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!
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).
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. 😛 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. 😉