How to overcome obstacles: Breastfeeding Narrative #5

There’s so much that can go wrong when you’re breastfeeding.  You start out with those idealistic fantasies.  You know the ones that you have in your head:  you and the baby, nursing together, snuggled in a chair, stylish Boppy pillow, gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes, ethereal glow around you, birds tying ribbons in your hair.

Trouble is, for a lot of people, it doesn’t quite go like that.  First of all, I ordered those ribbon-tying birds in advance and they couldn’t even do a simple square knot, let alone a pretty bow.  All they did was crap all over the place.  Total ripoff.

I personally have dealt with a lot of obstacles — blistered, bleeding nipples, milk imbalance and an overactive letdown, a couple biting phases — and somehow managed to nurse Lane ’til she was about 3 1/2, and Jake’s still nursing strong at 15 months.  These things can be overcome!  Not ALWAYS, but usually.  Your best bet is to be prepared with some information in advance.  Read about some of the common problems at Kellymom.com.  Find yourself a La Leche League meeting BEFORE the baby’s born, and attend a meeting while you’re still pregnant.  Get the leader’s phone number.  Read a couple good books before the baby arrives.  Read this article at CNN.com and bookmark it.

So, I’ve had my share of issues; let me tell you what I personally did to overcome them.

1)  Blistered, bleeding, sore nipples.

Lane came out of the womb READY.  TO.  BREASTFEED.  She got latched on an hour after being born, and nursed like a crazy little sucking machine for a half hour straight… while I was completely prone on my back, legs in stirrups, getting a mystery tear in my vagina located and stitched up.  It was not a position conducive to getting a well-positioned latch, and despite assurances from the OB nurse that she was latched well… she wasn’t.  It didn’t hurt that much, but that first nursing session she sucked a pencil eraser sized blister on my right nipple.  Yeeeow.

Then it popped and scabbed over.  Double yeeeow.  But having done my homework, and very personally vested in making breastfeeding work for us, I knew it was important to let her nurse on that breast, despite the discomfort.  (Did I say discomfort?  Ahh, how time dulls the memory.  It was like a hot poker being jabbed into my nipple.)

So how did I manage?  Ibuprofin to cope with the pain, and Lansinoh brand lanolin cream.  (Lansinoh is AMAZING.  I cannot say enough good things about this stuff.  It is dreamy on sore nipples… not only does it help heal them, it also serves as a lubricant to prevent irritation in the first place.  And it is great for so much more than nipples.  It kicks diaper rash to the curb.  It softens hard, dry skin on your feet.  It is the only thing I’ve found that doesn’t sting to put on a chapped nose when you have a bad cold.  Spend the $10 and get a tube; it will last forever and you’ll keep finding new uses for it.)  Anyway… despite Lane’s near-constant nursing during our first few days, the nipple was all healed up in about three or four days.

2)  Milk imbalance & overactive letdown.

Let me take a minute to explain what this is first.  I’m going to be brief and if I’m any way unclear, you can always read a longer explanation.  Basically, when the milk starts flowing, it’s like skim milk.  It’s got more protein, not as much fat.  This is called “foremilk”.  As baby nurses, the milk gradually becomes thicker, more opaque, more fatty.  Like whole milk, really, and maybe even more rich than that.  It gets downright creamy.  This is called “hindmilk”.

So, you know how if you eat a meal that’s a lot of meat and little else (basically a lot of protein) it sort of messes with your digestion?  You get gassy (and STINKY) and get gas pains and let’s not even talk about the resultant ugly bowel movements.  Well, if a baby gets all foremilk and no hindmilk, he’s getting almost all protein in his diet… not too much sugar and like no fat at all… and boy do you know it by the diapers.  Breastmilk bowel movements are yellow and almost pleasant-smelling.  When you’ve got a milk imbalance going on, the poop looks green and frothy and loses that pleasant smell.  And baby gets gassier, and grumpier as a result.

This happened with Lane, starting around the time she was about 3 weeks old.  I had an overabundance of milk, and she was satiated on mostly foremilk, without getting to the creamy, fatty hindmilk.  The solution I found, and what worked, was ‘block feeding’ – basically, nursing on only one side for a few hours at a time.  I think I did four hour blocks, where Lane only nursed on one boob.  After four hours I would switch to the other boob.

Related to this issue, I also had an overactive letdown.  When my milk starts flowing, it REALLY starts flowing.  My letdown could shoot milk 4-5 feet and soak an entire burp cloth.  Eventually I started catching it in a bowl, and it would often equal 1.5-2 oz. in 20-30 seconds’ time, which is a crazy amount if you think about a little tiny one-month-old baby trying to keep up with this onslaught.  Lane simply couldn’t nurse that fast and would gag… so we learned that as soon as I felt that letdown coming (it is a distinct tingling sensation) I would unlatch her and let that initial letdown pass.  She didn’t get that I was doing it to help her and she’d get all pissed off for those 20 seconds I wouldn’t let her nurse, but it was worth it to not have her gag.  (Either my letdown eased up with Jake, or he was just more capable of keeping up, because I don’t recall having to go through that rigmarole with him.  Each baby is so different!)

3) Biting.

Both my kids have experimented with chomping down on me… and funny, both went through the phase at about six months old.  When Lane was six months old, she didn’t have a single tooth.  Jake, however, already had four.  OUCH!  Don’t think for a second that Lane didn’t hurt me though… that little baby could gum you to death!

The solution that worked best for both babies was simply creating a negative consequence to the biting.  With both, if they bit, that was the end of nursing for a minute or two.  I said, “Ouch, that hurts!  No biting!” and immediately stopped nursing.  Also what helped was simple attentiveness.  I always got bit when I wasn’t paying attention… trying to do other stuff while we nursed, daydreaming, talking to someone else.  I reverted to making breastfeeding that intimate, bird-ribbon-tying affair for a while.  Once my baby didn’t feel like he or she didn’t have to vie for my attention, biting became much less of an issue.

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4 responses to “How to overcome obstacles: Breastfeeding Narrative #5

  1. I love Lansinoh, too, and haven’t even had my baby yet. It helped with my sore, dry, first half of the pregnancy nipples, and I’ve even used it in pregnancy induced cuts in my nose since we don’t have Vasoline.

    Having the name and number of a qualified lactation consultant on hand before birth is probably a good idea, too, that way if you run into any problems you don’ t have to stress about finding help.

  2. Good call on the LC, Amanda!

    My thinking with the LLL leader is that they can often give you the help you need for free, and if not then be able to refer you to any number of LCs. It never hurts to go to direct to the source, either.

  3. I didn’t deal with nearly what you dealt with breastfeeding-wise. Our big issue was biting. With my first, she bit me around 6 months or so like your kids and the same technique ‘cured’ the biting.

    But with my youngest, she started biting me when she was like 16 months old. She thought it was funny. The last time she bit she drew blood! But then that was it. She has never bit since (knockonwood).

  4. Yup on all the above…

    My letdown was a killer for both my kids. You’d get that feeling and next thing you know, the bra and shirt were soaked. although in the best pumping situation I’d have a total of 15 ounces in a 20-30 minute pump session. I used the gerber 8or 9 oz bottles instead of the 5 ounce bottles.

    Only my son bit me. I didn’t think he wsa done eating, so I forced him on. He didn’t like that, bit me and broke skin. that sucked. I couldn’t nurse himn on that side or pump for a bit but we worked through it.

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