get a plugged duct or mastitis afterwards, so I really think it was the infection from that manifesting in my whole body.

Then plugged ducts came along, more and more frequently until they were daily. They would be huge, painful knots out of nowhere that only went away after lots of heat, massaging (through the pain), and hard pumping (Baby wouldn’t nurse on the side with the plug most often). I would have such a feeling of relief finally getting it to go away and then it would start on the other side.

Around when the pain changed to shooting, I noticed Baby had a single white spot on his lower gum. We thought at first it was a tooth. Nope, thrush. He had no symptoms (sans the spot), but I had the piercing pain, nipple discoloration and itching/burning.

Then, along with the plugged ducts, came the milk blisters – painful, white, pimple-like, blisters on the nipple that have to be opened, often caused by the plug. Sometimes nursing can cause enough friction to open it naturally, but it never did for me. Finally getting it open made a sore that felt like it was a mile wide, and nursing (somehow) became even more painful.

There is hope

We did specific things for each issue above. I want to share them with you as they helped me. I wish I had known what I do now, only at the beginning!

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FUOs (Fever of Unknown Origin) – According to my doctor, fevers are caused by your body trying to heat the calcium out of your bones. Your immune system needs calcium to ‘see’ where the infection is so it can send Vitamin C there to burn it up/destroy it. If you don’t have enough calcium, your body still knows that there’s an infection, but can’t ‘see’ where. When my fevers would come on, I would take large doses of Standard Processes Calcium Lactate and then Cataplex C (Vitamin C) until it went down. My acupuncturist/clinical nutritionist added immune support to my program, which was Thymex and Congaplex in amounts my body said it needed through muscle testing. We added collagen hydrolysate from Great Lakes daily to work on gut health and I quickly cleaned up my diet again. (I fell off the wagon shortly after Baby came due to situations with our previous Drs office).

Thrush – The shooting, entire breast pain was a candida overgrowth that I was feeding with my previously poor diet, stress and tight, too supportive bras/nursing tops. First thing was cutting out all sugar, I added coconut oil to my smoothies and applied it to my nipples before and after feedings. It would get better, then worse, constantly cycling. So we added Zymex and a probiotic to my supplements, and I started drinking kefir daily and adding more sauerkraut to my diet. I cut out my organic white spelt and replaced it entirely with organic sprouted flours, then cut them way back.

Plugged Ducts – My doula told me I needed to stop wearing a bra immediately, so I went to solely the support from nursing tanks. It helped for about a week, but then they came right back. It was a suffocating, hopeless feeling. Any time we went so much as an hour longer than normal, it never failed I would have a plugged duct and 24 hours of pain and misery trying to get it down. We tried more supplements – Mammary PMG, and it didn’t make any noticeable difference. After hours of research, we finally decided to try what everyone online was saying to take – Non-GMO Lecithin. Hubby tested me for it and I needed 7 of the monster pills. We tried 4-5 the first day, then tested again and it went way down, to three. I did those 3 for a while, one with every meal, then it was two and currently I’m at 1 a day. Since the day after starting it, I haven’t had one plugged duct and so far it’s been about two months. I would highly, highly recommend them if you’ve been fighting plugged ducts to no avail.

Milk Blisters – After the plugged ducts were resolved, these were (thank God!) no longer an issue. However beforehand I had to use sterilized tweezers to open the blister, then hand express the blocked milk out. Then just applying lots of extra coconut oil and/or nipple butter.

Nipple Pain – Trying all the above things made the pain come and go some, but mainly just change in type and severity. My doula kept encouraging us to get baby boy checked for tongue and lip ties. Calling around to ENTs and Pediatric Dentists in the area yielded terrible results. Everyone either didn’t do them, didn’t do lip ties, or made it a big complicated Operating Room procedure where he would be under general anesthesia and have sutures. We said no way, and contacted the world-renowned Pediatric Dentist in Albany, Dr. Lawrence Kotlow, who revolutionized the treatment. We emailed a picture of under his tongue and upper lip, and got the confirmation from Dr. Kotlow that there was an issue. Long story short, we drove the 4+ hours to the office, had the procedure, and after much emotion and 10 minutes, he was nursing differently immediately. My pain was almost gone entirely by day 2. I highly recommend checking into this issue soon after birth if you’re still having issues. Don’t wait the 9 months we did!

However…

After almost 2 weeks of pain free feedings, I started noticing the right side feeling funny, like it always did before the pain was full blown. Couple feedings later I was back to labor breathing, whole body tension during each session – but only on the right side.

At this point my diet was pretty clean. I was still eating no white sugar, more probiotics (supplemental and food), less grains, and only sprouted. In a last ditch effort, I finally said I don’t know what else to do, but maybe I’ll try cutting out gluten entirely. I didn’t cut out all grains, I still included sprouted rice and sprouted oats/oatmeal occasionally, but no bread, absolutely nothing with gluten. Again, Day 2 the pain was gone entirely, but this time my nipples were actually healing. It’s been over a month now, sans several meals with a slice of sourdough bread, and I haven’t had one feeding with pain (plus he’s even getting 4-6 upper teeth in currently).

Conclusion

I knew how important real food was when he was born, but I let myself rationalize each ‘cheat’. If I could go back, I would emphasize getting the good, whole foods in. I would make sure I did probiotics daily, made myself sleep when I could, and start eliminating things immediately to see what might help. It was almost immediate relief when we finally tried gluten. I would start with all bad sugars, then if no relief in a week, go right to gluten. (We had already removed all soy, modern wheat and processed ‘foods’ from our diets previously, so if you haven’t done those steps, add them, but quickly. Both you and baby will benefit greatly from your healthier diet).

I would have Baby checked for tongue/lip ties by a qualified professional at or soon after birth. Our backup midwife checks for them at birth when she’s delivering, but we had no idea of the importance at the time, so that slipped by us.

I would use lots of coconut oil, topically and internally to help keep the yeast that causes thrush at bay. Also, make sure I had supportive tops that were not too tight or constricting, and keep lots of earth mama nipple butter, calcium lactate, vitamin c, immune support like Thymex, Congaplex, Spanish Black Radish and Antronex, non-GMO Soy Lecithin, and probiotics (Lact-Enz, ProSynbiotic, Dr. Axe Probiotics) on hand.

I know there is no one size fits all solution for complex issues such as these. That’s partly why I have been trial and error-ing for the last 11 months. πŸ˜› I hope sharing my story can, if nothing else, give you hope for the future. Breastfeeding is so worth all that ^ and more, for both of you!

Share your nursing fails and triumphs with us below! I’ve found when Mama’s open up with each other, the wealth of information is amazing. It’s like an up close and personal Google. πŸ˜‰

About the author

Tiffany H

Hi! I'm Tiffany, mama to the handsomest little boy and sweetest little girl, and wife to the best man ever. I love my Savior, being a housewife, mama and personal 'bakist' to the hubby, living naturally, and making real food taste yummy. I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into my crazy, happy life. Join me on the journey, let's get to know each other!

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22 Comments

    • I have one of the recipes for a breakfast smoothie on my Real Recipes page. πŸ™‚ However, if you’re wanting to try going diary free, full fat coconut milk works great in place of the yogurt! I actually almost prefer that one. Here’s an example of what I’d put in it:
      Approx 1/4c. coconut milk (full of good fats)
      Dash of lemon juice
      Dash of vanilla
      2 heaping tbsp. grass-fed collagen hydrolysate (healthy protein and has gut healing properties)
      Raw honey to taste
      Organic strawberries
      Wild or organic blueberries
      Organic banana (although this is higher in sugar again)
      Tbsp of coconut oil (kills yeast and adds great fats)
      Water till the consistency is right πŸ™‚

      Blend really well and enjoy! If you’re concerned about the honey feeding the yeast, here’s a super interesting article to read!

    • Hi Corrine, my baby had a single white spot in his mouth that we attributed to the thrush I had, but he had no symptoms or discomfort like I did, so we focused on treating me. I highly recommend finding a functional medicine doctor, NRT (Nutrition Response Testing) Practitioner or clinical nutritionist who uses muscle testing. Getting on natural supplements to help kill the yeast (thrush), along with changing my diet to cut out grains and sugars that were feeding the yeast helped a ton. Whatever you do, I hope and pray that you guys find a solution soon! I know how miserable it can be!

      • I actually saw my NST doc yesterday and she put baby and I both on Prosynbiotic. Said at this point we didn’t need Zymex. My baby has nothing in her mouth at all, but has a minor diaper rash. How did you keep your calories up high enough on a restricted diet to continue to produce milk? I continue to have trouble with that πŸ™

        • NST? I googled that and all it wants to tell me is it stands for ‘Non-Stress Test’. πŸ˜‰ Lol

          ProSynbiotic is great! I was on that for a while, then went to Lact-Enz when I didn’t need as much. Right now I’m not testing for either. That’s great you don’t need Zymex yet! Hopefully the probiotics kick it first. πŸ™‚ My thrush was so bad I was on a good dose of Zymex, ProSynbiotic and drainage for months! I think the gluten in the grains I was eating was feeding it though, so it became a cycle (kill the yeast, feed it) until I finally gave my body a break from the gluten. I only stayed off for about a month, before reintroducing it in the form of ancient grains (spelt, sprouted spelt/wheat/etc) and that did the trick!

          First off, how restricted is your diet? Are you doing lots of grass-fed meat/dairy? Can you do oats? If I knew what you couldn’t have, I could try to give you some suggestions. πŸ™‚ Let me know!

          I’m sorry you’re having trouble, Mama. You’re doing so good though! Your baby is so blessed to have you, and I promise this hard time won’t last. It gets better! Just keep doing your part – eating right, taking the supplements and most of all, getting lots of rest in while soaking up the sweet time with your little one. How old is she, btw? <3

          • Haha! NRT!
            Initially my diet wasn’t restricted. But my little almost 3 month old has reflux so I cut out dairy and that seemed to help, only then my supply dropped drastically because I couldn’t keep up the calories. Then I thought she was constipated and someone recommended I drink lots of fruit juice and eat dried fruit. So I’m assuming that is why I now have a yeast issue that is out of control. I went back on dairy to try to keep calories and good fats, and now she is super congested again. On top of her yeast issues. I really don’t want to do diflucan on her. Her poor kidneys shouldn’t have to process that garbage. I’m trying to at least keep my grains low, but again, then it’s hard to keep calories. I don’t get a lot of time to cook for myself, so this is all very challenging and easy snacks are loaded with carbs and sugar! I’m just really down about this all. It seems like everything I try to improve one issue creates another one πŸ™

          • That’s what I thought. πŸ˜‰ It’s awesome that you see a NRT Dr! Have they not been helpful with food ideas tho?

            Are they testing your little one? I know my practitioners used different things to add to pumped breastmilk that really helped our reflux-y babies.

            Are you eating RAW or pasteurized dairy? Are you on anything like Multizyme or Lact-Enz to help you digest it? And yes, juice and dried fruit are super high in sugar. You need to focus more on grass-fed protein and highly nutritious foods to help your body make milk. I know it’s good to try to keep your grains low, but there are some that could be helpful (as long as you don’t test poorly for them! Take a sample of anything you might be concerned about to your NRT Dr to make sure you AND baby are good with them). Here are some of my suggestions: sprouted oats (I love the brand ‘To Your Health’, some health food stores sell it, or you can get it online) – oats are good for your supply and both Baby and I tested well for the sprouted ones, organic greens including spinach (make sure you have some kind of quality protein with it – hamburger, chicken, steak, nuts, and a dressing either homemade or storebought with olive oil. NO canola, soybean, etc), sprouted organic rice (we buy ours on Amazon), sweet potatoes with butter (these are easy – wash, cut off the ends, put on a cookie sheet in the oven at 400-420 for 1-1.5 hours depending on size and done!), nuts (preferably sprouted), and then I highly recommend getting enough good quality fats in coconut oil and raw butter (ingredients should say: cream, salt). Are you on anything like Tuna Omega 3 oil? Have you tried Earth Mama’s Milkmaid tea? I never had a supply issue (I think it was because I was getting plenty of fats), but heard from my Doula that that can really help with supply.

            Couple snack ideas – nuts, organic peanut butter and carrots (carrots are actually good for supply!), full fat coconut milk smoothies, and leftovers! If you’re able to make one healthy meal a day, make extra! Hubby always has a good lunch that way, and that way you could make sure you have something healthy and filling too. Both baby and you need you to eat!

            I hope some of these ideas help! Let me know how you’re doing, Mama! I’ll be praying for you, I know how stressful this time can be. Just try to cherish all the wonderful little things that are happening even through this rough patch. <3

        • I’m not sure what you mean? Who used that term?

          I actually just looked it up, and I can’t believe how much that sounds like what I had! It was deep, burning, shooting pain that lasted after the feeding and sometimes up until the next one. That’s so interesting because no one ever used that term with me! If that’s what you think you have, and still aren’t testing for Zymex, I would just make sure you’re cutting out all bad sugars (honey and maple syrup are ok, just not tons of them), yeast and I’d do gluten, too. The first two helped me, but what finally pushed me over the edge towards healing was nixing gluten for a time. I still had sprouted rice and oats occasionally during the GF phase.

          • I’m on diflucan now because the Prosynbiotic wasn’t working at least quickly enough πŸ™ and my baby won’t latch and keeps pulling off…so currently she is on formula and diflucan and I’m on it and have to pump and dump πŸ™ I’m heartbroken πŸ™ and she just wants mama’s milk πŸ™ I really don’t like to use pharmaceuticals, but I didn’t know what else to do. My NRT is an hour away and it’s hard to feed a hungry baby, make appointments, and pump round the clock to not lose my milk or get infected πŸ™ My heart hurts so badly. I’ve been on my knees crying out to God over this.

          • Awww Corrine, I’m so sorry! How long do you have to be on it?? Were you having the ductal thrush symptoms?

          • How long did it take for your system to clear? I just never want to pass this back to my baby once we are both clear. I never want her to have to take this awful medicine again. πŸ™

          • Well, like I said, once I totally cut gluten and bad sugars I noticed a huge improvement in days. BUT I was also on Zymex and Fen Cho (drainage), I believe, so I think getting rid of that stuff allowed the supplements to finally work. Previously I wasn’t eating much gluten, maybe a slice of homemade spelt bread a day? But it was enough to keep me from healing.

          • Yeah, Ductal mostly. Hardly any external. I’ve been having a morning smoothie and then I make big pots of soup and eat that all day. They only gave me the dose for vaginal yeast infections which I don’t have, so it’s 1 pill and then another in a week if I’m not better. But from what I read, that dose doesn’t work. So I’m trying hard to do other things alongside to get rid of this πŸ™ I’m just at such a loss. Unfortunately My daughter must’ve inherited my poor gut health so I’m worried that once she gets rid of it, she may get it again πŸ™ I just don’t know what to do πŸ™ I have always been a fairly healthy person. I just don’t know what happened πŸ™

          • That was the same for me – almost entirely ductal. What do you put in your smoothie? Are you making homemade broth for your soup? If you have gut issues, definitely if at all possible make your own stock. Make sure your meat and soup bones are healthy (grass fed, local if possible! It’s a lot cheaper too, when we buy from a local farmer!). Are you adding gelatin or collagen hydrolysate to your smoothies? Are your veggies organic? At least make sure the most important ones are – like celery. If you’re adding that to your soup, it needs to be organic. The pesticides are IN and through the ribs, not just on the surface, and are super damaging to the gut (I tested for the MAX when I first started NRT), and I believe that’s why I have gut issues in the first place.

            Keep doing what you’re doing with your diet, Girl. Keep researching. I’d check out Dr. Axe, too. He has tons of articles on gut health and various health issues. And if you can, get back to your NRT doc ASAP. They need to test you for Zymex and some kind of drainage again. Since you’re on Diflucan and if it starts to kill the yeast at all, you’re going to feel worse until you can actually drain the pus from the killed yeast. And it’s very possible Baby Girl inherited your gut health – but it can be healed too! Breast milk is very healing for baby, so try to get back to that as soon as you can and do it for as long as you can. (I know you want to, Mama, and it’ll happen!) Is the formula she’s on organic at least? Pasteurized dairy, sugar, soy, etc that’s in the formula is hard on her gut. Do you have access to organic raw cow’s milk? Or donor milk possibly? How old is she again? Once you start foods, you can always do healing ones for the gut, like bone broth soups, gelatin/collagen, and hold off on the grains until at least after a year. Then when you do start them, stick to ancient grains and sprouted (spelt, kamut, millet, oats) and lots of healthy fats (butter, coconut oil, olive if not heated).

            Pregnancy is one of the hardest things on our bodies. It wakes up hormones and processes that stress and tax our bodies to the max. But it’s miraculous too! Look at what we helped create! Such beautiful, perfect little miniature humans! πŸ˜‰ God didn’t make a mistake in how He created us. And we CAN get back to health, sometimes it’s just a longer road than normal. But in the process, we grow and learn and soak up so much info we wouldn’t have known if we didn’t go through this time!

            Please don’t give up, Mama. You’re doing great. I know this is such a hard, trying, emotional time. It’s a huge bump in the road. But it won’t always be there, and it’s a great learning experience that you’ll always have for any future babies! <3

          • So far my little man has been ok, gut-wise. He has been healthy, has always had clear skin, no BM issues, etc. I’m very blessed! He seems to have inherited his Daddy’s good health, however I did do things to try to help preserve his gut health. We started solids around 9 months, but only light things like organic or local chicken mixed with organic sweet potatoes and butter. He did not have any grains until after a year, and then when he did it was homemade, ancient grains like my spelt bread or sprouted oats with collagen, wild blueberries, and maple syrup. I also nursed him until he self-weaned around 15 months.

            If I can ask, did you guys vaccinate? (If you want, feel free to message me!) Do you live around high-tension wires or areas that are highly sprayed (Monsanto corn/soy fields)? What kind of water do you use (city/well)? Do you filter your drinking/cooking water? Do you have a filter on your shower? What kind of makeup/cleaning products do you use? Is there any way you might be exposed to mold in the house you live in?

  • Excellent article that I’m sure will help many new mothers. I can appreciate all the extremely hard times you guys went thru and thank you for sharing your experiences.