We are on our second installment of the 'Real Moms, Real Talk' series. If you missed the first one on sleeping, you can catch up here!
(disclaimer: this post gets r-e-a-l….. If you have an aversion to the word nipple, then I'd suggest covering your eyes.)
In all honesty, I didn’t read a single book, blog or pamphlet before Parker was born. You are privy to a lot of unsolicited advice as a first time pregnant mother, so I felt like I had been bombarded with enough stories of friends and their one friend and their sister’s cousin’s friend’s birthing experience that I really didn’t feel the need. Plus, I had a doula…. which I mainly hired so I didn’t have to read all the weird baby books. I highly recommend doulas.
What I did realize, is as much as these books and blogs and stories go over birthing and swaddling and ‘what to expect’..... nothing, and I mean nothing, prepares you for the first months of nursing a baby. Apparently no one shares the horror stories of nursing, or maybe it’s such a traumatic experience that fellow moms just block it out and never want to rehash them. But here’s the bottom line….. it sucks (pun intended) for a while and then once it starts working…. it’s truly awesome and a great excuse to browse Pinterest on your iPhone for 30min.
Parker was tongue-tied (it’s a thing) and she struggled to learn how to latch without biting and then I’d cry and she’d cry and we’d all be hangry. Then at around three to four months, she morphed into a nursing champ. But it took..... a long time. What I longed for in those first few days and weeks was not someone to tell me how beautiful the bonding experience is and how easy breastfeeding was for them. I needed someone to tell me what the hell to do when it wasn’t working so I didn’t lose my mind. I needed help putting together a game plan. So, I’ve decided to write the list of my experiences on what to do when you don’t know what to do.
THE GAME PLAN ::
1. Get a Pump. Yes, they are as awkward as you imagine, but damn those things are efficient machines. Most insurance plans cover the cost of an electric pump now for expecting mothers and supplies are tax deductible. Be sure to call and arrange for yours a couple months before you’re due. They can sometimes take a month or so to arrive and you want it there when you get home from the hospital so you aren’t calling to beg them to overnight it. I got the Medela Pump In Style Advanced, per the advice of my lactation consultant, as I knew it was the best option to take back to work with me too (seriously, working moms... get this one). I’m a die hard fan of that machine - it works on both batteries for on-the-go pump sessions (city mom here!) that I am all too familiar with or when plugged into the wall. When we realized we were having nursing problems, my lactation consultant (who we can refer to as LC so I don’t have to type that out every time) had me rent a Medela Symphony hospital grade pump to have at home. I quickly had to switch out my freezer full of vodka and grapes for perfectly measured bags of breastmilk. You can rent them through your hospital or from a local rental business. Brooklyn moms, I got mine here. My husband made a joke once that he had never heard of Medela before Parker was born and by a month into being parents, we basically owned every product they ever made.
2. Assemble your support team. Know how to ask for help. My doula knew reliable and highly trained lactation consultants and put me in touch immediately. I was put on a strict schedule of pumping every 3 hours, even through the night, until we could figure out P’s latching issues. Know ahead of time where local lactation classes are held. My LC hosted a bi-weekly class in the city, there are LaLeche groups and likely classes at the hospital. In my opinion, classes are two fold - it’s a bit of learning and a bit of therapy. Throw a bunch of hormonal new moms with hungry babies into a room and it’s like everything I had nightmares about while pregnant. But, I also met some of my best mom friends there. Great bonds are made in the trenches during combat. Here’s my one thing on LC’s…. find one who aligns with your goals. I was determined for my child to learn to stop biting me and for me to teach her how to nurse, but wasn’t anti-pumping or anti-bottles or scared of ‘nipple confusion’ while she was learning. Some LC’s can be very passionate one way or the other about pumps/supplementing with formula/using bottles, so it’s okay to ask what their stance is so you see eye to eye.
3. On that note….Don’t compare. Quick pause for a little pep talk. In regards to the classes - you will see other mom’s or have friends who make nursing look so easy, who’ve never used a pump, had painful latch issues or supplemented. Learn it early and learn it now…. don’t compare anything about your motherhood, your child and your choices to anyone else's. You do you, mama and you know what’s best for your nugget. K? Okay. Now we can continue.
4. There’s a learning curve. Just as you are learning to keep a tiny human alive, that tiny human is learning how to function. This includes learning to eat. It will most likely not just magically happen, but it will take time. For some, it’s just a couple of weeks. For Parker, it was like three godforsaken months. But I’m crazy happy I stuck with it and gave her the time she needed to adapt. Once she got it, we were an unstoppable team.
5. Save the nipple. Whatever you do, stock up on all the healing goods as you will encounter battle wounds that would rival a UFC match. If you find yourself needing anything at 3am in the morning, there's Amazon Prime Now and Diapers.com both deliver within hours. God, I love America sometimes.
- This all-natural cream for perfect for after nursing when they were sore/scabbed and my LC also advised me to apply a little before pumping so things would run a bit smoother. You can also use olive oil or coconut oil depending on how your baby reacts to those.
- In the moments they burn so bad you can’t fathom putting on a shirt, let alone a bra….. these weird cups were the perfect solution to allow them to breath and heal properly.
- You can try these shields at times. Mine always fell off - probably user error - but many friends raved about them. Low point was when I tried using tiny pieces of duct tape to adhere them to my skin and thought it would keep them from slipping. For the record, it didn't work.
- If it gets really bad, ask your doctor for the hard stuff. APNO (All Purpose Nipple Ointment) is a prescription strength heavy hitter that will help fend off infection, thrush and inflammation. Just typing those words out makes me cringe all over again.
6. Mastitis. I can’t even. Birthing was easier than surviving mastitis. Everyone reacts a bit differently to it, but know the symptoms. The first spout I had, I literally blacked out from my 105 degree fever. My doctor gave me a prescription to take and have on hand in case it hit again (which the little devil did) and it basically saved my life. It’s a very common thing to have occur during the months you are nursing and especially if you’re running into any complications.
7. Tongue tie is no joke. In order to effectively nurse, babies have to be able to stick their tongue out past their lips to latch properly. If you are tongue tied, your tongue is restricted and doesn’t go out that far. It rarely causes actual speech issues, but it will pose a problem with nursing - think harsh biting. It runs in our family and we had friends warn us to inquire about it right away. So we asked a number of nurses who literally had no idea how to properly check for it and then finally our hospital’s lactation consultant pointed it out, after seeing my cracked and annihilated nipples, and got us into the top baby ENT doctor that same day. Be aware of the signs and ask the right people. We had P’s snipped, and while it was scary and she was so tiny and I was crying and she was crying…… it literally took two seconds and then she fell asleep and will never know it happened. I remember feeling relieved that we didn’t go weeks with that undetected because that would’ve made life the pits.
8. Have a drink already. While desperately texting my fellow mamas asking advice on how to survive the pain of the first weeks of nursing, my girlfriend just wrote back ‘Have a beer’. The truth about drinking and nursing (this is from my LC).... is to think of it like driving, if you wouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car, you should probably pump and dump. See why I chose her? She's a lady of logic. Anything prior to that, you’re fine. Your body breaks down the alcohol so much before it ever even hits your milk stream. Plus, after being sober for nine months, you're not having much more than one or two anyways with your newfound high school tolerance level. To be super safe, just enjoy your glass of wine while nursing! Then you know there’s no way it’s going straight to the milk and will be out of your system by the time the next feeding comes around. In my opinion, wine tastes better than Tylenol!
9. You are enough. When nursing isn’t working, you pretty much feel like you’re failing at the one thing you were made to do as a woman. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Every new mom has struggles and, if this is yours, there are plenty of resources and options. We thankfully live in a country and a time where our children will not go hungry if we can’t produce enough milk, or keep up with breastfeeding or figure out latching issues. Decide what works for your family, your baby and your sanity.
10. This too shall pass. If it's not one thing, it's another. Meaning, if it's not nursing, it will be a different obstacle. Parenting comes with its unending series of struggles, victories and hiccups along the way. In the grand scheme of your child's life, the frustrating time of teaching them to nurse will seem like a walk in the park when you're dealing with a sassy teenager trying to sneak out of the house in a crop top and six pack of crappy beer. Just think about that when it seems like there's no hope in sight. This ain't even the worst it's going to get.
For us, I was never able to get to a place where I exclusively nursed Parker, and I guess I kind of knew that would never happen since I had a job to go back too. I'm a bit stubborn, so I wasn't giving up and basically pumped for a little over a year and nursed her in the mornings and at night. You figure out a rhythm!
So this all may not be the most alluring campaign for nursing, but if it's what you are committed to doing, take it from me..... stick it out. It really does get easier and it really is pretty awesome. If you want to nurse for a week, great! For a month, awesome! For a year, get it girl. There is no one way or right way, there's just your family's way. And you're doing a kick ass job! If you have any questions at all about nursing, pumping, etc.... please know you can shoot me an email. Would also love to hear about any personal stories you may want to share. I learned that hearing about other mama's experiences was so helpful and relieving to know that I wasn't the only one having issues.
Be sure to check out and follow along with the other amazing mamas who are sharing their stories as part of this series. Links below! #realmomseries