I have to get something off my chest, so to speak. When I was pregnant, I read everything I could about pregnancy and child development. I am one of those people who does my research. So it surprised – no, dumbfounded – me when I finally had my daughter and breastfeeding turned out to be the hardest thing about having a newborn.
I was adamant that I would nurse, if I was physically able, for at least a year. I have always been aware of the benefits of breastfeeding and I wanted to do everything in my power to give my child the very best possible. I had heard of women not producing milk, rendering them unable to nurse. I had even come to know of a friend who could only produce about 50% of what her daughter needed (a scenario I hadn’t considered). But in all my research, my reading and my talking to other moms I had never, ever heard just how difficult breastfeeding could be.
What do I mean by difficult? Let me put it this way: the resulting pain from my episiotomy (a cut at the opening of the vagina to better allow baby’s head to push through) was nothing (NOTHING I tell you!) compared to the pain I experienced from breast engorgement and my baby suckling.
My breasts went up four cup sizes when I was in hospital and didn’t go down for at least a week. That’s because the milk wouldn’t come out (what is called a let-down). And the milk wouldn’t let down because baby couldn’t latch on correctly. And with baby not latched on correctly, her suckling hurt LIKE A MOFO. By that I mean toe-curling, profanity-uttering, eyes-squeezed-shut pain.
I can’t quite stress the severity of this pain enough. I liken it to childbirth itself: unless you go through it you can’t possibly understand it. And because it lasted for the better part of three weeks, and my labour only lasted about six hours, I have decided breastfeeding wins hands-down on the pain-o-metre.
I have wondered in the months since my daughter’s birth why on earth I had never come across this possibility in major childbirth books and websites. Not even the lactation consultant I saw in hospital (who was wonderful otherwise) ever told me that it could take a while for my body to adjust to the new sensation. Had I known it could be that bad, but that it would take a few weeks to get better, I might not have felt so incredibly overwhelmed and ready to quit. In fact, the main reason I bore down and suffered through it was because my friend, who had recently had a child herself, told me that she went through a lot of pain, too, but that after about two weeks it got a lot better. Thank God for her because I was getting really stressed out that my baby was never going to be able to nurse effectively.
It did get better. After about 3 weeks I could feed her without clenching my teeth. My milk let down. The blood blisters on my nipples went away. And although I had momentary bouts of pain until the third month, for the most part thereafter it was smooth sailing.
I just think every breastfeeding mother out there should know this so they can be encouraged to keep at it.