Tag Archives: nipple trauma

Breastfeeding is Hard

Standard

IMG_7438My little daughter, Emily, was playing with baby dolls.  She wanted me to play with her.  Handing me a soft, pink baby, she told me baby was hungry.  I pretended to lift the corner of my sweater, pantomimed nursing the doll for three seconds, then burped it.

“No, Mama!” Emily said.  “Dat baby get her milk fwom a cup.”

“Really?” I asked.  “She looks kind of small to be drinking from a cup already.”  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt a little judgey  of Emily’s parenting of her doll, so I added, “Ok, Em.  Why don’t you get her a cup and show me how you feed baby.”

Emily trotted off to her kitchen play area and came back with a pretend jug of milk.  She lovingly dumped the milk down baby’s mouth and then held baby to burp her, just like I had.

She giggled when she made the pretend “Buuurrrppp!”

A little while later, Emily picked dolly back up, proclaimed baby was hungry again, and started to tug at the collar of her top.  It took me a moment to figure out what she was trying to do.  When I nurse Emily, either in the morning or before bed, I am usually wearing a tank top that I pull down over my breast to allow her access.  Emily was trying to do the same.

Her top had a snug, high neck, so she was unable to do it.  She looked at me pleadingly.

“I don’t know how to get her undah’ deah,” she said.

“Well, Emily, honey,” I said.  “That shirt won’t work to pull down, so why don’t you sit down with baby and try pulling up the corner of your shirt?”

I thought I was being helpful, but Emily got really frustrated.  After another moment of struggling with her shirt, she threw the baby doll down and stomped off, crying.  When I tried to help more, the situation escalated to a full-scale tantrum that lasted 15 minutes and ended with Emily going down for her nap.

Poor kid.  It’s hard to be three.

But seriously, I’ve been there with breastfeeding.

I remember struggling with my babies to get them to latch comfortably under my shirt.  It was so awkward, exhausting, and painful in the beginning.  I remember the frustration of not to be able to feed my babies quickly, easily, and painlessly.  Ugh.  Not just frustrating, but demoralizing.

I spent hours crying about it during those early weeks of motherhood.  My nursing relationship with my newborn son was initially so awful it contributed to postpartum depression and anxiety.

While I never wanted to throw my babies, I did feel urges to put them down, quietly go make a bottle, and be done with breastfeeding once and for all.

I’m glad I didn’t quit, but perseverance was hard.

With both babies, we developed a nursing relationship that worked for us (after some close monitoring, assistance, and support from a skilled lactation consultant, the pediatrician, and my doctor).  With both children, the first step was addressing tongue ties and nipple infections.

With my son, severe sleep deprivation was contributing to my depression, so I had to come to peace with letting my husband supplement with bottles while I got a few extra hours of sleep.  Because I had trouble responding to a breast pump, we used formula.  In the long run, coming to terms with mix-feeding likely saved any semblance of a nursing relationship with Jack.  He weaned completely just before he turned two.

Emily also needed supplementation due to my experience with crazy nipple trauma, and supply issues when I returned to work.  She was a picky eater, however, and never really took to her bottles the way Jack did.  She ended up nursing all night long to make up for what she didn’t eat during the day, and I was fine with this because it meant she was almost exclusively breastfed.  There were times when I couldn’t pump enough for her and she was offered formula at daycare, especially after she started solids at six months and my supply dipped.

With both kids, I remember feeling really angry at how difficult it was to breastfeed.  I had figured it would be the easiest and most natural thing in the world, as I think many women who plan to nurse their babies figure.  Latch on.  Latch off.

It was shocking to me to find how uncomfortable, time consuming, and confusing it was.  Shocking!

I’m not sure why breastfeeding is hard for other women, but I think in my case, as a very independent, modern woman in a fast paced society, it was a challenge to have to really struggle at something and have this tiny human glued to an organ that in 30-something years had never really been put to the test before.  I was not prepared for the discomfort, supply issues, or sense of being totally touched out.

That, and for all our society advocates for moms to breastfeed, it really isn’t supportive of it in the larger scheme of things.

  • Formula companies lie in wait to prey on new moms who are vulnerable from sleep-deprivation and anxiety of wanting to do everything correctly for their darling new babe, with glossy ads that promise their product is just as good as their own milk (spoiler alert:  it isn’t).
  • In the US, there are no paid maternity leaves, and so just as a mom and baby are establishing their nursing relationship, mom may have to return to the workforce, thereby disrupting lactation.
  • Women often have to fight for their right to pump for their babies in a clean and private space at work, although they shouldn’t.
  • The breast is still viewed as a device of female sexuality, rather than a food-delivery-system for babies.
  • People are all kinds of judgemental and uneducated about when, what, where, how, and for how long women should nurse.  God forbid you nurse a baby past a year, or into toddlerhood, as I did with Emily.
  • Speaking of education, even highly educated people (such as myself) have a general lack of understanding about how lactation works, why it is important, and how to troubleshoot common issues.
  • And don’t even get me started on the controversy about nursing in public.  I mean WHY is that still even an issue?  There continues to be societal stigma around breastfeeding which keeps it from becoming the norm.

The last reason is why, when Emily gives me a doll to feed, I always pretend to nurse it.  I want my children to see breastfeeding as something that is normal, natural, and totally worthwhile even if, as Emily discovered today, it is not always simple.

Did you struggle to breastfeed?  Were you tempted to quit?  How did you make your nursing relationship work for you and your child?    

Facebook’s War On Breastfeeding Mamas Continues

Standard
International breast feeding logo

International breast feeding logo

When Emily was a newborn I had an open gash on my right nipple the size of my little finger tip.  It refused to heal no matter what I did.  It opened up all over again every, single time I nursed her, and she nursed practically all day, every day.    The exquisite pain tainted my mood and maternity leave to the point where I would cry nearly every time Emily latched on (and did I mention she latched on like all day, every day?).

I surrounded myself with people to support me in my goal to breastfeed my daughter.   In addition to the amazing support, education, and encouragement I received from an IBCLC (AKA my patron saint of lactating moms), I had a network of over 5,000 women on a breastfeeding support group on Facebook.

I would post to this group at all hours of the day or night.  There were many times when I thought I would give up nursing my daughter completely, but continued, boosted by the kind words of strangers around the world.

I remember posting at one point from my bed, in hysterical tears.  My husband was giving the baby a bottle in the other room because I was in so much pain, and so exhausted that I just could not put her to my breast.  Because of the trauma to my nip, I had not been able to pump, so he was giving her formula.  I wrote a post filled with anger, sadness, and self-recrimination.  So many warm and compassionate moms wrote to me on that night and it is no exaggeration to tell you that they gave me the strength to continue.

Emily will be two years old next month, and I still nurse her a few times per day.  I treasure every moment we share this unique bond, knowing it will not last much longer.  So, that makes nearly two years I’ve been a member of the Facebook group.  Sure, it is not the only group on Facebook for breastfeeding support.  I was a member of a few others, but this one was my favorite.  There was something genuine, empathetic, and non judgmental about these gals- all 5,000 of them.  Any mommy group has the potential to be rife with controversy and drama, but the admins did a super job keeping things cool and calm.  I also made a couple friends there, with whom I have maintained communication outside of the group and have been so thankful for their presence in my life.

I haven’t posted a lot at this group lately, but read the posts of others, and enjoy lending a word of kindness or support to other moms who share similar experiences to mine.  I never intended to leave the group, even when my breastfeeding journey came to a close (someday…).

Yesterday, I learned through a post over at Raising Mama that Facebook deleted this group of breastfeeding sisters and those who would support, encourage, and educate one another there.  The author of this post wrote so eloquently why this is such a loss for so many.  Apparently, Facebook’s rational for deleting the site was that people had posted “pornographic” photos.

The photos that were posted on the Breastfeeding Support page were photos posted by mamas of their babies nursing!

I never post photos of my self, kids, or family, but in honor of this BS, here is a pic of my beautiful nursling Emily at 22 months.

I never post photos of my self, kids, or family, but in honor of this BS, here is a pic of my beautiful nursling Emily at 22 months.

If a person thinks that a photo of a breastfeeding mom and her baby is pornographic, that says something much more damning about that person than about the nursing mom.   A human baby suckling at a human breast has to be one of the most natural and beautiful sights in the world.  (For that matter, animal nurslings are pretty adorable too, but I digress…)

Apparently, it is nothing new for Facebook to delete or remove women’s breastfeeding pictures.  Some women have even been banned or suspended from their Facebook accounts due to posting innocent photos of their babies nursing.  While it has never happened to me personally, I have heard many women talk about their frustration with Facebook over this issue.

Breastfeeding is not a “private act” that needs to be covered up and hidden.  It is a normal and necessary part of everyday life.  It is how babies were born to eat.  Breastfeeding has been imperative for the survival of our freaking species!  In my opinion, it is important to see and share pictures of nursing babies because it helps to normalize something that has become almost taboo in our society.  The very fact that someone would consider a breastfeeding picture “pornographic” is the very reason why we need to see more breastfeeding moms.  I’d like to see the backlash Facebook would experience from big pharma and the manufacturers of artificial infant milk (aka formula) if they tried to ban photos of moms giving bottles.

This isn’t a debate over breast vs. formula.  I’ve said it before, and I will say it again:  I don’t judge anyone for giving formula to their babies.  Heck, I mix fed with my son, and had to supplement with my daughter as well.  I am not an extremest when it comes to breastfeeding, but I do believe that breast is best, and I’ve got the science to back me up.  Unfortunately our society makes it very difficult for many moms to succeed at breastfeeding, whether due to lack of education and support, pushing formula on them from the moment they give birth, or insufficiently short maternity leaves to establish and maintain a nursing relationship.   For Facebook to further complicate this issue by deleting one of their largest (and in my opinion BEST) support groups for breastfeeding mothers is not just a shame.  It is aggressively insulting, harmful, and hurtful.

Support groups are essential for breastfeeding success.  Online groups are particularly important for moms living in isolated or rural communities where they may not be able to get to an IBCLC.

Somewhere out there, at this very moment, there is a nursing mom who has a question or concern and no one to talk to.  There is a mom in pain who does not know if she needs to seek medical help for a burning sensation deep in her breast tissue that could be thrush or mastitis.  There is a mom who is exhausted after nursing a babe through a growth spurt and questioning if she should give it up because she can’t take any more cluster feeding.  There is a mom who does not know that cluster feeding is normal and is questioning her supply, wondering if she should supplement with formula and not knowing she risks sabotage of her nursing relationship.  There is a woman who’s mother in law belittled her for nursing who just needs to vent.  There is a woman who has a history of sexual trauma who is being triggered every time baby comes to breast and she needs someone out there to tell her it is okay.  All these women will have to go elsewhere, or will have to be alone in their moment of fear or frustration.

I feel loss, and rage, and disappointment.  I wish I could tell the admins and other women how much they helped me, how grateful I am for their support that allowed me to continue with my own breastfeeding relationship.  I wish I could tell the members how much I loved seeing their beautiful pictures of their milk-drunk babies.  I wish I could tell them to hang in there because it gets so much better and they will never regret it.

I have friends all over the world on Facebook that I would not otherwise be able to connect with on such frequent basis.  So, will I leave Facebook?  Probably not.  But I will complain.  And I will continue nursing in public, posting my nursing pictures, and rocking my breastfeeding bumper stickers in peaceful protest.

Please feel free to share this post on Facebook and with any other breastfeeding mamas who may have been maligned by Facebook’s discrimination against nursing mothers and babies.  Because their ignorant and aggressive stance on breastfeeding is the truly disgusting, unnatural, and disturbing thing here.

Thanks for listening.  Momaste ya’all!

Author’s note:  I was later informed by one of the group’s admins that Facebook did not actually say they removed the group for pornographic content, simply that it did “not comply with their standards.”  Regardless, this writer believes that there was still a lot of hypocrisy and misogyny involved. . .  

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/10/24/daily-prompt-expression/

If Google Brought You Here For Breastfeeding Info. . .

Standard

Every day, women find my blog using search engines to find information on breastfeeding.  Nipple trauma is a very popular search term, and for that, I am extremely sorry, since in my humble opinion, there is almost nothing worse than nipple trauma!

Other search terms that are popular are cluster feeding and pumping.

If you found my little blog because you are struggling with nursing your little one, please know you are not alone.  Please know that I care.  Please know that I want you to succeed in your nursing relationship.  Please know there are so many supports out there in both real life, and on the internet.

Some women are very fortunate- they latch their newborn onto their breast and don’t skip a beat.  For what seems like the overwhelming majority of us, breastfeeding can require a ton of support.

As of this date, I am nursing an 18 month old toddler.  We have a beautiful nursing relationship and are totally in sync with one another.  This was not always the case.  I struggled for the first 13 weeks of her life with a gaping wound on my right nipple that made me almost psychotic with pain no matter what I did.  But I am so fortunate to have had supports, and so thankful I continued nursing.  I’ve heard it said that you won’t ever regret it if you continue with nursing, but you might regret it if you wean abruptly.  I know this would have been the case for me if I had given up.

Sweet dreamy nursling.

Sweet dreamy nursling.

 

As I did with my elder son, Jack, I will continue to nurse until its natural conclusion, when Emily decides she no longer needs or wants my breast.

I am not an expert on breastfeeding.  I am just a mom.  But I am an expert on my children and on my experiences nourishing them with my breast milk.  I nursed through almost every breastfeeding nightmare and I am more than happy to share my experience, offer support and suggestions to any mom out there who is struggling.  This desire to offer peer support to other moms is part of my mission here on Momasteblog.

Please, dear mother, do not hesitate to comment on my posts.  Let me know what is helpful or unhelpful.  Feel free to ask questions, or email me if you are just in need of some support and a kind word.

keep-calm_latch_on

I believe in breastfeeding with all my heart and soul.  I believe in the amazing ability of a female body to nourish a baby.  And even though we have never met, I believe in you.

Momaste.

Practical Pumping Tips For The Low-Producing-Working-Mom

Standard

Being a mom is hard, especially when you have to leave your baby to go back to work.  If you are a nursing mom who plans to pump for your baby, this poses another set of issues.

The obvious plan is to create a milk stash while you are still home on maternity leave.  By pumping a couple times every day, you should have a nice little stash in your freezer or when you return to work.  Due to severe nipple trauma that persisted for the bulk of my maternity leave, I was unable to pump much to create a freezer stash.  This left me anxious that I would not have enough milk to leave for my daughter when I returned to work.

I’ve always had plenty of milk to satisfy my babies when they are at the breast, but my body does not respond well to the artificial suction of a breast pump.  Through trial and error, and a lot of determination, I was able to pump nearly all the milk that Emily needed when we were apart.  Here are my tips:

1. Make a ritual for yourself.  Just like we give our little ones bedtime rituals to cue their bodies into knowing that it is time to sleep, so can you cue your body into knowing that it is time to make milk for your baby.  Here is what my ritual looked like:  The first step was to put some of Emily’s baby lotion on my hands, take a few deep breaths and relax.

The second step of my ritual was to cue up a song on my iphone that made me think of Em.  Then I watched a slide show on my phone of pictures and videos of Em.  Finally, I would take a moment to massage my breasts before strapping on the flanges.  These things helped me to relax and get my milk flowing.

2. Pump hands free.  Although I spent $30 on a hands free pumping bra, I found it was easier to use a couple of elastic bands, lashed together- one loop goes around the pump horn, and one loop hooks onto the clip of the nursing bra.  Use a hearty smear of lanolin to help the flanges to adhere to your breasts.  Hold the bottles slightly until the milk starts to fill, then gravity will take over.

There is nothing wrong with the pumping bra, if you chose to go that route.  My chest is enormous, and the elastics just happened to work better for me.  Having hands free allowed me to eat lunch, surf on my phone, and do breast compressions to help my milk flow.

3. Have a mantra or a meditation.  I found that a lot of pumping was mind over matter, and that my emotional state could greatly affect my output.  It may sound silly, but I took deep breaths while chanting, “Breathe in love, breathe out milk.”  I closed my eyes and visualized the milk being let down and flowing through my breast.  I found that by doing this kind of a meditation, I could even trigger a second letdown for another couple ounces of milk towards the end of my pumping time.

Milk production is not just about suction. It is about your brain releasing the chemical oxytocin, which will then trigger your letdown.  These little tricks were about getting my brain on board, getting that sweet oxytocin flowing.

4. Avoid overfeeding!  Leave one to one and a half ounces of breast milk for every hour you are away.  This may sound like a minuscule amount of milk, but it is plenty.  The tendency at many daycares is to feed a baby whenever they are fussy, therefore overfeeding, thereby burning through your stash.

When I brought Emily to daycare, I happened to go into the fridge to put her little baggies of milk away, and saw that there were huge, full bottles of milk in there.  I felt, for a moment, like I would be starving my baby by leaving such a small amount of milk.  But then I remembered that breastfed babies generally consume around 24 ounces per day of breast milk, so this equals out to about an ounce an hour.  The care givers gave Emily a two or three ounce bottle every couple hours.  This was be plenty to keep her happy, hydrated, and nourished until we were together again.

If your care giver balks when you leave this small amount of milk because they are used to formula feeding, feel free to share with them the breast milk calculator at http://www.kellymom.com.

Leaving the amount of milk you pumped the day before will be better for your supply in the long run because you are not supplementing, even with your own milk.  For example, I was generally able to pump 12-15 ounces per day.  By leaving just that, and not supplementing, I was able to keep up with supply and demand, which is what milk production is all about.  If your care givers complain that your baby is not eating enough, don’t doubt yourself! Encourage them to try alternative soothing techniques rather than just throwing your expressed milk at the issue.

5. Trust your body.  Your pumping output is no indication of how much milk you actually have for your baby. Your baby can get way more milk than a pump.  There were many days when I worried there would not be enough milk.  I found that if I told myself, “My body is made for this!” I could squeeze out another ounce.

6. Familiarize yourself with the term “Reverse Cycling.”  Reverse Cycling is when your baby nibbles on their bottle during the day and then tanks up while they are with you.  For Emily, this meant nursing multiple times per night after I went back to work.  It was important for me to keep her on breast milk as long as possible, so I accepted these prolonged sessions, which were also good for my supply.

7. Add in an extra pumping session (or two, or three. . .)  When your baby starts solids, it is normal for your supply to drop a bit.  Emily’s introduction to solids, shortly after six months, coincided with my getting thrush, and my return of menstruation.  UGH!!  This really gave my supply a blow.  I had to add in a bunch of sessions to get the milk that I needed.  Since I do a 50 minute hour with my clients, I would use my ten minutes after the session to pump (while writing my clinical note, I might add).  I did this up to six times a day.  You can also add a session in at home, if your little one isn’t glued to your chest at that time.

Another great time to pump is first thing in the morning.  Most mornings, I will be honest, I was not motivated to get up and pump, but there were some mornings when I would pump on one side while Emily nursed on the other.  Yeah, it takes some logistics, but if you can manage it, you will benefit from the let down that your baby triggers.

To this end, keep your pump gear assembled in ziplock freezer bags, in the pump bag, so you can whip it all out and have it on in a moment.

8. Get to know your galactagougues. There are natural and safe ways to increase your milk supply.  Two things that worked really well for me were Fenugreek capsules, and steel cut oatmeal.  I took three Fenugreek caps, three times per day and ate a bowl of steel cut oatmeal every morning for increased supply.  Other women swear by brewer’s yeast or lactation cookies, but I never tried them.  Also, make sure you are getting plenty of water and plenty of healthy, protein-rich calories throughout the day.

9. Coconut oil.  There were some days that all that pumping gave me some pretty sore nips.  I found coconut oil to be a panacea. (It also works well on diaper and drool rashes!)

10. Some breast milk is better than none, so cut yourself some slack At a certain point, I had to decide that enough was enough, and I hung up my pump horns for good.  This choice was not easy, but I was driving myself crazy trying to produce enough milk for Emily, and at a certain point, my body just stopped responding to the pump. Emily was about ten months when I stopped.  We had a little freezer stash that lasted us a few weeks, and I supplemented with a little formula.  By this time, however, our pediatrician told us that we could offer Emily water when she was away from me, and I kept nursing while we were together.

While I will never stop advocating that breast is best, I do not believe that mix feeding hurts, as long as your supply is well-established, and your baby can tolerate formula.  There is no need to throw in the towel completely on breast feeding, as you can continue to nurse your baby while you are together until you and baby are comfortable weaning.  At 17 months old, Emily still nurses three to six times per day. My body has adapted.

If you are totally against using formula, check out your local chapters of Eats on Feets, or HM4HB.  Sometimes you can find other moms who have enormous supplies that are willing to donate milk for your little one.  This wasn’t the route that I took, but I know other moms who did it and were thrilled.  Just make sure you do your research, check the donor’s medical history, and feel totally comfortable with your donor.  There are also instructions on the web for how to flash pasteurize donated milk.

I hope this is helpful for you beautiful Mamas out there!  Happy pumping!

20130311-164804.jpg

My cluttered desk

Nipple Trauma and Healing

Standard

One breastfeeding topic about which I can claim to be an expert, is nipple trauma. If you ask me, nursing a baby with a damaged nipple is like trying to climb a mountain with a compound fracture. It hurts like hell and makes the journey a nightmare.

(Note: I am not actually an expert, and this is not meant to be diagnostic or prescriptive, but merely to share my experience in the hope that maybe it will help another mom.)

There are different types of nipple issues the breast feeding mom encounters: soreness due to poor or shallow latch, a wound due to a bite, vasospasms caused by a circulatory disorder called Renaud’s Syndrome, and the pain caused by thrush (a yeast infection of the nipple and/or milk ducts) to name a few.

I have had all of these issues, plus I burned off half my areola with a breast pump.

Flange Burns and Tongue Ties

My first born, Jack, had a tongue tie that was not diagnosed until a couple weeks after his birth. Due to the tightness of his latch, my nipples cracked and bled. Thinking that pumping would be less painful, I dispatched my mom to the baby store to buy me a premium breast pump. Desperate to get the milk out of my jugs and into my baby boy, I strapped on the pump and enthusiastically started pumping.

After 15 minutes of frantic pumping, there was not a drop of milk in the little bottle. I still remember my horrified gasp, then screech of pain as I removed the flange from my breast along with an inch of pink flesh.

In hysterics, I called the maternity hospital’s “warm line” and described my situation. “Oh, you gave yourself a flange burn,” said the nonchalant nurse on the other end of the line. What?! I thought. A flange burn? This is a thing?

As it turns out, yes, there is such thing as a flange burn. It happens from the friction of the pump on the areola. The lesson learned: use the correct size flanges, do not put the suction on your pump too high, and use plenty of lanolin before pumping. (I’m pretty sure that this story is the female equivalent to a guy hearing about another guy getting kicked in the nuts.)

The underlying issue that needed to be fixed in order for us to nurse effectively and painlessly was Jack’s tongue tie. A tongue tie is when a baby’s frenulum (the membrane under the tongue) is too tight. Jack was not able to get his tongue out past his lower lip, and could not latch onto my breast and suckle well.

This condition causes pain for the mom and frustration for the newborn, who may not be able to stimulate proper milk production due to the poor latch. Left untreated, tongue ties can also cause speech impediments. From what I understand, tongue ties are fairly common. My daughter Emily had one too. Emily’s tongue tie actually made her tongue appear heart shaped at the tip.

Thankfully, with both children, I was seen by kind and competent lactation consultants who diagnosed the tongue ties, and referred us to an ENT to release the frenulum. The frenulectomy (snipping of the tongue tie) sounded like a scary ordeal, but really was nothing more than a second of the doctor clipping the membrane under the tongue with a little pair of surgical scissors. In most cases there is barely any bleeding. The baby comes to the breast straight after. Although it sounds like a scary thing to put your child through, I can’t recommend it enough, if you plan to continue breast feeding.

Bites and Wounds and Infections, OH MY!

With Jack, my nipple issues were resolved within two weeks of his birth, especially after the tongue tie was released. I went on to nurse him until he self weaned at 23 months. With Emily, my nipple trauma was much more complicated. I had both bacterial and fungal infections that made my breasts burn and buzz with pain like they were stuffed full of broken glass and bees.

Correcting her tongue tie did not seem to help with the pain. Her latch looked picture perfect, and yet nursing continued to be excruciating. I took medication for the infections, and still, discomfort. Our LC suggested that her latch would loosen up as she grew, and that she needed time to get used to her released tongue. (This did prove to be the case, but not for some weeks.)

Around three weeks, Emily bit me. Even though she didn’t have teeth, she still tore open my already fragile nipple. Every time she nursed, her suction opened the wound. It bled.

The good news is that if your nip is bleeding, the blood will not harm your little one. The bad news is, blood can upset baby’s stomach and cause a scary-looking, bloody spit-up.

You might be thinking that when you get to the point of gaping nip wound and bloody-spit-up that breast feeding is just a little too cray-cray for you. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think this as well, but the desire to feed my daughter from my own body, as I had when she was in the womb, was so great that, as the saying goes, I kept calm and latched on.

Vasospasms

It was recommended that I use cool gel pads for my sore nipples. You can buy these at Target or the baby store. Initially, these seemed soothing. But then my breasts started burning so intensely that I couldn’t sleep through the pain. I thought I was going insane at this point, because the cold compress was supposed to be healing.

Through some research and consultation with my lactation consultant, I learned that I had a circulatory condition called Renaud’s Syndrome that causes the nipple to blanch and then turn purple as it fills back up with blood. I am not qualified to get into all the science behind this condition, but I am over-qualified to tell you that it hurts like a bitch.

Using warm compresses and covering up my nipple as soon as I finished nursing helped to relieve some of the burning associated with the Renaud’s. I also swear by the palliative and healing properties of extra virgin coconut oil. You can buy this solidified, white oil in your health food store. It liquifies as it warms up, and smooths onto your skin much more gracefully than lanolin, which I personally find gloppy. Coconut oil has both antifungal and antibacterial properties too, so if you are gunning for an infection, it might help to stave it off.

Desperate Measures

While I got these other issues sorted out, nothing helped with the gaping gash on the side of my right nipple. Every time I nursed it opened, and pumping made it even worse. (I blame my nip trauma on the difficulties that my body has had responding to a breast pump.) My left nipple looked like a perfect little pearl, but the right looked so damaged that I became nauseated every time I looked at it. I was taking fistfulls of ibuprofin to help with the pain, and started to worry that my stomach would resemble my nipple before too long.

I finally took an extreme measure, in collaboration with my lactation consultant. After reading about women who are able to nurse exclusively with one breast, I decided to let my right breast dry up and use only my left. I was concerned that I would need to supplement with either formula or donor milk, but for my sanity, it had to be done.

The first day was painful. I used ice packs and cabbage leaves to help with the engorgement. I was able to hand express enough milk to relieve some of the pressure. And finally, I used a bowl of warm water that I leaned my breast into, which also helped to release enough milk to make me comfortable.

Happily, Emily seemed fine with just one breast. The true miracle was that my nipple healed in mere days. After about 10 weeks of nursing with excruciating pain, I felt comfortable again. The nipple trauma had made me physically, emotionally, and mentally miserable, but with its healing, I started to feel like myself again. Since it had been less than a week, I was able to ease Em back onto the damaged nipple and re-establish my supply without too much effort.

With both kids, the pain of nipple trauma left me feeling robbed of a part of my maternity leave. I had to give upt the fantasy of the perfect nursing relationship to deal with seemingly endless problems. But the other day, as my 15 month old Emily tucked in for her night time nursing session, I thought about how perfect it is now. We nurse in bliss, and she pats me and shows affection. She has infinite patience for those days around my cycle when my milk is a little slower, and there is never any pain. In the end, I did get a perfect nursing experience. It just came in a slightly different form.

For more information on ways to deal with nipple trauma, (from an actual professional) go to http://www.kellymom.com, or contact your local La Leche League. If you have any other questions for Charlotte, please feel free to comment, or email at cp.momasteblog@gmail.com.

Breast Feeding Support– More Than Just a Good Bra

Standard

Today my daughter and I are going to a breastfeeding support group.

Emily is 13 months old and we are doing fine with our nursing relationship.  Em still enjoys her mama milk four to six times a day, and we are content with this.  But when we get a chance, we like to pop in at this group.  We meet up with friends, chat, and play.

While I was on maternity leave with Emily last winter, I had the good fortune of attending this support group, a free, but priceless, service provided by the hospital in which I gave birth to my daughter.

Prior to Emily’s arrival, I fantasized about breastfeeding her.  With Jack, I had a lot of nursing issues.  He had a tongue tie that went undiagnosed for several weeks, and my nipples got torn up by his shallow latch.  Additionally, I burned off half my areola using a breast pump with flanges that were too small.  True story.

With Emily, I imagined I was super-duper educated on all things breastfeeding.  Her latch would be as light and tender as a butterfly alighting on my nipple, and my milk supply would be robust enough to nourish a small nation of newborns.

If you have read my previous lactation related posts-Badass Breast Feeding– Nursing with Teeth, or Cluster Feeding– Wise Words of Warning, or Pumping: the Agony and the Ecstasy– you already know that this was not the way things went down.

Like Jack, Emily had a very tight latch and a tongue tie.  I was sore within hours of her birth.

Our lactation consultant, or as I nick named her, our Patron Saint of Lactating Mothers, was one of the first people to meet Emily.  She held me while I cried in post-partum, hormonal frustration, and validated the fact that my nips were indeed red and raw.  She advocated for me to get my breast milk cultured for infections, of which I had both bacterial and fungal.  She also invited me to attend her weekly support group for nursing moms.

Although we attended group regularly, my nipple problems got worse.  An open wound on my right nipple would not heal, no matter how it was tended to.  I also had Renaud’s Syndrome or Vasospasms, a crazy-painful circulatory condition in which the nipple blanches after nursing then turns purple, and burns like hell.  Some nights the burning was so bad it kept me from sleeping those precious few moments when Emily wasn’t on the breast.

At home, my nursing sessions were crying jags of devastation.

But at group, I was able to nurse nearly without pain.

How could that be?

I did a little research and found that our hormone, oxytocin, is miraculous.  I believe oxytocin got a bad rap from its synthetic step-sister, pitocin which is used to induce labor, and causes the most demonic contractions known to the female race.

Oxytocin is a kinder, gentler hormone that we make in our own bodies.  It does cause labor contractions, but it is also released by our brains during orgasm and when a person is cozy and comfortable, such as during a massage or cuddling.  Oxytocin is also responsible for the milk release, aka, let down, when we nurse our babies.

This was an amazing fact to me–  that our milk is let down not merely by our babies suckling at our breasts, but by a chemical reaction in our brains!  Without this oxytocin release in the brain, breast feeding would be nearly futile because our milk wouldn’t let down.

The book, Breast Feeding Made Simple, by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC (New Harbinger Publications, 2010) was a godsend to me.  In it, Morbacher writes, “The oxytocin response triggered by both skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding may have many far-reaching effects. . .  It causes a decrease in aggressive and defensive feelings, making you feel more open to the new little “stranger” to whom you have given birth.  Oxytocin influences your mood, makes you calmer, and promotes a closer relationship with your baby. . .  The effects of oxytocin may also help with relationships outside your family.  This may be one reason why many breastfeeding mothers love the atmosphere of mothers’ groups, where those with high levels of oxytocin gather and befriend one another,” (p. 43).

BINGO!!  Could our bodies be any more amazing?

Being at group calmed and soothed me.  Emily and I made a lot of friends, with whom we kept in touch over the past year.  When I see these women and their lovely babies (who are now toddling around on two feet!), I swear I can feel a surge of oxytocin course through my veins.  In layman’s terms, I get all warm and fuzzy.

I was educated, organized and prepared when it came to breastfeeding.  I bought the most recommended breast pump, milk storage baggies, and nursing bras.  I was armed to the teeth with lanolin, nursing pads, books and apps on my smartphone.  None of this prep mattered after I actually had those babies in my arms, looking up at me with hungry eyes.

I share these stories, because I’d like to save other women from the discomfort and depression of nursing issues.

I also share because I want women to know they are not alone.  The postpartum days can be hectic and lonely.  Fuzzy fantasies of nursing your little darling in the shade of a rainbow with little bunnies frolicking around you because you are such a mother-loving-milk-goddess can be rapidly dispelled as your hormones rage and sleep deprivation tortures you day and night.

My point is, as educated and prepared as you may be, there can still be pitfalls.  Support is everything.

In nursing both of my children, I have had amazing support and guidance, not just from groups, but also from my family and my friends.  Not every woman has this.  After I had Jack, I was shocked at how difficult breastfeeding was, and at how much help and nurturance I needed along the way.  I thought that I would be an old pro by the time I had Emily, but once again, I could never have continued nursing through all the pain, confusion, and frustration without a support network.

If you are a mom who is in toe-curling agony or just mild discomfort with your nursing relationship, my recommendation is to find a group and go to it.  There is something powerful about nursing in a room full of moms and babies.  You can often find a group through your hospital or local La Leche League.

In some more remote or rural areas, there may be very little access to in-vivo support groups.  There are also a bunch of online forums, including groups on Facebook, where you can chat with other moms, post questions, and get a pat on the back when you need one.  Two of my favorites are http://www.theleakyboob.com and http://www.thismilkmatters.org.   They are both warm and non-judgemental places where you can share and care.

Even if you are just feeling somewhat isolated and disoriented with your transition to motherhood, these groups can help to connect you to a new network of peers who are experiencing a similar situation.  And if you don’t like it, or it doesn’t help, find an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to help evaluate your baby’s latch and give you some pointers.

When Emily and I get a chance to go to group now, she is far too curious and busy to actually nurse with me.  That’s okay.  It is still a blessing to see our Patron Saint of Lactation, and to talk about all the various challenges that arise with toddler-hood.  It is also nice to meet new moms and newborns, encourage them, and let them know that nursing is so worth it in the end.

And I’m not going to lie; I ride that warm-fuzzy oxytocin high for the rest of the week.

Badass Breast Feeding– Nursing with Teeth

Standard

Anyone who has experienced a baby’s wide-open mouth, full of teeth, come straight for your delicate nipple, has likely felt at least a little shudder of apprehension.

Emily got her first teeth at four months.  This is a milestone at which moms may decide to throw in the breast feeding towel, for fear of the obvious:  getting bitten.  While part of me feels compelled to respect a mom’s personal decision to wean when her baby gets teeth, the other part of me feels really sad.  I can’t imagine how difficult abrupt weaning is emotionally or physically for both mother and child.

Nursing a baby or toddler with teeth is also an event that many people feel the need to comment about.  These comments are often snide, and usually from the commenter’s own insecurity.  “Isn’t he a little old to be nursing?” or, “Aren’t you scared to nurse that baby with all those teeth?”

Physiologically, a baby has to stick out her tongue, over her two new teefers, to latch on, so in most cases, biting is not much of a problem.  Sometimes, a baby will nip the nip out of curiosity, or to soothe teething pain.  In this case, if you give a (usually involuntary) yelp, firmly say “NO biting!” the problem should fix its self.  Nursing manners are important, after all.

 Sure, I have been bitten.  I admit, it isn’t pleasant.  Emily actually bit me before she even had teeth.  She was born with a very tight latch, and her gums were enough to open up a wound on the tip of my right nipple that didn’t heal until around 11-12 weeks into the nursing relationship.  I should note that this nipple was already vulnerable after nursing through Emily’s tongue-tie, thrush, and mastitis.

I wish I had taken a picture of this wound, because it really was one for the medical journals.  When I flashed it at my husband after he wondered why I cried every time Emily nursed, he nearly passed out.  My amazing and knowledgable lactation consultant looked at it in wonder and horror before declaring, “Um, yeeaaahhh. . .  I’ve never actually seen anything like that before.”

At one point, I was nursing Emily in the pediatrician’s office.  I had brought her in for a well-baby check, and when she unlatched so she could be examined, her face was covered in a crimson sheen of my blood.  She looked like a baby-vampire, and her MD was kind enough to mitigate my humiliation by joking about how popular vampires are these days.  “It’s just a little extra iron for her,” she chuckled.

This wound actually bought me a ticket to a wound clinic, where they turned me away, saying that the only way it would heal would be if baby weaned.  And that wasn’t my plan.  Thanks, but no thanks.

What I did decide, in conjunction with my beautiful IBCLC, was to nurse solely on the non-damaged breast, and to let the wounded one just dry up.  Psychologically, this was a difficult decision for me, because I was afraid of having to supplement with formula.  But the pain was causing depressive symptoms, affect my relationship with my family, and making me loathe and dread nursing my baby.

I gradually decreasing nursing sessions over a few days on the damaged side.  I dealt with the engorgement by using ice, motrin, and stuffing cabbage leaves in my bra.  In a wonderful twist that surprised everyone, the wound healed up within a few days, and I was actually able to fully restore my milk supply on that side.

I have a crescent shaped scar on the tip of that nipple, to this day.  It reminds me that I’ve fought too hard for this nursing relationship to wean over a few teeth, or the fear of getting bitten!

Of course, they do not give out awards for the most badass breast feeding mom.  It is not a competition, and anyway, who could judge what a mom does or doesn’t do in a situation like that.  I had amazing supports in place to enable my creativity, and everything worked out for me. Sadly, not every nursing mom has such a support system.

I share this with you in order to point out that when Emily and ten teeth close in on my breast, I try not to  cringe.  Like I said, she has bit me a couple times.  It startled us both, but in the end, was really no big deal.  There was no blood or lingering trauma of any kind.

Actually, while I frequently hear of nipple trauma from new moms, I don’t think I have ever heard of nipple trauma from the mother of an older baby, so that kind of puts my fear into perspective, for me.

In the end, a lot of motherhood or parenting has to do with perspective.  Our babies nurse for such a short time over the course of their lives.  So, yeah, Emily has teeth, and I know that it scares and concerns some people that I am still nursing her.  But that is their problem, not mine.  My son self-weaned at 23 months.  I remember feeling slightly embarrassed or secretive of the fact that he was nursing after 12 months.  I decided I did not want to feel that way with my daughter, and have adjusted my mindset to celebrate our breast feeding for as long as it continues.

So, while I won’t be accepting the “Badass Breast Feeding Mom of the Year Award,” I will be reaping the priceless rewards of an awesome nursing relationship.

Happily, I accept this reward every time Emily flashes me that toothy grin and makes the sign for “MILK” with her chubby, little hand.

Note from Charlotte:  After publishing this post, I spoke with a few moms who were wounded by their older, toothier baby.  Nipple trauma of any kind can be exquisitely painful, scary, and emotionally challenging.  My post and perspective was not meant to invalidate or minimize any other nursing mom’s experience, merely to tell my own story, and celebrate my triumph.  I greatly appreciate hearing other perspectives from other moms!  Thank you so much for sharing!