First Baby Breastfeeding Woes Part I
Updated: Jan 29
I have had a very complicated relationship with breastfeeding. Prior to learning I was pregnant and probably well into my first pregnancy, I hadn’t thought much about it, but as my delivery date grew near, I started to feel the pressure from the “breast is best” messaging flooding new mothers these days. As I read and learned more, I decided it was something I wanted to try. After all, that’s what you're supposed to do, right?
My education on it was from an online course and some posts I’d read on a mom group page. I’m not sure why I felt adequately prepared after this, but I did. There were a few things that had stuck with me. No pacifiers or bottles the first month because something about nipple confusion and if you didn’t have a large freezer stash, good luck to you.
Simple enough I thought.
When my first arrived, I was actually surprised how naturally and easily he latched. It wasn’t overly difficult when they first laid him on my chest to nurse. It didn’t hurt. He seemed content. We saw a lactation consultant and she thought things looked like they were going well. We were even THOSE parents that bragged we weren't using a pacifier. Little did I know what awaited a short 24 hours later.
The first night in the hospital had gone smoothly and was relatively uneventful, but at some point during the second day, our baby had gone from sleepy, cute to just plain hangry. Early in the evening we began to realize nobody was getting sleep. I nursed and nursed and nursed. I nursed for twenty minutes, thirty minutes, forty-five minutes, only to have him wake twenty minutes later screaming. This is where I learned what “cluster feeding” is and also began to understand how extremely painful breastfeeding can be.
The night nurse came in several times. I asked her opinion on formula. She reiterated that introducing formula so early can cause a lot of problems for long term breastfeeding. I really wanted to give this an honest go and felt so much pressure to go on, so I just nodded as she explained cluster feeding can be normal. Our baby had been having the appropriate amount of wet/dirty diapers, and she assured me he was getting enough.
She offered some cream and gel pads for my nipples, but I wasn’t sure those were doing much. Every time my baby cried to nurse, I felt a sense of dread. I wasn’t even sure how it could be hurting that bad taking into consideration babies don’t have teeth, but with every latch I was wincing with my whole body in pain.
Things calmed down a tiny bit the next day, and we went home exhausted. We'd barely slept since I had gone into labor which was over 48 hours prior. I was hopeful we would have a better night being at home, however things didn't quite go that way.
Our first night home was one of the worst nights as parents we have ever had. Our hangry baby started his cluster feeding in the early evening hours and was never satisfied. Again, I nursed and nursed and nursed, and if he wasn’t nursing, he was screaming. He was like an angry, rabid animal hellbent on ripping my nipples off. He got so worked up at one point he couldn’t even latch. He was blindly, angrily shaking his head back and forth by my nipple, and if he would happen to latch, he’d pull off even angrier than before. I felt so helpless in that moment.
All those things we weren’t going to do? Yeah, those went out the window our first night home. We tried a pacifier, I tried to pump into a bottle, and then finally, FINALLY I told my husband to get the formula which I had luckily decided to stock up on just in case. I offered the bottle and our baby latched on immediately, guzzled down nearly two ounces, and went to sleep. My heart completely sank and I cried.
He had been hungry.
It’s hard to put into words how I felt in these moments as a new mom. I felt upset my baby had needed something I wasn’t giving him. I also felt like a failure because I wasn’t able to produce enough for him at that moment. I worried this was going to ruin my breastfeeding journey from the beginning, yet I was also worried my determination to breastfeed to begin with had caused discomfort to my newborn.
The next day we had our follow up with our pediatrician. I explained what had happened and she agreed he needed some extra formula. She also said it would help since he had a touch of jaundice. She shared with us according to his discharge papers he had lost 13% of his body weight in the hospital and that was a bit over what they like (which is up to 10%). I wondered why this information was not shared with us by the hospital. She assured me a bit of formula the first week or two would not ruin our breastfeeding journey, and also brought in the office’s lactation consultant to go over a few things again to make sure there weren’t any issues with latch, position, etc. All looked good. We supplemented on and off the first week or two as needed. I would nurse first and offer formula after if he still seemed hungry, and I pumped extra to try to speed up milk production.
As for the pain, it didn’t go away. I did get an APNO prescription from my OB, and that seemed to help a tad, but I would continue to wince in pain for nearly four weeks (and this is not a normal timeframe in terms of adjusting to breastfeeding discomfort). While most will say breastfeeding helps with baby bonding, I feel that the feelings of pain, dread, and stress every feeding actually prevented me from bonding more with him.
We went for lots of weight checks that first month, and things did get a bit better. He started gaining the appropriate amount of weight. He had no problem switching from bottle to breast. Pacifiers didn’t ruin him. Formula didn’t poison him.
Our challenges didn’t end there completely with breastfeeding, but many of the things I had been worried about those early days weren’t issues.
Every mom is different, every experience is different, but based on my experiences, here are my suggestions for a first time breastfeeding mom in those early weeks:
-Please don’t get too wrapped up in breast is best. FED is best.
-Formula is not poison. Even if you are planning to breastfeed, I would have some at home just in case you find yourself in a situation like I experienced the first night home with our baby.
-Ask your doctor for some prescription cream for your nipples while you are at the hospital, even if your nipples aren’t hurting yet.
-Don’t be too afraid of the pacifier or bottle.
-Don’t go nearly a month in pain from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is uncomfortable and can be painful, but weeks of pain is not okay or normal. Talk to your doctor, see a lactation consultant multiple times if you can and need to, try to find ways to feel more comfortable.
-Become familiar with www.kellymom.com - it’s a great resource.